Tagged as the lowest-ranked of the nine regional champions in the pre-race coaches’ poll of the 30-team championship field, the lightly-touted Tigers ignored the early-week snub. Sometimes a team can benefit from being discounted, permitting it to fly under the radar. But you have to perform on race day. And in Louisville, the Tigers were unable to replicate their magical regional performance. The Tigers’ five scorers — separated only by 33 seconds in the regional — ballooned to a 66 second finish-time spread in the championship final. The result: 620 points and a disappointing 28th place finish.
“I think we had a difficult time getting into the position where we wanted to be,” explained head coach Jason Vigilante afterwards. “Twenty-eighth place is disappointing [after coming in as] regional champions. We were really hoping for a higher finish. But sometimes it doesn’t shake out the way you want it.”
Vigilante hopes his athletes can come to view the championship race disappointment in conjunction not only with their impressive regional victory, but also with yet another Heps team title earned. “It was a wonderful season and I hope the guys can celebrate this and appreciate it for what it is, recognize the hard work and the comradery they put into it, and be able to take away a sense of pride.” With the sophomore trio of Conor Lundy, Gannon Willcutts, and Viraj Deokar returning next fall to provide an experienced and powerful core, there is reason for optimism.
The Princeton men weren’t the only Tigers to race at Louisville’s Sawyer Park. Competing as an individual qualifier in the women’s national championship event, Princeton junior Gabrielle Forrest — who last month captured the Heps individual crown and later finished an impressive third in her regional qualifier — ran a competitive race, clocking 20:09 on the rolling 6-kilometer course. Breathless in the mixed zone, the exuberant Brisbane, Australia native recounted her race. “The wind was pretty bad,” she said. “I tried to tuck in where I could behind people. It was such a great experience. I think I was on the cusp of top 40, but we’ll see when the results come in.” She finished 37th in a field of 255 to earn All-American recognition.
An animated Forrest beamed as she recalled the frenzied excitement of her first national championship competition: “A lot of people were shouting out at me. I had no idea. People just were yelling the whole way which is amazing because we don’t get that much [spectator involvement] in our sport.”
Plagued by nagging injuries during her first two years at Princeton, the Aussie economics major has been aided this fall by a carefully-scripted training regimen. Cautious preparation has kept her healthy and allowed her to uncork a racing ferocity when it counted most. “Our nickname for Gabi,” offered women’s coach Brad Hunt, “is ‘The Thunder from Down Under.’” The newly-minted All-American is already looking forward to competing as a senior in next year’s championship race. Said Forrest, “Yeah, I’ll give it another go!”
Sports Shorts: The fall season continues to be a successful one for the Princeton women’s teams. Women’s volleyball defeated Yale, 3-0, in a one-match Ivy League playoff Nov. 18, earning the league’s bid to the NCAA Championships. Women’s soccer upset No. 2 North Carolina in overtime to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals, where the Tigers will meet UCLA Nov. 25. And earlier this month, the Ivy-champion field hockey team fell in the NCAA quarterfinals to North Carolina, two days after knocking off Virginia in the round of 16. … Men’s water polo opened up a 5-1 lead against Harvard in the Northeast Water Polo Conference championship game Nov. 19, but the Tigers fell to the Crimson in overtime, 12-11. … Princeton football wrapped up a record-setting season with a 54-44 loss at Dartmouth Nov. 18. Senior quarterback Chad Kanoff broke the single-season Ivy record for passing yards, finishing the year with 3,474, and passed Princeton record-holder Doug Butler ’86 to become the Tigers’ career leader with 7,510. By B.T.