An entire season’s hard work finally paid off this weekend when the Cornell men’s track and field team took first place in the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonals at Princeton.
The outdoor championship improves upon a February second place finish at home during the indoor heps. Knowing they were close to gold last time around, the team traveled to Princeton with one hope: to dethrone the defending champion in the Tigers on their home turf and notch those crucial points that will propel them to first.
“After losing indoor, everybody on the team felt that we needed to come here and win,” head coach Adrian Durant said. “We had a strategy in mind, and it worked out. Everybody showed up.”
The Red accomplished this and more, pummeling Princeton — who finished second — by an impressive 54 points. Cornell’s 211 point total is the most in the meet’s history.
Despite being the first squad to ever reach the 200-point plateau, their goal was just to win, not shatter records, but the team is more than happy to accomplish both.
“Our goal was not to break that record, it was to win,” Durant added. “I would’ve been happy winning by one point or a half a point.”
Senior Ben Rainero noted how Cornell and Princeton swapped roles after the competition moved outdoors when compared to the indoor heps in Barton Hall.
“This time, everyone really came in hungry, and stepped it up the way Princeton did indoors,” he said.
Cornell started off competition Saturday in an impressive fashion. Junior Rudy Winkler surprised no one by winning the hammer throw. His throw of over 246 feet is currently good enough for best in the entire country.
Along with Winkler, Rainero took first in the 10K, marking Cornell’s second individual win of the day. Several other top five finishes put the Red in good position entering Sunday, who continued its impressive start by reaching the finals in 17 events on day two.
“The guys did an excellent job on day one positioning themselves to score on day two,” Durant said.
The Red found themselves in a similar position during Indoor Heps, but “fell apart” on the all-important day two, Durant said. This weekend, though, they viewed the second day as a fresh start, which was a big factor in their first place finish.
“This time around we treated day two as a blank slate,” Durant said. “it was just another chance to compete hard.”
An impressive eight additional individual victories in the 17 events put Princeton away, and Cornell cruised to the victory.
“The guys were fired up, and at some point on Sunday, the momentum went in our favor and the points just kept tallying up from there,” Durant said.
Junior Austin Jamerson defended his decathlon title with well over 7000 points, and senior Max Hairston won the 110 meter hurdles, which comes off the heels of his 60 meter win in February. Hairston also took second in the 400 meter hurdles, falling just .03 seconds off the mark. His performance came as no surprise to the team.
“Max is an MVP,” Durant said. “He does what he does, and he’s been dominant in hurdles for years.”
Another key to first place was the 200 meter dash, where Cornell picked up 22 important points. Senior Larry Gibson and freshmen Zach Menchaca and Alex Beck took first, second and fourth, respectively, in an impressively fast race.
Gibson teamed up with sophomore Michael Smith and juniors Wynn Curtis and Tobe Attah — a staff writer for The Sun — to beat out the rest of the field in the 4X400 meter relay. The win marked Gibson’s second of the day, who made the most of his last collegiate competition.
“Larry has been an amazing part of the leadership of this team, and that’s a great way to go out as a senior,” Durant added.
Ben Rainero picked up right where he left off on Saturday’s 10K win, winning Sunday’s 5K as well. He became the first man to win both the 5K and 10K in the same Heps meet since 2006. Rainero credits new habits this year to his success this competition.
“[In addition to weight training], I made sure to change my eating habits as well,” he said. “At night, I mostly eat beets now, along with a kale smoothie. Apparently beets have a great effect on your endurance. I don’t know the science behind it, but you can’t argue with the results.”
Another source of points came from several competitors who have battled their way through serious injuries in their past. Senior Rob Robbins — still fresh off a two year absence due to injury — placed first in the javelin, throwing just under 74 meters, and Junior Bobby Plummer — who some thought might never jump again after a foot injury — won the triple jump in what was yet another Red victory.
Cornell also took first and tied for second in the high jump, as sophomore Myles Lazarou narrowly beat out three other competitors, including Cornell senior Stephen Afadapa, who tied for second with two other jumpers.
Winkler was named the meet’s field MVP, while teammate Rainero took home the honor of track MVP. Rainero was pleased with the award, but felt it was a distant second to the overall team accomplishment.
“It was really special to win with a record 211 points,” he said. “I’m proud of everyone for stepping up this weekend. The track MVP I guess is a nice bonus.”
Even though the Red took avenged its second place finish to Princeton’s in February, Rainero believes that the win speaks to its current standing within the Ivy League.
“This Heps felt like redemption in a way, but it was more than that,” he said. “It was proof that this is the best track team that’s ever been at Cornell.”
Cornell will return to Princeton to participate in regional IC4A Championships this coming weekend, and several athletes who have already qualified will compete in NCAA’s in Jacksonville, Florida beginning May 25.