Heps With A Homey Feel
With the World Series raging in Detroit, Katie Kellner and Chris Bendtsen walloped their own home runs 650 miles away at the Heptagonal Ivy League Cross Country Championships.
This was the 72nd edition of the Heps XC — which first got to the starting line in 1939, and has been held (other than the WW II-cancelled 1944 edition) every year since — and Cornell senior Kellner and Princeton junior Bendtsen gave it a definite homey spin Saturday at Princeton's West Windsor Fields.
Unlike the 2011 meet — the infamous Heps held in driving rain and heavy snow — this one met no problems from the weatherman. "I want to thank Hurricane Sandy for waiting 36 hours," said Ivy League executive director Robin Harris.
Kellner had been a nationally-ranked scholastic runner at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School — not longer than a 10k warmup run from the Heps site — and came down from High Above Cayuga's Waters to take the women's Heps 6,000-meter crown in 20:28.5, leading her Big Red squad to the team title by the third widest-margin in league history — 31-91 over Princeton.
Kellner blazed her 6,000 meters in 20:28.5 to win it over teammates Emily Shearer (20:30.8) and Rachel Sorna (20:31.8). And after that 1-2-3 slam there wasn't much of a wait to the 11th-place arrival of Devin McMahon in 20:51.8 and the 15th-place finish of Caroline Kellner, Katie's freshman kid sister, in 20:58.5 for Coach Artie Smith's team to have it all wrapped up for a second straight year.
"Katie's had a tremendous career for us," lauded Smith. "We've got a great group of senior leaders and she's one of our tri-captains. She leads every day with her work ethic and just her super-conscientious approach to everything she does. She sets a great tone for the whole team. Last spring (when she ran a 32:58 track 10,000 meters, took the Heps title and was an NCAA finalist), that showed us that she can compete at that level.
"This year, she's learned how to race against the top people and not just to run hard.
"The Heps is always such a great meet — at one point or another, four teams in our league have either been in the top 30, or have received votes — so she certainly didn't want to look past this one — but this will certainly give her a lot more confidence going ahead to the next couple of races coming up (the NCAA Regionals and Nationals)."
"My goal was wanted to take it out right from the start and that's exactly what I did," said Katie Kellner. "But I needed to stay relaxed about it, too.
"I got into a good groove, a nice tempo (after a 5:18 opening mile). By the time I got to the last 1000 (meters), though, it was all out.
"I think I've visualized that moment 1,000 times in the last week, telling myself how much I wanted it. This is a goal I've had for a long time."
She's a human biology/pre-medical major hoping to go to Cornell graduate school.
"Med school is a possibility, " said the Heps champion, "but right now running is the most important thing for me."
Cornell totally dominated the women's team race, unlike the 2011 event when, with Katie Kellner in fourth, the Big Red nosed out Columbia, 49-51.
Brown's women shared third with Harvard (at 93) with Yale fifth (108), Columbia sixth (116), Dartmouth (seventh at 162, running without 2011 champion and Olympic Trials star Abbey D'Agostino, who sat this one out with a hip flexor), and Penn eighth (204).
Only largest gaps between winners and runner-up teams in the annals of the Heps women's race — first held in 1977 — were Princeton's 17-80 verdict over Columbia in 2008, and Columbia's 29-92 decision over Yale in 2002.
An hour later, Princeton junior Bendsten of Wolcott, Conn. — a Nutmeg State product like 2012 USA Olympic steeplechaser Donn Cabral, his Tiger predecessor — powered the home team to a decisive win in the men's 8,000-meter race.
The Tigers couldn't match the Cornell women's 1-2-3 but weren't far off it, either, with a 1-2-4 of their own. And with its two next scorers snaring 7th and 12th, Princeton had its winning total of 26 wrapped up. Not since the Tony Barroco-led Princeton team won the 1997 Heps with 25 points, has the winning number been this low.
Princeton's Alejandro Arroyo Yamin outdueled Columbia's Leighton Spencer for the silver medal, 23:48.1 to 23:50.6, with the third Tiger, Tyler Udland, next over the line in 23:51.3. Completing Princeton scoring were Jonathan Vitez (23:57.8) and Eddie Owens (24:06.6 despite a spike wound).
All Princeton scorers are underclassmen — Bendtsen, Yamin, Udland and Vitez are juniors and Owens a sophomore.
Columbia (58) ran second, Dartmouth (77) third, Cornell (83) fourth, followed by Harvard (131), Yale (158), Penn (185) and Brown (223).
For the Princeton men, a Heps victory isn't exactly fresh news — this was their sixth win in the last seven Heps, a spree interrupted only by Columbia's win in 2009 — but they did it with a brand new coach.
Princeton XC coach Jason Vigilante has moved from the University of Virginia to Princeton, without missing a beat. And he's even brought his brightest Virginia star with him — that's Robby Andrews, who'll be a volunteer assistant at Princeton starting next semester as he completes degree his UVa degree requirements.
Steve Dolan, Vigilante's Princeton predecessor, now heads the men's and women's programs at Penn and faces the formidable job of building the Quakers back into Heps and National contention.
"The team has done a wonderful job preparing themselves for this, building a foundation over the summer," said "Coach Vig."
"We understood coming in that if we had an average day, we'd be disappointed.
"This is the Heps Championships and we really didn't have to get motivated for it. Everyone knows how strong this league is. If we didn't run our best, we knew that Columbia would be the champion. No man at Princeton was prepared to hand over the trophy.
"Chris (Bendtsen) is an incredible leader. He's the guy on the team that everybody looks to. I have the world of confidence in his ability to find it within himself and get the job done in the toughest situations.
"I'm just delighted that he was able to score 1 point for us.
"All these guys are rock solid. It's a team sense in every sense of the word. We all wear orange and black. There are no individuals."
Oh, one more thing — this was midterm week of the fall semester and most Princetonians got very little sleep finalizing term papers. Once starter Jim Webb's gun went off, though, no Tiger lacked energy.
"You know, Columbia's a great team and we knew they'd throw everything they had at us," said Bendtsen, a 4:06 miler and sub-14-minute 5,000-meter runner. "We just threw everything we could back at them.
"We ran out our hearts out, we ran for each other, we took care of business."
Personally speaking, Bendtsen called it "definitely the biggest thing I've ever won.
He's an economics major with no set career plans — "I have no idea right now," he said. " I just want to get through school."
"This race will give us a lot of momentum going forward," he knows. "Nationals is Nationals. That's been our mindset all year. We're going to go at everybody.
"It's been a smooth transition for us under Coach Vig. He's really knowledgeable. We've trusted him from Day One.
"He hasn't wanted to change much. He just wanted to make us even better."