by Robert Johnson
October 29, 2015
(Editor’s note: The author is a Princeton alum but coached at Cornell from 2002-2012 and is the brother and son of Yale alums. Out of respect for his privacy, we won’t reveal what Ivy League schools he dated women from 😉 – let’s just say he’s so biased all around he’s almost objective)
So last year, I wrote an 8,000-word preview of the 2014 Heps men’s cross-country race. This year I will not. For three reasons.
- The longer I’m away from the league, the less knowledge I have about it.
- I don’t have time. I don’t know how in the heck I did that last year. I’ve spent two days writing this one and it’s “only” approaching 3,800 words.
- The 8,000 words didn’t do me any good as my picks weren’t very good.
Last year, I spent the majority of my preview talking about how it was the first time in a long time there were a slew of teams with legitimate shots at winning. In the end, Princeton went out and did what it’s done a lot in the last decade – absolutely dominated. Seriously, it was almost embarrassing how good the Tigers were. They scored 30 points and had nine in the top 25. I had picked them second in the preview but did write, “Second isn’t really a good spot to pick them. They likely either dominate or falter as high expectations are a dangerous thing.”
So at least in my 8,000 words I did conceive of the possibility of Princeton dominating. After Princeton won, Cornell was a dominant second – if it’s possible to be dominant and second – and then you had a virtual tie for 3-4-5-6 with only 12 points separating them. So at least it was wide-open, just not for the top spot.
This year’s meet on paper is looking a lot like last year’s meet did before the race in the sense there have to be at least five teams, probably six, that are dreaming of taking home the title. Everyone but Harvard and Brown – last year’s #7 and #8 – probably think they have a shot (Harvard and Brown may not finish #7 and #8 this year but they aren’t winning).
The teams should enjoy the wide-open nature of the race as it may not last. Honestly, I may feel more confident I know the winner of the 2016 or 2017 race than I do the 2015 race (more on that later).
I’ll go through the six potential winning teams one by one and tell you what they have going for them and why they should be nervous. I’ve broken them down by category (the ranked teams, the defending champ, and the teams with a shot). With each team, I’ll give you their top seven from the last race and list their track PRs. That’s mainly for the old-timers to appreciate how fast the guys are nowadays and for people to realize that there isn’t much separating these teams.
One thing I know all of the old-timers will enjoy – actually every Heps alumnus in history save for the class of 2014 – is the fact that the meet is finally returning to it’s historic home – Van Cortlandt Park – for the first time since 2010 after four years at Princeton. VCP is where the meet should be as generations of Heps alumni can now compare the times to what they ran (it’s alternating between VCP and Princeton, which is fine, but don’t just discard tradition).
The Ranked Teams
The Lions are ranked #17 in the nation for a reason. The only other Ivy team that is ranked is Penn (Penn is #27; Princeton was also ranked earlier in the year). Their 10th-place showing two weeks ago at the Wisconsin adidas meet, which featured 17 ranked teams, was by far the best performance of any Ivy League team on the year. If they produce a similar performance at Heps, they likely will be your champs. The Lions are led by senior Aubrey Myjer. The guy didn’t even run Heps last year. To be honest, I’d never heard of him until two weeks ago. But he’s was 19th at Wisconsin, which is a very good showing. Now he was only 29th at the Princeton meet before that but coach Dan Ireland told me that was because he fell.
Myjer is a talent. He he made NXN in HS (80th) but wasn’t even a full-time runner as he also played lacrosse.
|Ritz, Sam||Fr||N/A||3:47 in HS|
|Zabilski, Brian||Fr||N/A||8:49 3200 in HS|
Why the Lions should be confident
Myjer was unreal at Wisco and then look at the two guys behind him on the table above — Tait Rutherford and Jack Boyle. They have good track credentials and both were top 20 last year. That’s three really good guys. Who was #4 at Wisco? Freshman Sam Ritz. I always said as a coach you don’t want to be counting on a freshman at Heps in XC unless the guy is a total stud and Ritz is a stud – he ran 3:47 in HS.
The meet is at VCP – Columbia’s home course. The following picture sums up the advantage they enjoy.
The Lions practice on the course all the time.
Why the Lions should be worried
Doing well in a huge Wisco field isn’t the same thing as doing well at Heps. In 2012, Columbia beat Princeton at Wisco and was trounced at Heps.
Myjer basically has one good college XC race to his name and now he’s expected to be top 5 at Heps?
They have had a freshman at #4 in each of their last two meets (Brian Zabilski – another stud – was #4 at the Princeton meet) and last year there were only two freshmen in the top 20 at Heps.
They Lions also had a significant gap between #4 and #5 at Wisco (22 seconds) and then a huge gap between #5 and #6 at Wisconsin (45 seconds). If someone is off their game, they could be waiting a long time for #5 to cross the line. They almost certainly won’t win if their #5 is 22 seconds behind their #4.
The Lions lost to Princeton in October.
Coach Dan Ireland — who previously coached at Yale for 12 years — has never won a Heps title. Now he had no trouble getting the conference monkey off his back when he had the talent to make him a favorite at LaSalle, where they won two titles in three years, but can he do the same here?
The Quakers are ranked #27 after a surprising victory over Villanova at the Princeton meet two weeks ago. Now two weeks before that, they were only 10th at Notre Dame, losing to teams that finished in the 20s at Wisconsin.
|Tuck, Nicholas||Jr||3:46/8:46st/14:23||36th||2015 Heps steeple champ|
|Awad, Thomas||Sr||13:33/29:26||1st||2015 Heps 1500/5k champ|
|Smith, Brendan||Sr||14:18/8:53st||40th||2014 Heps steeple champ|
|Wilson, Ross||So||8:59st/14:23||49th||Sub-9 & FL finals in HS|
Why Penn shold be confident
The Quakers have an experienced team that has three Heps champs on it. Admittedly, two of those Heps champs were winners in the steeple, which is easier to win than other events as 80% of the guys are scared to do the event, but there is no doubt that Nicholas Tuck, Thomas Awad and Brendan Smith are very credentialed runners. In their last meet, their #5 runner is a guy with a 14:18 PR. That looks like a pretty good team on paper.
Their #1-5 spread in the last meet was just 23 seconds. Heck, they only had a 28-second spread between one and six.
Coach Steve Dolan, now in his fourth year at Penn, certainly got the job done during his tenure at Princeton, winning five Heps XC titles in eight years.
Why the Quakers should be worried
Take a look at where the guys listed above finished at Heps last year. None of their top seven from their last meet, except for Awad, were even in the top 25.
Awad isn’t running nearly as well as he did in the past. His NCAA outdoor meet was a disaster and he’s just not the same.
This team was 10th at Notre Dame. That isn’t an awful showing but it’s a far cry from the 10th that Columbia put up at Wisconsin.
Yes, they beat Villanova in their last meet at Princeton but that’s largely because the meet was a JV meet as compared to Wisconsin. ‘Nova’s top three are way better than Penn’s but since the meet wasn’t of high quality, ‘Nova didn’t benefit that much from going 1-2-3. Penn’s tight 1-5 spread was greatly helped by the fact the guys weren’t running fast up front. At Notre Dame, Penn had a 63-second spread between #1 and #5.
The Defending Champ (And Next Year’s Champs??)
Above, I said I felt more confident in picking the 2016 champs than I did the 2015 champs. The Tigers are my 2016 pick as they are loaded with young talent – they had three sophomores and two freshmen in their top seven in their last meet. If the Tigers were healthy, they might be my pick for 2015 but several guys are missing.
As mentioned above, Princeton was sensational last year at Heps with nine in the top 25 (and 10 in the top 28). Sure, three of their top four graduated, but they were still returning six from the top 25. However, injuries have hurt the Tigers this year. William Paulson, who ran 3:44 as a frosh for Princeton before finishing 21st at Heps last year, hasn’t raced since last year’s Heps meet. William Bertrand (19th last year), was Princeton’s #1 man in the first meet of the year but is now out with a stress fracture.
Here is Princeton’s top seven from Wisconsin.
|Kauppila, Noah||So||1:49/3:47||25th||1:52 speed in HS + Foot Locker finalist + 8:54 as jr in HS|
|Sum, Steven||Fr||N/A||8:56 in HS/CIF #2|
|Spiezio, Jeremy||Fr||N/A||8:46 3200 in HS|
|Beck, Wolfgang||So||8:24/14:42||20th||6th NXN in HS|
Why Princeton Should Be Confident
Princeton has won seven of the last nine Heps for a reason. Their superior talent normally finds a way to come through and get the job done.
They beat Columbia two weeks before Wisconsin. In that meet, they put three in before Columbia had two and seven in before Columbia had six.
They have four guys in their top seven who were top 25 at Heps last year. Add in an 8:46 HSer and a 8:56 HSer and they certainly have a shot.
In 2012, they lost to Columbia at Wisco but then trounced them at Heps. Running well at Wisco and running well at Heps aren’t the same thing. At Wisco, Princeton never got out and never was in the top 30 in the team scoring. Getting out won’t be an issue at Heps.
Beck was apparently sick at Wisco. He was 244th out of 244. So he can only do better than that.
Why Princeton Should Be Nervous
Princeton was awful in its last meet, 31st out of 37 at Wisconsin. Beck was 244th at Wisco. Even if he was sick, that’s concerning. Sometimes you get in the hole with illness and don’t ever recover. He was their #3 guy in the first meet and then #7 in the last two.
The meet isn’t at Princeton, so no home-field advantage. For the most part, I think talk of course difficulty is overrated but VCP is a little more difficult of a course, which may hurt someone like Kauppila, who is quite speedy.
It’s 2015, not 2017. I said I felt like Princeton was the team to beat in 2016. Let me revise that and say 2017. They don’t have a single junior in their top seven. Jason Vigilante‘s first recruiting class was kind of a bust and they are paying for that now but man are they loaded for the future.
They are very young and young teams hardly ever win Heps.
Teams With A Chance
Cornell ran great last year to finish second. This year’s team seems to be better than that but so is the rest of the league.
At the season opener, they went 1-5 on Columbia but Columbia was taking it easy. Then they went up to Boston and lost to Dartmouth. However, at Pre-Nats they ran better than Dartmouth, Princeton, and Harvard did at Wisconsin as they placed 14th in the field, which featured 11 ranked teams.
|DeLuca, Dominic||So.||8:24/14:25||4th||first sub-9 guy in school history|
|Herr, Connor||Sr.||8:21/14:35||59th||two-time Heps runner-up in steeple|
Why Cornell Should Be Confident
They have two guys back from the top 10 last year. No other team can say that. Add in senior Ben Rainero, who has to be considered the Heps favorite based on how well he’s been running this year (5th at the Battle of Beantown, 11th at Pre-Nats), and senior Connor Herr, who twice has been a Heps runner-up in the steeple, and the Big Red have to like their chances.
Age matters and this team is experienced. Six of its top eight are juniors and seniors. Rainero took off a year between HS and college, so he’s a 5th-year guy.
The had a nice 18-second gap between #2 and #5 at Pre-Nats.
Why Cornell Should Be Nervous
Cornell was beaten by Dartmouth two weeks before Pre Nats in Boston. Dartmouth put five in before Cornell had three.
Cornell isn’t ranked but two other teams are and Princeton used to be ranked.
Neither DeLuca (4th last year) nor Eimstad (9th last year) seem to be running quite as well as they did in 2014. I talked about the nice #2-5 gap Cornell had at Pre-Nats, but there was a massive 44-second gap between #1 and #2. They key for Cornell really is how high up does their #2 man finish as the rest of the scorers shouldn’t be too far behind. Last year, there was just an 18-second gap between 8th and 24th at Heps. But there also was an 18-second gap between 12th and 30th just four seconds behind that (12th was just less than four seconds behind 8th).
So if Cornell’s second guy is 8th then they’d go 1-8-10-14-24 and they score 57 and have a shot (I put Cornell’s #2 guy at 8th and then placed the other guys in based on how far apart they were at Pre-Nats). But let’s say their 2nd guy is just four seconds worse – in 12th – they’d go 1-12-13-18-30 and that’s 74 and not going to cut it most likely.
Barry Harwick‘s Big Green squad had its worst Heps in six years in 2014, finishing fourth with 112 points. But current seniors Curtis King, Joey Chapin and Brian Masterson all ran well on the track last year and after the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown (where Dartmouth was second behind only No. 2 Syracuse and beat Cornell), things looked very promising in Hanover.
Then came Wisconsin – a meet where Dartmouth has traditionally struggled. In 2012, Dartmouth was 32nd. In 2013, when the Big Green wound up 24th at NCAAs, they were only 21st at Wisco. Last year, they were 24th and this year, they were 25th. Generally, the Big Green have rallied back from a subpar showing at Wisconsin to put it together at Heps – they were third or second every year from 2009 to 2013 – and they have a chance to do that again in 2015 thanks to a senior-heavy squad.
|King, Curtis||Sr||14:07/29:24||30th||Indoor 5k champ|
Why Dartmouth Should Be Excited
The Big Green beat Cornell in Boston (it was pretty close if you look at the five-man average time though, as Cornell was only three seconds down) and beat Princeton (for the first time in 10 years) at Wisco.
Their entire top seven is made up of juniors and seniors.
Why Dartmouth Should Be Nervous
Take a look at where all of their guys finished last year at Heps. Zero of their top seven were in the top 20 last year at Heps.
At Wisco, they lost to Columbia by 16 seconds per man.
Yale is a long shot to win but I’ve put them in here to please my father (Yale ’68) and brother (Yale ’96).
|Dooney, Kevin||Sr.||13:59/29:10||5th||All-American last year|
|Stanish, Cameron||So.||14:17/30:28||33rd||8:56 stud in HS|
|Ungersboeck, Pascal||Fr.||NA||8:29/15:00 in HS in Switz.|
|Houston, Adam||So.||8:20/14:33||DNC||9:04 in HS|
Why Yale Should Be Excited
They were only five seconds per man behind Cornell, last year’s runner-up, at Pre-Nats.
If you scored Pre-Nats as a dual meet between Cornell and Yale, the score is:
Cornell 27 (1, 5, 6, 7, 8)
Yale 28 (2, 3, 4, 9, 10)
That scoring there shows you Yale was pretty good through three at Pre-Nats. At the meet before that, Duncan Tomlin ran better, so they should be strong through four.
Why Yale Should Be Nervous
I said they were pretty good though four above but there was a huge 31-second gap between #4 and #5. At Pre-Nats, there was nearly a 30-second gap between #3 and #5. They are going to get killed at #5 unless things improve a lot.
Yale was trounced by Princeton at the start of the year at the HYP meet, where they only tied Harvard.
Yale hasn’t won Heps since 1942 – the Ivy League didn’t even exist back then. There must be something in the water in New Haven.
My brother Weldon Johnson is going to the meet. Every time he shows up at an event involving the words Yale and cross-country, the results are pretty bad. He has a 28:06 track PR but never was able to get top 30 at Heps.
Conclusion: Columbia is the favorite but I think four teams could win
I’ve always said when the Heps gun goes off there are probably 40 guys convinced they are going to be top 20. And for good reason. Basically, the League is full of a ton of 14:25 types who on a good day might be top 20 but on a bad day are buried.
Consider these stats. The gap between #15 and #25 at Heps is tiny. Last year, it was just 9.8 seconds. Just 10.2 seconds was the difference between #20 and #35 and just 13 seconds separated #20 and #40.
That’s scary. Now part of the reason for the gap being so tiny last year is the race was at Princeton and the guys basically jogged for a few miles. Hopefully, the return of the meet to its traditional home at Van Cortlandt Park, which features a narrower track, will result in the guys running a little more honestly throughout. But college cross-country has largely turned into a 5k hard tempo and 3k race as the runners are pretty smart. The leaders like to get in position, relax and then race.
Anyway, seeing how tight it was between #15 and #25 last year or #20 and #35 makes me realize I’ve just wasted hours of my time and over 3,000 words. Why? Because it’s impossible to predict whether some guy is going to run 25:10 and be 15th at Heps or 25:30 and be 30th. I don’t know that. The coaches don’t know that and the runners themselves don’t know.
They run the race for a reason. Are the guys in sub-14:20 shape (quite good) or just 14:30 shape (pretty mediocre)?
One last thing to consider. Experience normally matters in this meet. Here are the number of upperclassmen in the top five of the winning teams the last four years.
2014 – 5 (2 seniors)
2013 – 4 (3 seniors)
2012 – 4 (0 seniors)
2011 – 2 (2 seniors)
Here are the number of upperclassmen for the contending teams this year.
Columbia – 4/5
Penn – 4/5 and 5 of top 6
Princeton – 1/5 and 2 of top 6
Cornell – 3/5 and 6 of top 8
Dartmouth – 5/5 and 7 of top 7
Yale – 3/5 and 4 of top 7
One would think that would mean Princeton is in trouble as they are a young team but then again the team that won with only two upperclassmen in 2011 was Princeton. They are the only team talented enough to get the job done with young guys.
Rojo’s Prediction: It doesn’t seem to me Dartmouth or Yale are winning. Columbia and Penn are ranked for a reason. Columbia is the favorite but all of these teams seem to be flawed to some extent.
In the end, I’ve decided I’m not making a fool of myself and making a prediction this year as it’s likely to be wrong and will just piss off the coaches. I will make one prediction and say it will be a great day and I’m sure all of the alumni will be thrilled to be back at VCP except for the class of 2015, who never got to experience a Heps at VCP.
Update: My editor (a Dartmouth alum) has read the piece and told me I’m being a wimp and not making a pick. So here goes. The last five times a Dan Ireland coached men’s team has shown up at Heps they have finished last (8th, 2007 Yale), next to last (7th, 2008 Yale), next to last 7th (7th, 2009 Yale), next to last (7th, 2010 Yale) and third to last (6th, 2014 – Columbia). Think that scares me? Nope. I’ve taken some flak in recent years for saying that for the most part the athletes make the coaches and not vice versa (the athletes are Secretariat and the coach is Ron Turcotte). He had some great individuals and some good teams at Yale and won at LaSalle. It’s not Ireland’s fault that their admission department didn’t let the likes of Michael Maag in (he was so Ivy League unworthy he only ended up running 13:41 at Princeton). Columbia is experienced for the most part and the young guys they need to do well are super talented. They took it easy early in the year so they should be peaking well here, they ran well at Wisco, and this race is on their home course. Columbia FTW.
Individual Prediction: I will make one here. Rainero FTW. His year has been better than anyone else’s so I’m not being a journalist if I don’t pick him for the win.
The only reason I wouldn’t pick him is because I don’t want to jinx the guy as he’s the only Cornell athlete that I’m still in touch with on an occasional basis – but he texted me he isn’t likely to read this preview. If he does read it, he doesn’t seem to be the type that will let the “pressure” get to him. He loves to run and is having the type of senior year everyone dreams of having. Why that would be viewed as “pressure” is beyond me. It sounds like a lot of fun.
Discuss the meet on our message board. If you are new to the site, each year there is a thread dedicated to the Heps: MB: Official 2015 Heps XC thread
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