Based on this season’s results, it would be hard to pick against the Princeton women on getting both the individual and team title. It wasn’t the case back in early September when there was it was announced that defending individual champion Megan Curham was going to take the year off, despite the fact the team got a pre-season national ranking of 29th. And then in their first meet of the season, they lost to conference rival Harvard at their annual tri-meet with Yale by 1 point.
By mid-September, the team began to pick up steam. They finished a respectable third place at the Iona Meet of Champions behind then-#10 Wisconsin and then-DIII #1 John Hopkins when the Lady Tigers sat their top runners out for the weekend. Two weeks later, the Lady Tigers won their home Inter-Regional meet, besting 11 other squads including 3 higher nationally ranked squads and conference competitor Columbia. The Princeton women proved again at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational they were the best Ivy team in the field with a 10th place finish, beating Columbia a second time, besting the defending HepsXC team champion Dartmouth, and getting revenge on their loss to Harvard at HYP. Going into HepsXC, they are now ranked 20th nationally – the highest ranked Ivy squad this year.
Princeton’s success this season has largely been due to their strong front runners. Elizabeth Bird quickly filled in the #1 runner void left by Curham’s absence. Bird has been undefeated this year against Ivy League competition and is the strong favorite to claim the individual title. She didn’t compete during the 2014 cross country season – in her only HepsXC showing to date, she finished 38th and as Princeton’s #6 runner back in 2013. Emily de La Bruyere has also stepped up this year – she has been a reliable speedy #2 this season. Like Bird, she did not participate in cross country last year. Princeton’s top returner from 2014 is Kathryn Fluehr. She was First-Team All Ivy last year and it’s quite possible that she could get in that position again as Princeton’s #3 runner. At the Princeton Inter-Regional meet, she finished among the top 10 individuals with Bird and de La Bruyere. Other runners who have shined for the team this season include rookie Brighie Leach (former Rookie of the Week), Alex Markovich, Melinda Renuart, Birdie Hutton, and Nicole Marvin. Fluehr is the only returning scorer from the 2014 squad right now as Natalie Rathjen (who a rookie First Team All Ivy last year) has not raced since HYP. If Rathjen was back among the HepsXC roster and up to form, she could bolster the team’s chances of getting the team title again.
Where Princeton is vulnerable is in their fourth and fifth runners. Due to the team having such a powerful front three, the remaining scoring positions leave a large enough time gap that other teams can get their final runners in before Princeton and possibly upset the team for the title. Princeton lost to Harvard at HYP due to Harvard having the faster fifth runner. But in their other races this season, the strength of Princeton’s top 3 runners have given them enough of a scoring cushion that it has allowed them to remain ahead of their competitors. Can they replicate that again this Friday at Van Cortlandt Park?