Breaking tradition is not common for the ‘Ancient’ Eight.
But for only the third time in 72 years, the Ivy League Cross Country Heptagonal Championships will be held at a location other than Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. Saturday, Penn and its peers will descend on Princeton’s West Windsor Fields for the culmination of their fall seasons.
West Windsor, with its flat, fast path, bears little similarity to Van Cortlandt’s notorious hills and rough terrain.
The new course offers a host of opportunities for the Quakers.
“I think it’s a course that’s very favorable for athletes that are strong on the track,” said Blake Boldon, who coaches both Penn men’s and women’s teams. “For us specifically, I think that’s good.”
Indeed, the Quakers are strong on the track, especially lately, as they bring in a number of runners coming off some of their best performances of the season.
For the men, junior Mike Kiley and senior Mike Vido come in hoping to maintain the momentum generated by strong runs at the Penn State National Invitational, where they recorded times of 27:23 and 28:06, respectively, over 8,000 meters.
On the women’s side, senior Laura Steel and junior Leslie Kovach recorded similarly strong runs at the same meet, notching times of 23:30 and 22:05 in the 6,000-meter event.
For the team’s seniors, Heps is a bittersweet event, as it traditionally marks the end of Ivy League cross country competition each year.
“It’s funny to think back where I was freshman year at this time and just thinking, ‘wow, I have 12 Heps to do before I graduate,’” Steel reminisced.
After Saturday’s event, she will have only have the indoor and outdoor meets left in the winter and spring.
The Quakers seem poised to send seniors like Vido and Steel off happily, as the team has taken on a different look during workouts, training with added intensity and focus in anticipation of one of the season’s defining races.
“We ran this workout twice before the season, and this was the fastest we’ve ever done it,” Vido noted after a particularly grueling workout. “I think it was the most comfortable we’ve ever been. It’s encouraging.”
Saturday’s race will be no run in the park, though, as the Quakers face stiff competition from the rest of the Ivy League.
Both defending champions from last year will return to the event: Donn Cabral on the men’s side and Alex Banfich on the women’s side — both for Princeton.
Such competition does not daunt the Red and Blue, who come into the race at the bottom of the conference.
“What we did earlier in the season against the other Ivy League schools, I don’t think is indicative of what we’re going to see this weekend,” Vido said.
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