2014 Ivy League Heps Men’s Cross Country Preview: The Most Wide-Open Race in A Long, Long Time Should Be Exciting

*Discuss this year’s meet on our world famous messageboard: 2014 HEPS cross country thread.
*LRC Women’s Preview: 2014: Ivy League Heps Women’s Cross Country Preview: Nationally Ranked Princeton and Dartmouth Lead The Way.
*Vote in our LetsRun.com Polls– results will be coming out soon.

by Robert Johnson
October 30, 2014

This year’s race takes us back to the Pre-Internet era.The 2014 Ivy League Heptagonal men’s cross country championships take place on Saturday at Princeton. For the first time in a LONG time, there are a ton of teams, perhaps six or seven, dreaming of taking home the coveted team title.

Prior to the Internet, when teams only had partial information on the other teams, many teams went to Heps each year dreaming they’d somehow leave with the team title. Arguably the best Heps along these lines that I’m aware of is when Artie Smith, the current women’s coach at Cornell, went to Heps in 1995 at Van Cortlandt Park as the captain of the Cornell men’s team with a few bottles of champagne packed in his luggage to celebrate. Please realize that Smith doesn’t drink at all, but as the captain, he was ready to carry on the tradition of celebrating properly when Cornell won (they’d won in 1993 and were the top Ivy finisher behind Navy in 1992). Instead, reality was harsh for the Big Red as they finished seventh.

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Speaking of seventh, that’s the place I was preparing myself to witness Cornell – the team I coached from 2002 to 2011 – finish on Saturday up until two weeks ago. After all, heading into Pre-Nats, Cornell had already lost by a fairly wide margin to Dartmouth, Harvard and Columbia at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown. And Princeton, the favorite for Heps, had handily beat Harvard at the HYP meet to start the season where a surprising Yale was just one point behind Princeton. This summer, some people had been touting a young Penn squad as a potential darkhorse, so right there that’s six teams one would think would beat Cornell. Moreover, Cornell was also seventh in returning points from last year’s meet if you take out all of the seniors and look at the top 30 returners, as shown by the following chart:

Returning Points From 2013 Heps (Top 30 Non-Seniors)
Team Top 3 Top 4 Top 5
Princeton 21 35 62
Columbia 21 41 NA
Yale 31 47 66
Dartmouth 39 64 NA
Harvard 40 62 NA
Penn 46 72 NA
Cornell 69 NA NA

Then Pre-Nats happened, where Cornell beat Yale, 400 to 465, as their top five averaged 25:17 to Yale’s 25:22. And that was without former US Junior 1500 finalist Ben Rainero, who raced at Princeton that weekend instead. Penn ran a full squad at that meet and Rainero beat their #2 man. Clearly Cornell is on the upswing and suddenly I found myself pondering the almost unimaginable a few weeks ago, “Could Cornell possibly win Heps?”

As a result, I’ve spent A LOT of time doing some research, talking to some coaches and trying to figure it all out. Below is what I’ve come up with (Warning, this baby is long – probably longer than my junior paper at Princeton. More than 8,000 words long.).

Perhaps the fact that Heps seems pretty wide-open – at least on the surface – is only appropriate. Last year, the Heps enjoyed an unprecedented amount of success, sending four men’s teams to NCAAs. To put that in perspective, realize that from 2001 to 2011, the Ivy League sent a grand total of four men’s teams to NCAAs. Last year was the first time in history that four Ivy teams made it to NCAAs in a single year; the Ivy League hadn’t sent three teams since 1976 (you can check out each school’s full list of appearances here).

2013 Top 10 Individuals
1. Maksim Korolev (Harvard), 23:28.2
2. Nico Composto (Columbia), 23:44.5
3. Thomas Awad (Penn), 23:44.8
4. John Gregorek (Columbia), 23:45.0
5. Daniel Everett (Columbia), 23:46.3
6. Tyler Udland (Princeton), 23:48.6
7. Chris Bendtsen (Princeton), 23:49.7
8. Kevin Dooney (Yale), 23:56.6
9. John Bleday (Dartmouth), 23:57.5
10. Tim Gorman (Dartmouth), 23:57.9
2013 Team Scores
1. Columbia, 48
2. Princeton, 56
3. Dartmouth, 64
4. Harvard, 103
5. Yale, 116
6. Penn, 150
7. Cornell, 181
8. Brown, 253

25 Years of NCAA Qualifiers From The Heps
2013 – Princeton, Dartmouth, Harvard,  Columbia
2012 – Princeton, Columbia
2011 – Princeton
2010 – Princeton
2005 – Dartmouth
2001 – Dartmouth
2000 – Dartmouth
1999 – Princeton, Dartmouth
1998 – Princeton, Dartmouth
1997 – Princeton (Navy)
1996 – Brown (Army)
1995 – Dartmouth
1994 – Dartmouth
1993 – Dartmouth (Army)
1992 – Brown, Cornell (Navy)
1991 – Dartmouth
1989 – Dartmouth (Navy)

5 of these top 7 from last year have graduated 5 of these top 7 from last year have graduated. *More 2013 Photos

But the teams in 2013 were good for a reason – there were a ton of senior studs producing at a very high level. A huge portion of the top finishers from last year’s race were seniors. 5 of the top 7, 9 of the top 14 finishers from last year’s Heps were lost to graduation, so in many ways a slew of teams were starting over this year.

With new coaches at Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Penn, Princeton and Yale in recent years – none of the men’s coaches at those schools have had their first set of recruits graduate yet – it makes even more sense that there could be some pandemonium as often it takes a year or so to get adjusted at a new school and get the recruits rolling in.

So coming into the year, a more wide-open race was expected. Will that actually take place? It sure looks like it.

I went ahead and scored just the Ivy League finishers from the Wisconsin meet.

Here are the results.

Team #1 #2 #3 #4 #5 #6 #7 Top 5 Score Top 4 Score Top 3 Score
Princeton 1 10 11 14 15 18 21 51 36 22
Dart 4 6 8 9 24 25 27 51 27 18
Harv 5 7 12 13 20 22 26 57 37 24
Col 2 3 16 17 19 23 57 38 21

Princeton may have beaten Dartmouth 590 to 619 at Wisconsin but if it was just an Ivy League meet, it would have been a tie. In the huge Wisconsin meet, the first Ivy team and the last Ivy team were separated by just 81 points (Princeton 590, Columbia 671) and 9 seconds per man (24:46 for Princeton, 24:55 for Columbia). Meanwhile at Pre-Nats, just 5 seconds per man separated Cornell and Yale (25:17 and 25:22 average).

As a result, we imagine all six of those teams are dreaming of taking home the Heps title on Saturday. Theoretically, any of the six could win but in my mind, there are two teams above everyone else.

One of These Two Teams Should Win

Princeton – The Tigers (full disclosure, they are my alma mater but I spent a decade of my life trying to get people not to go to school there) are the favorites. Coming into the year, they returned the most from last year (although two of their top five returners on paper from last year – Brett Kelly and Connor Martin – have been non-factors this year). In many ways, given their facilities, #1 U.S. News ranking and support of athletics, Princeton should be considered the favorite every year until told otherwise. There’s a reason why they’ve won six of the last eight Ivy League titles in the sport.

All of that being said, Princeton hasn’t been running amazingly well this year, giving people the hope that Heps is wide-open and there for the taking.

But the facts are Princeton has already raced six of the other seven Heps teams this year and hasn’t lost to any of them. They beat Harvard and Yale to start the season, then Penn at Notre Dame and then Dartmouth, Harvard and Columbia at Wisconsin. And they did this despite not running their best. Princeton didn’t run badly at Notre Dame and Wisconsin – they just didn’t run really well. At both meets, they lost to almost all of the ranked teams (or teams that would be ranked after that meet) but beat everyone else. The only Ivy squad they haven’t defeated is Brown, quite possibly the weakest team in the league.

At Wisconsin, HYP champion Sam Pons, who was a stellar 12th at Notre Dame, was just Princeton’s 3rd guy and the 11th Ivy League finisher – yet they still beat all the other Ivies. Plus one of the main reasons why Princeton hasn’t been beating the ranked teams so far this year is because NCAA steeplechase qualifier and LetsRun.com prediction contest winner Eddie Owens has been a disappointment.

Owens is the 2014 version to some extent of Maksim Korolev  – a big talent who is inconsistent. Last year, Owens failed to score at Heps in the steeple but made NCAAs in the event. This year, he’s been Princeton’s seventh man in all three races but there have been glimpses of brilliance. At Wisconsin, he was in the LEAD – yes lead – at 2k before fading to 194th.

Psychologically that isn’t easy to deal with but Owens should have a lot of confidence in the fact that he’s already run well at Heps three times previously in his career. As a frosh, he was 23rd, as a sophomore he was 12th and last year he was 19th.  There’s zero reason why given those accomplishments and his 14:16/8:46 5k/steeple pbs that he shouldn’t be top-20 at Heps this year.

Coach Jason Vigilante needs Owens to summon his inner Bruce Hyde and come through for the Tigers. What the hell am I talking about? Ten years ago, at the 2004 Pre-Nats, Hyde, running for me at Cornell, was in the lead at 2k but faded to 97th (his father then held off on buying a plane ticket to nationals). Two weeks later, he was the Heps champ. Two weeks after that he was the regional champ and a week later an All-American, one spot behind Ryan Hall.

Now Vigilante likely doesn’t want Owens to really try to imitate Hyde. Owens should try to work his way up and finish top-15, not go for #1.

If Pons and Owens run well, they likely will walk away with the title.

Why Princeton Should Be Confident: The Tigers don’t necessarily even need Owens to be great. A third straight top-20 showing from Owens could give the Tigers the title (assuming Pons runs well). Matt McDonald, who was Princeton’s fifth man as a freshman in 2011 when they won the title, is running very well. He was the top Ivy finisher at Wisconsin and should end up in the top 5. If he and Pons are near the top 5, the Tigers should be able to find three other guys to finish in the top 20 which likely would give them the title. Princeton has good depth and a bunch of guys capable of finishing #3 through #5, but it would be nice to get a strong showing at #3.

Anyone remember 2012? Coming into the season, Princeton was the favorite but they were suddenly viewed as vulnerable after they finished 14th at Wisconsin (Columbia was 5th). What happened at Heps? Jason Vigilante‘s boys ran brilliantly, scoring a ridiculously-low 26 points – the lowest amount since 1997. They’d go on to finish 11th at NCAAs.

Now don’t misunderstand me, that’s clearly not what is going to happen this year.

Also the Tigers, as is always the case, have a lot of good young talent on the roster. But it normally takes time for young men to become the core of a championship team.

Freshman Wolfgang Beck was their 4th guy at Wisconsin. He’s was sixth at NXN last year. Freshman Noah Kauppila ran 8:54 as an 11th grader but also has great speed (1:52 in HS). Freshman Garrett O’Toole isn’t ready to make his mark in xc this year but he ran 4:01 in HS. Sophomore William Paulson, who was the 10th Ivy League finisher at Wisconsin, has run for Great Britain at European XCs and is a 3:44 guy.

How long will it take for these young guys to make their mark and become the core of a championships team? The Tigers probably will be firing on all cylinders yet again in 2016, but the question is, ‘Can they get the job done in 2014?’

What Coach Vig is excited about: “I think we should be excited because like any other team we are really talented, we’ve put tremendous work into the preparation and it’s the Heps. We’re going to show up and compete as hard as we can and that’s a common thread at the Heps meet. I look at this meet with a lot of enthusiasm.”

Why Princeton should be worried? Look at the chart above with the Wisconsin scores. The Tigers were behind Dartmouth and Columbia through 3, and behind Dartmouth by a lot through 4. And Dartmouth wasn’t even running particularly well (see below).

Donn Cabral graduated in 2012. I’ll always remember talking to Donn Cabral and Brian Leung as freshman at outdoors at IC4As. I knew they were super-talented but what struck me was how they just seemed so into the sport. One of them said something along the lines,, “We’re going to build this program into a national power.” I thought to myself, “Welcome to the club. You boys aren’t the first set of studs to think that. I know that sentiment has been going on since at least 1993 when I got there.”

Well they were right, I was wrong. Once they got things rolling there, I always thought it would be interesting to see how the program went after they graduated. Texas A&M was amazing at football when they had Johnny Manziel – now not so much. When Princeton had an Olympic finalist on the roster, things were clicking at a very high level. Can the Tigers keep the success going after another strong group of seniors graduated in 2014?

What makes Coach Vig nervous: “To be honest, I’m not the nervous sort. We’ll compete to the best of our ability.”

Verdict: Expectations are a dangerous thing. Psychologically, the Tigers probably aren’t really confident as they’re used to being nationally-ranked (they received votes in the most recent poll but aren’t ranked). If they can get over the fact that they aren’t a great team, but may be the best team in a wide-open Heps, they have a good shot of winning.

One other thing about Princeton. This week is Fall Break in Princeton – meaning there is no school. Is that a good thing? (The Tigers have no excuse not to be super rested). Or a bad thing? (The Tigers have nothing to do all day but get nervous). I don’t know – I do know it’s better than having the meet coming off of Prelim week – but just wanted to put that x factor out there.

Dartmouth – Barry Harwick’s Big Green was only fourth on paper coming into the year but they’ve had the best season relative to expectations of any top team from last year’s Heps, which gives them a shot at winning the title.

Why the Big Green Should Be Confident: The Big Green have beaten both Harvard and Columbia in Boston and Wisconsin in their last two races. At Wisconsin, they were just 29 points behind Princeton (590 to 619, 6 seconds behind on average time) in a race where they really struggled at #5. Dartmouth was crushing Princeton through four men, they just had a lot of trouble as their fifth man was 61 places behind Princeton’s.

But here’s a fact that should scare the heck out of all of the other Ivy coaches.

Guess who didn’t score for Dartmouth at Wisconsin? 4:01 miler Tim Gorman.

And yes, in case you are wondering, Gorman is a miler who can run well in XC – he was 10th last year at Heps. Gorman was in Dartmouth’s top 3 in Boston and there was a good reason for the poor performance at Wisconsin: Gorman was hit with back spasms while warming up for the meet.

He’s been getting treatment for his back and seems to be “competely healthy” right now according to coach Barry Harwick, which is a boost to Dartmouth.

“We had a great spread of just 13 seconds between our first four,” said Harwick. “It’s nice to realize that if Tim had just been our fifth guy at Wisco, even 10 seconds behind our fourth man, we would have been the top Ivy team there.”

Coach Barry Harwick on why the Big Green faithful should be excited: “We’ve run against five of the other seven teams and we’ve beaten [four of them]. We’ve only raced Princeton once but in some ways I’d call that almost a draw. So the body of work this season shows that if we have guys run well, our chances of winning are just as good as anybody’s. That’s what I’m telling my guys.

“Particularly, if Tim gets back to his early-season form and his form last year, I think we can contend for the win. If that doesn’t happen, I think it could be a long and stressful wait for someone to get into the chute.”

Harwick added that he is well aware that Princeton is also capable of running better than it did at Wisconsin where Sam Pons wasn’t as good as he’s been so far this year. “I guess the way I look at it is (on paper) it should be very close between Princeton and Dartmouth.”

“We’re going to be bringing a relatively young group down there. There are a lot of guys who are capable of rising up and doing well,” said Harwick, who cited junior Joey Chapin, who ran 8:10 for 3000 last year, as a potential wild card. “I think the overall point totals are going to be a lot higher than usual. I don’t see a scenario where the top team is under 50, so you could win with your fifth at 20 or even 25th.”

Why the Big Green should be worried: The Big Green may not have any room for error. Their 5-6-7 were way back in Wisconsin. It’s very hard to go 5-for-5 and have all five guys you are counting on run well when you need it. Dartmouth’s had a few guys step up this year but there definitely isn’t a huge amount of depth.

Here are the credentials of Dartmouth’s top 5 at Wisconsin:

Silas Talbot – 3;47, 22nd at Heps last year. 4th Ivy guy at Wisco.
Nathaniel Adams – Only has pbs of 14:55/30:58 but has been running great. 5th man in Boston, 2nd man in Wisco.
Curtis King – 14:08/29:48, NCAA qualifier in 5000. Just 61st last year at Heps.
Brian Masterson – pbs of just 14:31/30:34 but has been solid all year, just 37th last year.
Julian Heninger – Oregon state champ in 3k. He has pbs of just 3:51/8:32/15:32.

Coach Harwick on why a Dartmouth fan might be nervous: “We don’t have a real big margin for error. If some of our guys are sick or injured or have a bad day, it’s going to hurt us a lot. The Wisconsin was the first meet of the year where our 1 through 5 spread was more than 30 seconds (it was 1:10). If we can keep the spread down to 30 seconds or less, I think we’re going to pretty good. If it’s over a minute, I think they should be nervous as hell.

“It’s interesting as I think nearly every school in the league is thinking, ‘We can put a couple guys in the top 10,’ but you can’t all be in the top 10 – mathematically that’s not going to work out.”

Verdict: Dartmouth has been the second-best Heps team so far this year. Given the fact that Princeton and Columbia are struggling to live up to the high expectations they’ve set in recent years, the Big Green are a dangerous team that goes in with everything to gain and little to lose.

Four Teams That Could Win If Dartmouth and Princeton Don’t Bring Their A Game (in alphabetical order) 

Columbia – The defending champions lost a lot from last year’s team. They graduated four guys that finished in the top 29 last year and also lost coach Willy Wood.

2013 was a good one for Columbia. *More 2013 Heps XC Photos 2013 was a good one for Columbia. *More 2013 Heps XC Photos

Columbia is normally known for having amazing depth so you’d figure that if anyone could recover from that type of hit, it would be Columbia. But it’s been tough for the Lions, who lost to Dartmouth and Harvard in both Boston and Wisconsin this year, as they lost even more than just the seniors. Junior Ben Golestan, who was 21st as a sophomore, didn’t run at Wisconsin and won’t be running at Heps. So in effect, Columbia lost five of its top seven from last year. That’s very hard to recover from.

Still, the Lions have been very close to Dartmouth (and Harvard) both times they’ve raced them. In Boston, Columbia’s 5-man average was 9 seconds per man slower than Dartmouth’s. At Wisconsin, it was just 3. And the Lions beat Cornell in Boston. As a result, Columbia has a chance to leave as the victors on Saturday.

Why Columbia should be confident: The Lions have a very potent 1-2 punch, perhaps the best in the league, in sophomore Jack Boyle and senior Daniel Everett. Boyle ran 29:35 as a freshman. That’s scary fast for a frosh. Everett made NCAAs in the 5k his sophomore year when he ran 13:57 and was on the 5th-place NCAA DMR team last year. He’s a total stud who was 5th last year at Heps in XC. At Wisco, they were the second and third Ivy finishers. They both seem poised for the top 10 at Heps and that makes things a lot easier for the Lions.

Why Coach Dan Ireland says the Lions should be excited: “I think what we should be excited about is our top guys are running very well. Our top two individuals can be as good as our first two guys last year (2nd and 4th at Heps). And this team basically shows what the future holds. We are running just 3 seniors and we think this group [of young guys] can continue the tradition that has been built here in the years to come.

“I think in the 13 years I’ve been (closely following) the league, this is the  most wide-open I’ve ever seen it.”

Ireland, like most coaches, also acknowledged there is a downside to it being wide-open, “I think we could be sixth or we could win. At Wisconsin, we also had our fifth in before Dartmouth’s fifth and Harvard’s fifth.”

What Columbia should be nervous: The Lions have raced Dartmouth and Harvard twice and lost to both teams twice. The core of last year’s team is gone and it’s hard to keep things rolling when the guts of a team depart all at once. Willy Wood left the Lions with an incredibly deep incoming class of freshmen, but it’s a bad idea to count on freshmen in men’s cross country, and this year’s crop haven’t shown themselves to be ready for the big time for a variety of reasons – just not ready, a labrum tear, low iron, etc.

How deep was Columbia’s incoming freshman class? Well it looks like they brought in 10 guys –  yes 10 – at 9:15 or better in the 3200 (including six at 9:06 or better).

The one freshman contributing – Tommy Rooney, who was 4th for them at Wisco – ran 9:09 in high school.

 What Coach Ireland says should make Lion fans nervous: “Of the eight potential returners from last year, we are just running three. A few guys might be older on paper but they haven’t been counted on before to carry the load. The talent is there to run to win, but talent doesn’t win races. [The good news is] they are training really, really well – they just haven’t been counted on before.”

Verdict: Given the fact the Lions team from last year was gutted, it would be a minor miracle if they win again this year, particularly considering they’ve lost to both Dartmouth and Harvard in their last two meets.

Cornell – The Big Red entered the year with modest expectations as they only returned one runner from the top 40 (they were seventh last year). Moreover, they have zero guys on the team who have scored at Heps in the 1500, 5,000 or 10,000.

Their win over Yale at Pre-Nats, however, has certainly raised expectations and given them hopes of pulling off a shocking victory at Heps.

Why Cornell should be confident? The transitive property.

Cornell is known for being one of the world’s top science/math/tech schools so everyone on the team should know how the transitive property works. Heps favorite Princeton beat Yale by one point at HYP. Cornell beat Yale more than that at Pre-Nats. By the transitive property, Cornell should beat Princeton right?

The Big Red faithful sure hope so.

It’s a good sign that the Big Red had a different number one runner in each of their meets so far. Freshman Dominic DeLuca, the only Cornell recruit in school history to run under a 9:00 3200 equivalent in HS (8:21 3k) was #1 in the first meet. In meet #2, senior David Melly (Heps 3rd-placer in the steeple) was the top guy and junior Brian Eimstad was tops in meet #3.

Eimstad, who ran 14:13 last year, is a proven commodity. He was the Big Red’s #1 man last year (23rd) and has the track credentials to indicate he’s capable of getting in the top 10. At Pre-Nats, the Big Red’s #5 was way behind their #4 (41 seconds) and that would get them killed at Heps, but the good news is they may have some potential reinforcements as 3:47 1500 runners Ben Rainero and James Gowans both finished in the top 25 at the Princeton meet two weeks ago.

One other thing about Cornell. A runner that I recruited texted me and said the team had gone dry for the season. Desire goes a long way in a wide-open year.

Why Coach Zeb Lang says the Big Red should be excited:  “A Cornell fan should be excited because the team race is more wide-open than it’s been in a few years and I think the Cornell men are running strongly – more so than in the last couple of years. Now I would still say Princeton is the favorite. It’s hard to slay a dragon in its own backyard.”

Why Cornell should be worried:

1) See the intro. They were just seventh last year and on paper don’t have the horses to be considered in the title hunt in 2014.

2) They don’t have a real low stick on paper.

3) Their fourth man at Pre-Nats was Tyler Eustace. He’s tough as nails but has track PBs of just 15:10 and 31:41.

4) They lost to Dartmouth, Harvard and Columbia in Boston. Dartmouth beat them by an average of 16 seconds per man at that meet. You don’t make that type of deficit up without some serious help.

5) They had a freshman as their #2 guy at Pre-Nats and it’s really hard for a freshman guy to do well at Heps. The top freshman in the entire league was just 25th in 2012 and 20th last year. If your #2 is 20th, you aren’t finishing in the top 3.

What Coach Lang thinks should make Cornell fans nervous: “We’re still a young team. Last year, we were just seventh so we still have a lot to prove to ourselves and others, but this group is investing in their running careers, I will say that. I don’t know if they are monks and choir boys but they are taking this seriously, so that’s good.

“In terms of specific worries,  it’s not really worries – just the day-to-day details you’ve got to take care of as coach this time of year with the weather changing and the school year grinding on (Prelims for Cornell). I’m always asking my guys ‘Are we taking care of business?’ – getting our sleep, keeping our iron up, etc.”

Verdict: The Big Red are an overlooked group of super-dedicated runners with a lot to gain and little to lose.  That makes them dangerous. Being from Ithaca, they’re also used to bad weather and thus should go to the nearest Native American tribe in upstate New York and get them to do a little rain dance as they likely could benefit from wet weather. Last week, no rain was in the forecast. Yesterday, there was an 85% chance of rain but now it’s down to 40%.

Harvard – The Crimson lost studs Korolev and James Leakos from last year’s fourth-place team (although Leakos didn’t race Heps last year due to injury) and was 28 seconds per man behind Princeton in the opening HYP meet. It’s pretty phenomenal that they are getting listed as a team that could win.

I don’t really think they can win, but it’s not right to list Columbia as a potential winner and not list Harvard since Harvard has beaten Columbia in two straight races.

Harvard has been improving all season long and was just 8 seconds per man behind Princeton in Wisconsin.

Why Harvard should be excited: The Crimson are the only senior-dominated team in the Heps this year with three seniors in their top five. They have a good #1 man in Tom Purnell. The 13:59 guy was bad at HYP to start the season (just 15th) but was the top Ivy finisher in Boston and the fourth Ivy finisher at Wisconsin. #2 man Will Geiken has solid track credentials at 14:17/29:42. Freshman Ben Huffman was a Foot Locker finalist who ran 8:58 in HS.

They’ve beaten Columbia in two straight races. Someone has to win and no one in the Heps has stepped up to say they are the team to beat.

Why Coach Jason Saretsky says Harvard should be excited: “This is the most wide open Heps I can remember in the close to 20 years I have been associated with the League.  It is going to be a fantastic meet.”

Why Harvard should be nervous: They were only fourth last year and lost the #1 man from that team. They were trounced at HYP. If they or Cornell win, then logic simply doesn’t apply this year.

What Coach Saretsky says should make Harvard fans nervous: “Anything can happen out there once the gun goes off but that is also what makes it so exciting.”

tnP1030221[1] Maksim Koroleve is still running in the NCAA – just not at Harvard *More 2013 Photos
Verdict: It’s a shame the Ivy League doesn’t allow graduate students to compete as Harvard would be pretty good this year if defending champ Maksim Korolev – who went on to be the top American at NCAAs – was running for them and not Stanford.

Here’s a stat for you. Last year, when they finished fourth, was the first year since 1993 that Harvard was higher than fifth at Heps. Once in 20 plus years,  that’s pretty amazing. Thus after losing defending champ Korolev the odds are WAY greater that they finish in the bottom half of the league yet again this year than they win but it’s only fair to list them as a potential winner if I’m also listing Columbia.

Yale – On paper, the Bulldogs had five of the top 19 returners from last year – all guys who finished in the top 31 last year. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, two of those guys aren’t running well. Conner Alexander, who was 26th last year, hasn’t raced this year due to anemia and Isa Qasim, who was 27th, has been struggling a bit. Nonetheless, the Bulldogs raised a lot of eyebrows by coming up just one point short of Princeton at the season-opening HYP meet.

Could this be the year that Yale – the alma mater of LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson (my twin brother) – wins its first Heps title since 1942 (before Brown even joined the league)?

Those almost-crazy thoughts were seemingly lost when they lost to Cornell at Pre-Nats. Or were they?

Why the Bulldogs Should Be Excited: 13:59/29:10 guy Kevin Dooney is the third returner from last year in the League and running like it. 2nd at HYP, he seems likely to be in the top 5 this year at Heps and might be the winner if heavy favorite Thomas Awad of Penn falters. That helps a lot.

Finishing within one point of Princeton certainly should give them confidence to know that on their best day they can run with anyone in the league.

#2 man Duncan Tomlin, an 8:58 steepler who was fourth in the Heps steeple last spring, overachieved and was fourth at the HYP meet. He’s regressed a little bit since then (behind Cornell’s #3 at Pre-Nats) but is a potential top-20 candidate.

Frosh Cameron Stanish was 5th at HYP in his first meet. He was quite good in high school – 8:56 – but that’s what we call way overachieving for a frosh. At Paul Short, he continued to run well and was Yale’s #2 and 25th overall, but at Pre-Nats he was just Yale’s 5th man (153rd overall).

Yale needs him in the top 20 at Heps but that’s very hard for a frosh to pull off.  However, if he’d just run with Yale’s #3 at Pre-Nats, the Bulldogs would have beaten Cornell. The good news for Yale is there is reason to believe that he’s not simply a freshman who burned it too hot early in the season and that he’ll be back in good form at Heps. Yale coach Paul Harkins said Stanish was very ill at Pre-Nats – so sick that he got his own room as a sort of quarantine.

Yale most likely is a year or two away from being really good. They only have one senior in their top five so the future should be brighter (although I guess most of the Heps teams this year feel similarly on the – ‘we barely have any senior scorers’ front).

Coach Harkins on why a Yale fan should be excited for Heps:

“I think this is the best team we’ve ever had or at least in a very, very long time. We’ve got a really good group of young guys who are just running plain tough. They are excited about Heps and they are more confident  than they’ve ever been, and this year, [whichever team] shows up and runs well could be a Heps champion, frankly, or just about.”

I asked Harkins if finishing just one point behind Princeton at HYP might have actually been bad for Yale as it’s might have raised expectations too high. “No, it gave us an idea of what we are capable of doing,” he said. “We all knew it kind of coming out of the summer and it showed us we are capable of running with Princeton. If they run like they are capable of, I think they have a really good shot [of winning.]”

Why the Bulldogs should be nervous:

1) I know I started this preview by saying this year’s Heps reminded me of the Pre-Internet era, but in the year 2014, if you are losing to Navy in a cross country meet (which Yale did at Paul Short), you aren’t winning Heps. Navy was great 20+ years ago (Heps champs, seventh in the country in 1992), not now.

2) History: Yale hasn’t won a Heps title since 1942.

3) Their administration doesn’t support athletics and certainly not track and cross country like Princeton/Columbia. Read above. You see how Columbia got ten 9:15 guys this year. That’s close to a half-decade of recruiting for Yale.

4) They lost to Cornell in their last meet. Even I, an ex-Cornell coach, thought Cornell was likely headed to a seventh-place showing at Heps before that race.

5) See above about Stanish. Relying on a frosh is dangerous for a men’s team, relying one who is coming off a subpar race is even more dangerous.

6) James Randon, the second frosh at Heps last year in 31st (7th at HYP to start this year), was just the 7th Ivy finisher at Pre-Nats which had just two Heps schools in it.

7) Senior John McGowan, who was 16th in Foot Lockers in high school, hasn’t been running great. 23rd at Heps last year, he was just 15th at HYP, and 140th at Pre-Nats.

Coach Harkins on why Yale fans should be nervous: “I don’t think anybody really knows how good everybody is this year. nobody knows how good Penn is, how good Cornell is with all their freshmen, how good Columbia is after the coaching change, what can Dartmouth do – it’s a very very ambiguous meet.”

“Some team could go in expecting to win and end up fifh and vice versa. The ambiguity is what makes people nervous.I’m not nervous myself – we are confident. But the ambiguity would make any fan nervous – not just a Bulldog fan.”

Verdict: Stanish, Randon and McGowan need to run the races of their lives for Yale to contend and none of them ran particularly well at Pre-Nats. That being said, it would be foolish to rule them out completely simply because they ran poorly at a muddy Pre-Nats.

There’s Always Next Year

Penn – At the end of the summer, the young Penn Quakers squad were the darlings of those who like to pick underdogs on the Internet. And for good reason.

This Quakers squad has some credentialed track guys on it as it features two Heps track champions in Thomas Awad (10,000), the heavy favorite for the individual title, and Brendan Smith (steeple). Add in sophomore Brendan Shearn, who ran 29:49 as a frosh (fourth all-time at Penn) and was second at US Juniors, and the fact that coach Steve Dolan knows how to win from his days at Princeton (five Heps titles as coach), and it’s easy to understand why they were the sexy pick.

It’s easy to say this now but, honestly, I thought they were most likely a year away from being truly good. As a coach, I realized that often times in running, there’s a bit of stagnation after breakthrough track season as one’s cross country performances simply catch up to their track times, instead of seeing another round of big improvement.

Smith, who went from not scoring at Heps in 2013 to winning the steeple in 2014, was only 33rd last year in cross country. Shearn didn’t run Heps last year and was competing in track as late as August this summer. To contend, they’d need both of them knocking on the door near the top 10, which seems a bit much to ask. They both improved a lot last spring – a leveling-off was more likely this fall.

So far, the results have indeed shown that Penn isn’t quite ready for the big time.

At Notre Dame, they were beaten by Princeton by 12 seconds per man. Then in their final pre-Heps race, they disappointed at the Princeton meet where Cornell had two guys who didn’t make the trip to Pre-Nats beat Penn’s third man and Princeton had one guy who didn’t go to Wisconsin ahead of Penn’s #3 as well.

Why Penn should be excited:

1) Awad is the best guy in the Heps and he’s only a junior. They should be scoring four to everyone else’s five this year and next.

2) With two Heps track champs on the roster and only one senior in the top five, Penn should be better next year than this year (although Awad’s one point can’t get any better).

Coach Dolan on why Penn fans should be excited: “It’s definitely the most interesting year [for the team race] in a long time. There normally is a team by now that’s showed if they do what they could, you’d think they’d get it (the team title) but we haven’t seen that. It could be a pretty crazy finish.

“Obviously having Tommy Awad is great. He’s been excellent and he runs well at the Heps and he’s excited so that’s exciting for Penn fans and himself. [Team-wise,] we return some guys from last year and our best two races last year were Heps and NCAA regionals. I hope history repeats itself as that’s what it’s going to take if we are going to compete.”

Why Penn should be nervous:

1) The results have shown they won’t be winning Heps this year.

2) For Penn to contend this year, everything had to go right and that hasn’t been the case. Steeple champ Brendan Smith hasn’t been running as well as many would have thought this year. Unable to go with the team to Notre Dame because of a prelim, he had to race the next week at Paul Short where he was only 70th. At the Princeton meet before Heps, he was just Penn’s 4th man.

Coach Dolan on why Penn fans should be nervous:  “It’s going to take a better race than we’ve run this season if we are going to challenge the top teams. You gotta believe it comes together on that day.”

Verdict: Penn enjoyed a storybook track season last spring. This season was bound to be a letdown. Next year should be a better year for them. That’s the good news – the bad news is that the same is true for basically every other Heps team except for Harvard (and maybe Princeton).

Brown – The Bears were eighth last year and had low expectations entering the year as they returned no one from the top 50 at Heps last year (their top returner was 51st).

Since they are the only Ivy team to not travel to an a big ‘at-large’ meet like Pre-Nats, Notre Dame or Wisco, many assume they are headed for another eighth-place showing.

Why Brown fans should be excited: Ivy League cross country running is extremely deep. Brown may be eighth on paper at Heps but that doesn’t mean they are a bad team. They are still ranked 10th in the Northeast Region after all.

A less-than-full-strength Brown squad did race Dartmouth in the season opener in Hanover and had three in before Dartmouth’s #6. Their top squad also finished second at New Englands.

Coach Tim Springfield on why Brown fans should be excited: “We’ve made significant progress in our training, and we’ve been able to do things in practice that we struggled with last year.  We’re also much deeper than we have been and are racing more consistently.”

Why Brown fans should be nervous: See above about not returning anyone in the top 50 at last year’s Heps. At New England’s, a non-top-7 guy for Dartmouth finished ahead of Brown’s #4.

Coach Springfield on why Brown fans should be nervous: “We are extremely inexperienced and that’s going to be the biggest thing for us to overcome.  We’ve known that from day one, and we’ve done some things in training to specifically prepare, so hopefully we can run like a veteran team without having a veteran team’s race experience.  That’s our challenge.”

Verdict: I could see them not finishing eighth but there is almost no chance they finish in the top half.

My Predictions: 

So far this year, the Heps men’s cross country title has been one that no team seemingly wants to win. In the end, will we get a super-tight affair with a winning team total in the 60s or 70s? Or will Dartmouth or Princeton run well and win convincingly?

Time will tell. On paper, it should have results like 2008 or 2009 – tight up front with a score in the high 50s/lows 60s.

Princeton started the season ranked #19 but is now no longer ranked. That makes it hard for me to take them. That being said, the Tigers haven’t lost to a Heps team all year. That makes it hard for me not to pick them.


1) Dartmouth – If they don’t win this year, they’ll be a big threat for next year as they only have one senior in the top five. I’m worried they don’t have enough firepower up front to win, but consider that they had four guys in before Princeton’s #2 at Wisco. If they can just get a solid run from #5, they should win.
2) Princeton – Second isn’t really a good spot to pick them. They likely either dominate or falter as high expectations are a dangerous thing. If they’d just go out and run without thinking, they might be fine.
3) Yale – You gave the alums a glimmer of hope but history shows you have to have a truly perfect year to win.
4) Columbia – With their top two, it’s hard to see them finishing worse than fourth or fifth.
5) Harvard – They’ve been improving all season long but history tells me not to pick them in top half.
6) Cornell – It’s safer for me to pick them here so I don’t piss off the other coaches. If I pick them high, people will think, “That biased Robert Johnson.” If I pick them low, I simply piss off my old team (I only coached the seniors, I recruited the juniors). That may be a good thing as if they run angry to prove me wrong, then I’ll be happy. I’ll always remember advice coach Nathan Taylor – the director of the Cornell track and XC programs – gave me during my first week on the job: “If you need them to dislike you to be good, that’s just fine with me.” Much like a parent, a coach’s job isn’t to be well-liked, just effective. #GoBigRed
7) Penn – They just don’t deserve a higher ranking right now.
8) Brown – Someone has to finish last.

Individual Race: Penn, you get a nice consolation prize – the individual champ in Awad.

Weather: Weather could be factor as it’s going to be very windy and it might be rainy as well. The forecast keeps changing but if it’s wet, I’d think it would benefit the stronger runners (more 10k types) as the race takes longer. A wet 8k runs more like a 10k but to be honest, the weather is the same for everyone. A few runners struggle in wet conditions but not that many.

What do you think? Discuss this year’s meet on our messageboard: 2014 HEPS cross country thread. Vote in our LetsRun.com Polls– results will be coming out soon.


Below is a list of the top 30 returners from last year with a comment about each:

Returner Place Name Year Team Time Comment
1 3 Awad, Thomas SO-2 Penn 23:44.8 Stud running great. Individual favorite
2 5 Everett, Daniel JR-3 Columbia 23:46.3 Running pretty well. 3rd ivy guy at Wisco
3 8 Dooney, Kevin SO-2 Yale 23:56.6 Running great. 2nd at HYP, 1st Ivy guy at Pre Nats.
4 10 Gorman, Tim SO-2 Dartmouth 23:57.9 Key to Dartmouth’s success. Dartmouth’s 3rd man at Paul Short, last ivy finisher at Wisco.
5 11 Purnell, Tom SO-2 Harvard 23:58.8 Only 21st HYP, but 1st Ivy guy in Boston and 5th Ivy finisher at Wisco.
6 15 Pons, Sam JR-3 Princeton 24:02.4 Amazing in 1st 2 meets (won HYP, 12th at Note Dame), just 11th Ivy league guy at Wisco.
7 16 McDonald, Matt JR-3 Princeton 24:05.3 3rd at HYP. Was top Ivy finisher at Wisco. Won Heps for Princeton in 2011.
8 19 Owens, Eddie JR-3 Princeton 24:11.4 7th Princeton finisher in all 3 meets this year. That being said, he was leading Wisco at 2k.
9 20 Boyle, Jack FR-1 Columbia 24:14.2 29:35 performer as frosh Is running great, 2nd Ivy finisher at Wisco.
10 21 Golestan, Ben SO-2 Columbia 24:19.3 Just Columbia’s 6th finihser in Boston, hasn’t raced since.
11 22 Talbot, Silas JR-3 Dartmouth 24:22.3 Running well, 4th Ivy finisher at Wisco
12 23 Eimstad, Brian SO-2 Cornell 24:24.0 Running well, Cornell’s #1 and 2nd Ivy finisher at Indiana.
13 24 McGowan, John JR-3 Yale 24:26.4 Not running great. Yales 5th at HYP (15th) and at Paul Short, 4th at Pre-Nats
14 25 Kelly, Brett SO-2 Princeton 24:27.8 Ran 27:51 at HYP, hasn’t raced since
15 26 Conner, Alexander SO-2 Yale 24:29.2 Hasn’t raced this year
16 27 Qasim, Isa JR-3 Yale 24:29.4 Way back this year, 27th at HYPs, 112th at Paul Short.
17 28 Geiken, Will JR-3 Harvard 24:31.2 29:40 guy is running pretty well, 8th at HYP, 7th Ivy finisher at Wisco
18 30 Cotton, Adam JR-3 Harvard 24:32.7 Sub-4 equivalent in HS, hasn’t raced this year, one of most disappointing recruits in Ivy history.
19 31 Randon, James FR-1 Yale 24:32.9 7th at HYP, 89th at Pre Nats (7th ivy finisher)
20 32 Rutherford, Tait SO-2 Columbia 24:34.5 14:33 guy was 9th ivy finisher in Boston, 23rd Ivy finisher in Wisco where he was last for Columbia.
21 33 Smith, Brendan SO-2 Penn 24:35.1 Would have been outside of Yales top 7 at Paul Short, hasn’t raced since.
22 34 Maritim, Nephat JR-3 Harvard 24:36.5 8:32 3000 guy was 26th at HYP, 13th Ivy finisher in Wisco.
23 35 Shearn, Brendan FR-1 Penn 24:38.2 Penn’s #2 Finished 63rd at ND, just behind Princeton’s #4. Finished behind Cornell’s #8 (potential #4 or 5) at Princeton.
24 37 Masterson, Brian SO-2 Dartmouth 24:38.7 113th (9th ivy guy at Darmouth)
25 38 Adams, Nathaniel FR-1 Dartmouth 24:38.8 Dartmouth’s #4 and 11th Ivy guy in Boston, Dartmouths #2 and 6th Ivy guy in Wisco.
26 39 Paez, Conner SR-4 Penn 24:39.9 Penn’s #7 at Notre Dame is a great inspiration.
27 42 Martin, Connor JR-3 Princeton 24:43.8 Hasn’t raced this year
28 43 Melly, David JR-3 Cornell 24:44.0 Cornell #1 in Boston (4th Ivy guy), #3 at Pre nats.
29 44 Tedder, Mark FR-1 Cornell 24:44.0 14:25 as a frosh, out for season with stress fracture
30 45 Allen, Chris SO-2 Harvard 24:44.1 9th at HYP, 6th ivy guy in Boston, but way back in wisco (22nd)

Want More Info? Lots of great info including last year’s full results can always be found on Hepstrack.com or you can go to tfrrs.org and be able to see every college race result for every runner.

LRC Women’s Preview: 2014: Ivy League Heps Women’s Cross Country Preview: Nationally Ranked Princeton and Dartmouth Lead The Way.

More: Discuss this year’s meet on our world famous messageboard: 2014 HEPS cross country thread.

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