October 31, 2003

Cross Country Runs at Heps

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“The Heps are what we train for all year, really” said men’s distance coach Robert Johnson. “This is a big meet for us.”

While Johnson spoke about his team, the same could easily be said for the women. This weekend both teams travel to Van Cortlandt Park in New York City to run in the Heptagonal championships. The race, which predates the formation of the Ivy League, goes back to 1935, when it consisted of the current Ivy schools minus Brown. Those seven schools — Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale, were the “Heptagonal” in the “championships.” Since then the race has grown to include at various points Brown, Army, and Navy.

“Now it’s the eight Ivy schools,” said Duesing, “but they still call it Heps

With 55 of the last 56 Heptagonal championships run in Van Cortlandt Park, the race carries a considerable amount of tradition. That does not mean, however, that the race ever gets old.

“The beauty of the contest is that what’s on paper almost never occurs,” said Duesing.. “Which is why you run the race.”

The women’s team will field its most experienced line-up so far this season. In addition to sophomore team-leader Mandy Knuckles, freshman Nyam Kagwima, and senior captain Christine Eckstaedt, all regular contributors earlier in the season, juniors Kate Boyles, and Alyssa Simon and sophomore Christy Planer join the team for the race.

“With Boyles, Planer and Simon, this will be their second race of the season,” said Duesing. “I’d like to think those three will have better races than their initial race.”

“Inevitably,” noted Duesing, “a runner will have to shake off a little rust in her first race. In the second race though, she can really run to the best of her ability.”

In the team competition, No. 12 Columbia and No. 14 Princeton are both tabbed as favorites by almost every coach in the conference. After that though, the competition is wide open.

“The next six spots will be very hotly contested,” said Duesing.

“There’s good reason to believe it’s going to be close,” he continued. “It may very well come down to one or two people passing or being passed.”

That means the race will come down to the way each team runs, how well each runner competes, and perhaps even a little luck.

“Where we’re going to be in that mix is a toss-up,” said Duesing. “What I want people to do is go out and give their best.”

Over the course of the season the team has grown from a largely inexperienced underclass squad to a group of relative veterans.

“The people who were inexperienced then are experienced now,” Duesing noted.

Each one of them has run in a big meet before, and each knows what to do.

“I think they’ve gained an awful lot in terms of experience to get to this point,” said Duesing.

So, each runner will come into the race with at least one regular season’s worth of races under her belt.

In conclusion, Duesing noted that the well-roundedness of the team bodes well for both the present and the future of the women’s cross country team.

“We can run 12 people [at Heps] and there really is a cross section of freshmen” sophomores” juniors and seniors in this group” and that’s really nice to see,” he said.

In contrast to the women’s team, the men’s squad brings a group composed largely of novices to today’s race. Out of 12 runners, Johnson noted that five are freshmen, and those aren’t necessarily the bottom five either.

“I’d be shocked if there weren’t at least two freshmen in the top five,” said Johnson.

Freshman Ricky Lader and junior Oliver Tassinari have been the group’s two most consistent performers on the year, and should be the key contributors for the team, and freshman Aaron Arlinghaus could be right up with them, leading the way for Cornell.

“He’s really on the upswing,” Johnson said about Arlinghaus.

Behind the likely front-runners the Red’s men will have a solid group.

“I think there are four or five guys who can run really strong races,” said Johnson.

In particular, he cited freshman Brad Baird, the Red’s leader at the Paul Short Invitational, and sophomore Ed Palmero, another strong performer during the regular season.

Key to the Red’s performance though, will likely be the team’s two co-captains, senior Dan Hart and junior Emory Mort. Both have performed sporadically in the races so far this season. But as two of the hardest workers in the conference, Johnson noted that if anyone can come back from the bad races, they could.

The competition for the men’s team championship should be even closer than the women’s.

“I think Princeton is the favorite,” said Johnson. “But Brown is more than capable of winning.”

2002 Heps champion Dartmouth and pre-season favorite Columbia might also be in the hunt for the title.

As far as Cornell goes, it’s anyone’s guess.

“In the team competitions I really don’t have any expectations,” said Johnson.

“We have everything to gain and nothing to lose,” he concluded. “We’re just trying to surprise some teams. It’s a good situation for a young team to be in.”

And with the team’s youth lays its strength.

“There’s not a younger more talented team than we are,” said Johnson about the race.

Many of the underclassmen have spent the regular season gaining some collegiate racing experience, and this is just one more step in their education.

“I’ve been very pleased with the way the younger guys have been developing,” said Johnson. “[They] are certainly ready to run a good race.”

At this point in the season the majority of the work is done. Now it’s time to race and watch the work pay off.

“The attitude that people have and the determination they have — I’ve been really impressed with that,” said Duesing about his team.

And now it’s time to go. The women’s 5k race begins at 10:30 this morning.

The men’s 8k goes off at 11:10.

Archived article by Matt James