For the men’s cross country team, success has come in waves. The Tigers won eight Ivy Heptagonal Championships from 1975 to 1983, took three straight from 1997 through 1999, and kicked off another run in 2006, winning five titles in six years, including this year’s championship. Princeton had its highest finish — 12th place — at the NCAA Championships last year. After years of being what senior captain Donn Cabral called “a big fish in a small pond” — strong in the Ivy League but not a national power — the latest wave crested in 2011, with a deep squad that was in the nation’s top 10 for much of the season.
Peter Maag ’12, who finished fifth overall at the Heptagonals, has been one of Princeton’s top runners this season. His older brother, 2007 Heps champion Michael Maag ’09, was an inspiration for him.
“I came and visited him a couple times, and I remember loving the team, thinking they were all awesome,” Peter Maag said. “They had a lot of good leaders, including my brother, and I think my class of leaders learned a lot from them.”
The current run of success coincides with the tenure of head coach Steve Dolan, who has been in charge of the program since 2004. Dolan praised the atmosphere and camaraderie set by past team leaders, which has motivated runners and made the program attractive to recruits, helping the Tigers build a deep team. This depth could be the key to keeping Princeton nationally relevant after Cabral, Maag, and the other seniors depart.
“Obviously, Donn Cabral has been outstanding up front, but some of the guys that have made our season have been Peter Maag, Tyler Udland [’14], Chris Bendtsen [’14] — some of the guys that weren’t at that level last year, but they’ve worked hard and improved so much that it’s their time,” Dolan said. “That’s my hope, in the years to come, that it’ll be someone else’s time.”
Depth also has benefited this season’s team. Cabral took a disappointing third at Heps, held in an unusual October snowstorm, but he was joined by four other Tigers in the top 12.
“Depth is all relative. If you’d asked me this question two years ago, I’d have said, yes, this team’s currently deep. But what would make our fourth- or fifth-best runner a couple years ago would now make our 15th-best runner,” Cabral said.
Princeton’s depth was not on full display at the Mid-Atlantic Regional meet. Though Cabral ran a blistering final five kilometers to win the individual race by eight seconds, no other Tiger finished in the top 10 and only Bendtsen joined him among the top 20, allowing Georgetown and Villanova to finish well ahead of the pre-race-favorite Tigers.
Only the top two teams automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships, but the Tigers earned an at-large bid to the field. (Results from the Nov. 21 NCAA meet were not available for this issue of PAW.)
Cabral said he thought the team was capable of a top-five finish if all the pieces fell exactly right.
“Last year, I would have said that a 10th- or 12th-place finish would be a great run and we should be proud of it,” he said. “But we accomplished that last year, and we’re looking for more this year. We have a stronger team with more potential, so if we have the same result, I don’t think we’ll go home happy.”
WEB UPDATE: Men’s cross country placed 19th at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., Nov. 21. Donn Cabral ’12 led the Tigers, placing 19th overall. Princeton’s other four scoring runners were Chris Bendtsen ’14, Tyler Udland ’14, Eddie Owens ’15, and Brian Leung ’12.
In women’s cross country, Alex Banfich ’12 finished fifth in the NCAA meet, competing as an individual. Banfich, a two-time All-American in cross country, ran the six-kilometer course in 19:45 and recorded the highest finish in program history.