July 15, 2004

Heptagonal Sweep

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Senior Kate Boyles was near the front of the pack as the women’s 5,000-meter race began at this year’s NCAA regionals. Nearing the middle of the race, however, a small group of girls began to separate.

“Don’t settle, look a head,” women’s head coach Lou Duesing called out to her. “I’m not settling,” Boyles yelled back at her coach.

Catching up to the lead group, she finished seventh in the race, earning herself a chance to compete at the NCAA national meet. More than that, she showed what Cornell’s track and field teams are all about. They never settle.

This spring marked the third straight outdoor Heptagonal games championship for the women. The team didn’t just win, it decimated the competition, topping second-place Brown by more than 30 points. While the Red was favored, the team wasn’t cocky.

“While we knew we were the best team, we didn’t know what was going to happen,” Boyles said. “I think that when you expect something it tends not to happen. We knew we had a really good chance, we knew what we had to go out and do.”

But the meet wasn’t as smooth as the final score may indicate. Several of the races were close, while some runners overcame even greater odds, such as senior Shonda Brown in the 400-meter hurdles.

“She almost didn’t make the finals at the Heps because she tripped on the last hurdle and fell chin first,” Duesing said. “I was surprised she was able to get up and finish the race.”

Not only did Brown recover to finish and qualify for the finals, she won them. In addition to her victory, the team took three other individual titles this season: sophomore Cameron Washington in the 400 meters, Johanna Garrity ’04 in the 100 meter hurdles, and senior Stacey Nadolny in the discus. Brown, Garrity, and Washington, along with junior Jan Seale ran a 46.50 to win the 100-meter relay. Washington, Brown, junior Linda Trotter and senior Kari Steed ran a 3:41.71 400-meter relay for first place and a new Heps record, shaving more than a second off the previous mark.

“It’s an outstanding team with a great attitude about ‘team,’ about shared responsibility, about working together, about cooperating, and doing everything and anything they can to ensure success for the team,” Duesing said. “There is a tremendous sense of security in knowing that your teammates are going to the line to give their very best, and it frees you to do the same. This team as well as any understands that and approaches these championship meets to be successful.”

Cornell’s track and field successes didn’t end with the Heptagonal games, as the team sent 11 athletes onto the NCAA regional meet. Natalie Gingerich ’04 and Senior Jessica Brown finished 10th and 11th, respectively, in the 800 meters, while Shonda Brown and Boyles both finished their respective events well enough to qualify for nationals.

Due to thunderstorms, Brown’s and Boyles’ events were pushed back, causing the 400-meter hurdles trials to be compressed. While Brown finished 18th nationally and set a new Cornell record of 58.71, she was not able to qualify for the 8-person final.

“Clearly she ran fast enough that she would have made the semi-final, and she would have run faster there,” Duesing said. “She wanted at least one more race. She knew she had one more great race in her, but was disappointed by the weather.”

Boyles, the top Ivy finisher in the 5,000 meters, took 14th place in her event.

“It was amazing,” she recalled of the experience. “It was so cool to sit in the stands and see all of those amazing athletes. It’s overwhelming to be surrounded by such greatness. I ran against Olympians.”

The men’s track team also sought to defend its Heps title at Brown, hoping to avenge a close loss to Princeton at the Indoor Heps a couple of months earlier. Cornell was third in the 4×100-meter relay when then senior Rahim Wooley took the baton for the anchor leg. Cornell was first when he crossed the finish line.

“On my leg I had to walk two people down.,” Wooley said of the race. “The fact that we did that, and the fact that we won that race, it was huge confidence booster for the rest of the day. I felt invincible.”

Wooley and the rest of the men’s track team turned in a dominating performance, earning 155 points to top rival Princeton and win first place at the meet. It was the team’s seventh outdoor title and 13th overall. To Wooley and the team, the win avenged a close loss to Princeton for the indoor Heps title. The 22.5-point margin of victory made things even better.

“What was even sweeter was that it didn’t come down to that final race,” Wooley said. “Princeton’s main argument in the past was that Cornell got lucky. This year we just annihilated them, it wasn’t even close.”

Cornell actually trailed Princeton by two points after the first day of competition, despite a second-place hammer throw by Giles Longley-Cook ’04 and a 1-2 sweep of the long jump by senior Ryan Schmidt and Tyler Kaune ’04, respectively. Still, with 16 of the meet’s 21 events still to be decided, the Red remained poised for victory.

Wooley, who had already outrun his top competitiors in the 100- and 200-meter dashes during the 4×100, earned two more titles for Cornell and was named male athlete of the meet. Junior Greg Simonds ran a 52.70 to win the 400-meter hurdles, and add to Cornell’s point total.

While Cornell finished with just three individual Heps titles, depth carried the team to first place. Overall the team collected 11 top-five finishes on the track, including sophomore Aaron Arlinghaus’s second-place finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. The team did even better in the field, earning 14 top-five marks.

In Wooley’s mind, the win came through team unity, and the Red’s ability to turn a disappointing indoor ending into spring success.

“Our team chemistry this year has been just awesome,” he said. “We’ve been able to bring things together at the right times and just really do what we have to do and take care of business.”

Archived article by Matt Janiga
Sun Senior Editor