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Vol. LXI, No. 44
 
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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DOUBLE DOUBLE: Members of the Princeton University men’s and women’s cross country teams celebrate last Friday after they both won at the Ivy League Heptagonal championship meet. It was each squad’s second straight Heps crown, making the Tigers the first Ivy program to sweep the meet in consecutive years since Dartmouth won in 1994 and 1995.

PU Women’s Cross Country Cruises in Heps; 4th-Ranked Tigers Now Set Sights on NCAAs

Bill Alden

Coaches are worriers by nature and Peter Farrell is no exception.

Even though his Princeton University women’s cross country team was coming off its second straight NCAA Mid-Atlantic regional title and its first win in the Ivy League Heptagonal meet since 1980, the longtime head coach had an uneasy feeling as his team convened this August.

“We had everybody coming back but we were missing some people,” said Farrell, who is in his 30th year at the helm of the program.

“There were start-up problems that took us a while to get straightened out. There was some rustiness, some crunchiness. I was worried.”

But once the season started it didn’t take long for Princeton to shake off the rust as it rolled to wins in the Fordham Invitational, the Harvard/Yale meet, the Paul Short Run, and the Pre-Nationals Invitational.

Last Friday, the Tigers gave their league foes a heavy taste of their dominance as they breezed to their second straight Heps crown. Princeton placed five runners in the top nine of the race, posting the fourth-lowest score in meet history as they trounced runner-up Columbia.

Sophomore star Liz Costello set the pace for Princeton and the league, placing first with a time of 17:14 over the 5-kilometer course.

Classmate Christy Johnson took second while junior Megan Brandeland finished fifth, junior Jolee VanLeuven was eighth, and freshman Ashley Higginson placed ninth.

Farrell’s initial doubts about his team were dispelled by the end of the season’s first month.

“The Paul Short race was a real eye-opener,” recalled Farrell. “We beat teams like Texas Tech, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. We usually go to the Pre-Nationals looking to beat certain teams, not to win.”

The dynamic duo of Costello and Johnson has been a constant at the front of the Princeton pack.

“They jumped up from the beginning,” said Farrell. “They had good years in track and they were fifth and seventh at the Heps last year. Johnson is such a monster when it comes to work and Costello is trying to keep pace with her.”

With the team’s obvious talent and results, the Tigers have soared to No. 4 in the national poll, the program’s highest-ever rank.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Farrell. “I feel proud but I don’t want them to have extra pressure and expectations. I want them to have the same fun we started to have in September.”

Farrell acknowledged that the week leading up to the Heps was no fun as his runners dealt with academic obligations and big expectations.

“The mid-terms add a lot of trauma and stress,” said Farrell. “I was proud of the way they kept their focus. We are able to loosen up things during that week. I told them we were heavy favorites and I was not comfortable with that. I have a lot of respect for this league and I know teams will jump up at the Heps.”

Keeping on task, the Tigers didn’t let anyone jump them at the meet which is held at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.

“I told them this is business,” said Farrell. “I didn’t tell them to be nonchalant about it but I didn’t want them to get too hyped either. That’s what they did.”

While the heroics of Costello and Johnson were expected, the performance of Brandeland perhaps best typifies how things have come together for Princeton this fall.

“She came here as a triple jumper,” recalled Farrell, who is also the PU women’s track coach.

“She told us that in her senior year she came in third or fourth in the state in the two-mile. We tried her as a triple jumper and in the multi-events but that didn’t work out. Now she is fifth in the Heps.”

A special bonus for the PU women was having the Tiger men’s team join them in the winner’s circle for the second straight season, becoming the first Ivy program to sweep the meet in consecutive years since Dartmouth in 1994 and 1995.

“There is a synergy with the men’s team,” said Farrell. “It’s a nice combination; they feed off of each other. They have an annual Halloween party after the Heps; some years it has not been so fun. It was probably pretty good this year.”

Farrell is hoping his team will have cause for celebration after the upcoming regional meet which is slated for November 10 at Lehigh University.

“The regional will be tough,” said Farrell. “West Virginia won the Big East and they are not the same team we saw at Paul Short. They seem to be improving markedly.”

If Princeton survives the regional. Farrell is hoping that his team can better the 26th place they posted at last year’s NCAA championship meet.

“Last year, we had a letdown at the nationals and I don’t know why,” said Farrell.

“With the graduation of [Emily] Kroshus and [Cack] Ferrell, we didn’t have anyone who could get a low number. Costello and Johnson can step up and go low. The rest of the team is 35 seconds behind, we need to cut that gap.”

No matter what happens down the stretch, it has already been a memorable year for Farrell and the program.

“The Ivy League sent us a questionnaire before the Heps and asked for highlights; I said the whole season has been a highlight,” asserted Farrell.

“The cards are on the table. It’s been an easy team to coach. I don’t have to break down the competition for someone like Costello. She doesn’t care; she just goes out and runs her race.”

If his runners keep running their races like they have so far this fall, Farrell may get a highlight unlike any other in his storied tenure at Princeton.

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