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Vol. LXV, No. 43
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
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(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

HEADING HOME: Princeton University women’s cross country star Alexis Mikaelian heads to the tape in a race last fall. Junior Mikaelian has moved up to the front of the Tigers pack this fall behind senior star Alex Banfich. This Saturday, Mikaelian will look to help Princeton keep atop the Ivy League pack for a sixth straight year as the Tigers host the Ivy Heptagonal cross country championships. The men’s race starts at 11 a.m. while the women are slated to go at noon on the course at the West Windsor Fields off Washington Road.

With Junior Mikaelian Moving to Head of Pack; PU Cross Country Aims to Go Home Free at Heps

Bill Alden

Alexis Mikaelian knows she is filling some big shoes as she moves to the head of the pack this season for the Princeton University women’s cross country team.

“We had some great contributors graduate, we couldn’t be expected to replace them, said Mikaelian, a junior from Racine, Wisc. “I had great role models when I was a freshman and sophomore.”

Now that she has advanced up in the Princeton pecking order behind senior star Alex Banfich, Mikaelian is looking to return the favor to the team’s less experienced athletes.

“I do want to be part of helping the younger runners and setting an example of putting out a great effort whenever we race,” said Mikaelian. “I want to come full circle, being accessible and being there for them.”

Mikaelian and the Tigers will be looking to put out a great effort this Saturday as Princeton hosts the Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championships. The men’s race starts at 11 a.m. while the women are slated to go at noon.

With the Heps normally being run in the Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, the Tigers are eager to enjoy their rare chance at home cooking.

“I think that adds another level of comfort,” said Mikaelian, reflecting on the race being held on the team’s home course at the West Windsor Fields off Washington Road.

“We are proud of the tradition we have in Ivy League championships. We are familiar with the course, we train on it a lot. We have won five in a row and we are proud of that. The reason we have that tradition is we know you can’t just show up and have that happen. You have to rise to the occasion and we have been rising to the occasion.”

Mikaelian started rising to the occasion early in her high school career. “In my sophomore year, I won the 800 at the state level,” said Mikaelian.

“That builds confidence and I started getting attention from college coaches. I realized that I could run at the next level.”

Noting that she prefers track events, Mikaelian has developed an appreciation for the unity required in cross country.

“Cross country doesn’t came as naturally for me but there is obviously a team component,” said Mikaelian. “It is the only event and everyone is running for each other.”

For Mikaelian, heading east to take part in the Princeton program’s summer camp and later spending a weekend at the school on an official visit made her realize that she wanted to run on the Tiger team.

“I came out to the cross country camp,” said Mikaelian “It was awesome to experience the running environment here. I got to know some of the runners who became my teammates and interact with coaches. On my visit, everyone was so gracious. I could see myself going there and see myself fitting in.”

Once at Princeton in 2009, it took Mikaelian a while to get her running up to speed. “For everyone, it is an adjustment from an academic and athletic perspective,” said Mikaelian.

“Athletically, it was moving up a to a much greater volume and intensity in workouts. In high school, I did cross country but I had a break three years by playing basketball. At college, there was a continuous flow of seasons and training at a high level.”

The Indoor Heps provided Mikaelian with a major highlight in her debut campaign.

“One of best moments came in the Indoor Heps; it was a really close meet and we needed to win the 4 x 800 relay to clinch it,” said Mikaelian.

“If we didn’t, it could come to 4 x 400 and Columbia was stronger in that event. We won and sealed the deal; it was the first time I felt like I really contributed.”

At the Indoor Heps a year later, Mikaelian emerged as one of Princeton’s top contributors, winning the mile and helping the 4 x 800 relay to victory.

“That was a great day; I think we built on the first day and we had momentum,” said Mikaelian.

“In the mile, I put myself out there. It was tactical; I am not sure that is my style but I thought why not got for it. In the relay, I had to chase to pull that one off. I told other girls on relay before we raced that it is a blast out there. We were excited to get out on the track.”

Buoyed by some solid results this fall, Mikaelian is excited about the upcoming cross country Heps.

“What I am pleased with is my good training; I am working out well,” said Mikaelian, who took third at HYP meet in a time of 17:41 and later clocked a time of 17:47 in placing 43rd at the prestigious Notre Dame Invitational.

“I am getting more comfortable with cross country. I love the Heps; all roads are pointing to a good race there.”

Mikaelian and the Tigers know they will have to come up with a very good race if they are to extend their Heps winning streak.

“What we have seen is a growing parity in the league; the league is extremely competitive and that makes for an exciting meet,” said Mikaelian.

“We have a time goal for the first mile for pace control and dictating things. After that, it is about racing the other girls; getting to final stretch of 800 meters and passing as many people as you can.”

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