Thin streaks of mud trickled down Jolee Van Leuven ’09’s arms and legs minutes after she crossed the finish line at the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship at Princeton’s West Windsor fields Nov. 15. But the Princeton cross country co-captain seemed unfazed by the rainy weather.
“Runners just run in whatever — that’s what we do,” she said with a smile and a shrug. “I’m from Oregon, so pretty much every day is like this there.”
The Princeton women were similarly matter-of-fact on the rain-soaked course, living up to their No. 4 national ranking by tying for first place in the highly competitive regional competition.
Liz Costello ’10, the two-time Ivy League individual champion, captured second place overall, sprinting past a rival from Penn State in the final 100 meters of the 6,000-meter race. Van Leuven ran her best race of the season, placing seventh. Alex Banfich ’12 (10th place), co-captain Megan Brandeland ’09 (12th), and Reilly Kiernan ’10 (20th) followed, giving the Tigers 51 points, the same total as Big East powerhouse West Virginia.
At the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., Nov. 24, the Prince-ton women placed fifth overall, the top finish in school history and the best showing by an Ivy team in more than a decade.
The NCAA race was the latest in a series of strong outings for the Tigers, who have finished first or tied for first in 10 of the 14 meets they’ve entered in the last two seasons. The team has a bona fide star in Costello, the first woman to break 17 minutes on the 5,000-meter course at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships (her 16:59.9 on Oct. 31 won the race by nearly 35 seconds). But after Costello, the Tigers’ order of finish is anyone’s guess. Brandeland, Banfich, Van Leuven, Kiernan, Sarah Cummings ’11, and Ashley Higginson ’11 each took turns in Princeton’s top three.
The Heps medal stand provided an impressive illustration of Princeton’s depth. When the top 12 Ivy finishers stood shoulder to shoulder, the lineup looked like a Princeton team picture. Nine of the 12 had run for the league-champion Tigers, who turned in the most remarkable team performance
in the 32-year history of the women’s race.
“It’s so cool to be a part of it,” Brandeland said. “What are the odds that so many talented girls would come together and click this well?”
Head coach Peter Farrell, now in his 31st season at Princeton, points to a cooperative culture as one factor in his team’s success. Within the team, runners push each other and compete for the chance to run in big meets, but they remain unfailingly supportive. “We’ve been termed a ‘happy team’ by other programs,” Farrell said. “And that pays off in the long run.”
The Tigers have top-flight talent — four runners competed in the prestigious Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in high school — but less heralded athletes also have blossomed in Princeton’s program.
Kiernan, who missed her entire sophomore season with a foot injury, returned to action this year and
shattered personal bests from her freshman year. At Heps, she placed third overall and shaved 1:24 from her 2006 time.
Brandeland, once a triple-jump specialist on the track team, didn’t even run cross country as a freshman. By her junior year, she’d been transformed into one of the team’s most reliable runners, and as a senior, she finished second at Heps.