Ferrell Looking to Keep in Fast Lane As Tiger Runners Compete in Heps
by Bill Alden
Cack Ferrell has a penchant for preparing detailed to-do lists to help keep her organized.
The Princeton University junior and distance running star is poised to knock off some key items on her athletic to-do list this Friday when she competes in the Ivy League Heptagonal women's cross country championship in the Bronx, N.Y.
Last fall, Ferrell finished second in the 2003 Heps behind now-graduated teammate Emily Kroshus. Despite the heroics of Princeton's two frontrunners, the Tigers were edged by Columbia for the team title.
Ferrell is looking to take the next step on the individual and team level. "I'm excited for Heps, I definitely hope to win," said Farrell in an interview last week before a training session."
"We really, really need to beat Columbia. I have the utmost respect for them, it's a big rivalry. It's theirs to lose. I think Heps is going to be a good time. I'm hoping everything falls into place."
Things have fallen into place in an amazing fashion at Princeton for the willowy, low-key Ferrell, a Minneapolis, Minn. native whose main sport in high school was soccer and not track.
Realizing by her senior year, however, that her athletic future lay in track, Ferrell switched her focus to running as she considered colleges.
Ferrell, whose father won a Heps title in the 800 during his college days at Cornell, fell in love with Princeton on her recruiting visit and decided to bring her talents to New Jersey.
Despite having never competed in cross country before coming to college, Ferrell took to the sport immediately. "I remember my first cross country race at the Princeton Battlefield," recalled Ferrell, a Minnesota two-mile state champion in outdoor track.
"It was actually a nice feeling because it brought me back to square one and I wasn't nervous. I didn't feel like I had anything to live up to. I wasn't nervous at all and that has continued through my career here."
By sophomore year, Ferrell was challenging her decorated teammate Kroshus in cross country and on the track. Ferrell had a major breakthrough last fall when she placed sixth at the Pre-National Invitational, outdoing Kroshus, who came in 11th.
Ferrell was just getting started as she was named the women's Athlete of the Meet at the Indoor Heps after winning the 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter titles.
She earned All-American honors in the indoor season and finished 12th in the 1500 in the NCAA East Regionals in the outdoor season.
A key to Ferrell's success is her ability to rise to the occasion at race time, performing at a much higher level than she achieves in training.
"My training and racing aren't really comparable," explained Ferrell, who logs around 55 miles a week in training and recently broke the course record at the Princeton Battlefield with a 17:12 time over the 3.1 mile course.
"When I start a race, I guess I'm pretty competitive. If someone is passing me, I'm not going to let them. It seems so inherently obvious that a runner wouldn't want to be passed."
Princeton women's cross country coach Peter Farrell realizes that his star junior possesses an inherent focus that sets her apart in competition.
"Cack is incredibly organized which allows her to be focused," said Farrell. "She has the ability to compartmentalize her life. She brings her focus to competition like no other. She has the ability to go deep within herself to produce results that are just remarkable."
Farrell, who is in his 24th year heading the Tiger cross country and track programs, is amazed by the progress that Ferrell has made so far in her college career.
"She has surpassed all of our expectations in the first two years and she continues this year," declared Farrell, who believes that Ferrell's focus on soccer in high school means that she is just scratching the surface of her potential as a runner.
"She was a junior partner last year and Emily was the flagship. Cack took that role and became a champion in her own right. Now that Emily has gone, she has assumed the leadership role."
Farrell is expecting his standout junior to lead the way at the Heps, individually and team-wise. "She is certainly the class of the field," said Farrell, whose team hasn't won the Heps team title since 1980.
"She has put up some big numbers this fall. There are some strong runners in the league who will challenge her but she isn't afraid of anybody. Right now it looks like a two-team race between us and Columbia. The two teams locked horns last year and we came out on the short end of the stick. I think the team hasn't forgotten that."
In the coach's view, Ferrell is on track to accomplish some unforgettable things over the course of her running career. "I know she wants to be a player on the national scene," added Farrell, noting that Ferrell finished 10th at the Pre-National event earlier this season. "At some point, she believes she'll be able to run with anybody in the country. That's her goal and she doesn't shy away from it."
Ferrell, for her part, acknowledges that she still has some big items to check off on her running to-do list. "As far as this season, I want to win Heps, be in the top ten in the nationals, and I want to be a three-time All-American," said Ferrell, who is planning to change her training so as to peak in June for the outdoor nationals. "In the back of my head I would love to train for two years after graduation and go to Beijing (the 2008 Olympic Games.)"
systematic way in which Ferrell has achieved her goals so far,
it wouldn't be wise to bet against her.