Men’s and women’s cross country teams prepare for Heps

by Joe Clyne | 10/29/15 7:01pm

The men’s and women’s cross country teams will take on their Ivy League rivals this weekend in what is arguably the teams’ biggest meet of the year. All eight Ivy League cross country teams will be competing in the Ivy League Heptagonal Championship at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, New York.

The Big Green women are pursuing their third consecutive Heps championship, a mark that Dartmouth has not reached since the team won four consecutive times between 1994 and 1997. Four of Dartmouth’s top five runners from last season are returning to Heps this year, including last year’s runner-up Dana Giordano ’16. At last season’s Heps, Giordano finished the 6,000-meter race in 20:28.1 seconds, less than five seconds behind the winner, Megan Curham of Princeton University.

Giordano’s main competition for the individual Heps title this season is Harvard University’s Courtney Smith, women’s head coach Courtney Jaworski said.

“Harvard’s runner, Courtney Smith, has gotten closer and closer every race to [Giordano],” Jaworski said. “[Giordano’s] season’s training is a bit back since she had such a long season last year, but she’s progressing very nicely and she’ll be in the front pack battling the entire way.”

Dartmouth is also returning two other runners who placed in the top 15 at Heps last season. Sarah Bennett ’16 and Reid Watson ’16, who had respective 12th- and 13th-place finishes last year, will look to lift the Big Green to another Ivy title.

“The Heps are unpredictable, and we will have to be on our game to come out with the win. Like all of the other teams, we are going for the title,” Giordano said. “I expect the race to stay together for a bit and then separate out in the second half of the course. We are ready for this meet and can’t wait to finally show our potential this season.”

While the men’s cross country team has not had as much success in recent seasons as the women have, the team is still pursuing the Ivy League title. Last year, the Big Green placed fourth at Heps, a mildly disappointing result for a team that historically has been among the most successful in the Ancient Eight, winning the second most Ivy titles of any school. After Curtis King ’16 and Brian Masterson ’16 put in underwhelming performances at last season’s Heps, Dartmouth notched 112 points to finish one point out of third place. Dartmouth’s top runner at Heps last season, Silas Talbot ’15, has graduated, so the Big Green will have to look elsewhere to replace his production to rise the ranks at Heps.

Princeton University won last year’s Heps title and are returning last season’s runner-up, Michael Sublette. The Tigers also won the Ivy title every year from 2010-2012.

The other main contenders for this season’s Heps crown are the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. Both teams are in the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national top 30 and are returning runners who placed in the top ten at last season’s Heps.

“I sat down with the whole team yesterday, and on the men’s team, there are six teams that have a chance to win the race, and we’re one of them,” men’s head coach Barry Harwick said. “We need two guys in the top 10, and our next three in the top 20. If we run as well as we did at the [Boston College] Invitational, we’ll have a good chance. Columbia [University] is probably the pre-meet favorite — [The Lions} did the best at the Adidas Wisconsin Invitational, and we’re running at their home course.”

This season, Heps are being held at Van Cortlandt Park for the first time in four years. In each race since 2012, Heps have been hosted at Princeton’s West Windsor Fields.

“The course is a bit different — we ran there at regionals last year, but it’s a slightly different course than what we ran last year,” Jaworski said. “It’s a historic course, and it’s a course that’s good for a team like us, especially since we run on the trails all the time. The key is that we’ll have to get out very hard in the first mile, since it is harder to move around later in the race on the trails.”

The men will run their 8,000-meter race at 11 a.m. and the women will run a 6,000-meter race immediately following.

“At the end of the day, it’ll be a very close score — six teams have a legitimate chance to win,” Harwick said. “The teams that ultimately come out on top are the ones that are very confident in their abilities, and they’re able to run aggressively and are comfortable at the front of the pack.”