The setup for the men’s team title is very similar to last year. Coming into Heps XC, both #10 Columbia and #15 Princeton are nationally ranked due to their strong talents and great performance record this year. Columbia earned their highest national ranking in school history after winning the Notre Dame XC Invitational at the beginning of this month, while Princeton has sustained their top-15 national ranking all year long. But national rankings are moot at Heps – last year, Princeton bested Columbia by 32 points at Heps XC, even though the Lions had a higher ranking going into the meet.
The two squads raced against each other at the Notre Dame Invitational, where Columbia won while Princeton placed 3rd in the team rankings. But if you remove all of the other teams from the invitational and rescored the meet, Princeton and Columbia would end up in a tie – 28 to 28.
Columbia’s strength is in their tight spread. Columbia won the Notre Dame Invite with a five-runner spread of 34 seconds. They followed that up with a 6th place team showing at the Wisconsin adidas Invite with a 28 second spread. It doesn’t hurt that seniors Nico Composto (Chicago, Ill.), Daniel Everett (Creve Coeur, Mo.), John Gregorek (Seekonk, Mass.), and Jake Sienko (Warwick, R.I.) can run the 8km in the near-same time. But the key fifth runner position has been filled by frosh Jack Boyle (Avon-by-the-Sea, N.J.). Boyle, a graduate from the high school distance powerhouse Christian Brothers Academy (NJ), has shown on the college level that he can handle the pressure on how a team title can come down to him, a trait that some runners never can fully grasp.
Princeton has the faster front and the advantage of having Heps XC back on their home course. Seniors Sam Pons (South Pasadena, Calif.) and Tyler Udland (Millburn, N.J.) have finished in #1 position across three meets this season. Chris Bendtsen (Wolcott, Conn.), the defending Heps XC individual titlist, bested Columbia at Notre Dame. Matt McDonald has consistently helped the Tigers this year as either the #3 or #4 runner. But the Tigers will need to look to senior Alejandro Arroyo Yamin (Leon, Mexico), junior Eddie Owens (Brooklyn, N.Y.), or junior Connor Martin (Carmel, Ind.) to help close the gap. Both Yamin (who finished runner up last year at this meet) and Owens have had a slow start to this cross country season. Martin has a lot of heart though, which was perfectly shown at his finish at the Paul Short Brown race in the deadly heat.
Lions or Tigers? We cannot tell who will win the crown, but we can tell you it will be a great race.