October 24, 2007

Yale Gears up for Heptagonal Championships

Oct. 24, 2007

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - This weekend, the top 12 Bulldogs will travel to the Bronx, N.Y., to begin their championship season. All eight Ivy schools meet Friday at the famous Van Cortlandt Park to race at the Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships. This will be the 68th running of the cross country "Heps." Always a great tradition that can be filled with surprises, this year's Heps promises to be an exciting event.

Last year's team title was claimed by Princeton, which placed its scoring five runners in the top 20 to win with 50 points. The Tigers were followed by Columbia (63) and Dartmouth (97), leaving Yale (116) with a fourth-place finish in the competitive race. Of Princeton's top seven runners from last season, only one was a senior, leaving the Tigers as the favorite again this year. They are currently No. 2 in the NCAA DI Mid-Atlantic regional rankings.

Despite coming off a disappointing last race at Pre-Nationals where Yale placed behind Princeton, Cornell, and Penn, coach Dan Ireland knows that the Bulldogs are still excited to race this weekend and see the results of all their hard training.

"Our goal at the beginning of the season was to finish among the top four at the Ivy League Championships, and regardless of what has happened up to this point in the season we still believe that goal is more than attainable," Ireland said.

The individual winner in 2006 was Dartmouth junior Ben True, who became only the sixth runner to win back-to-back Heps titles in the history of the meet. He finished the hilly, five-mile course in 24:29.1. He was followed closely by two other juniors: Cornell's Jimmy Wyner (second in 24:32.0) and Princeton's Dave Nightengale (third in 24:33.3). Finishing fourth was Dartmouth senior Steve Mucchetti (24:40.8), who is now an assistant coach at Yale.

Yale's top finisher last year was junior Jake Gallagher, who placed 10th in 24:59 to earn second team All-Ivy honors. He was followed by classmate Murat Kayali (15th in 25:12), and current captain Tadhg O'Callaghan (26th in 25:20.8).

While the top three Heps finishers last year were non-seniors, only two will be returning this year. True has opted to take two terms off from Dartmouth to train for cross-country skiing, and will not return to Ivy competition until the outdoor track season. With neither Wyner nor Nightengale having led their respective teams in the most recent competition at the Pre-National meet, the individual title seems to be up for grabs.

Yale will once again look to Gallagher to be up with the front pack and lead a strong showing. He has been the top runner for the Elis all season, and won the first two competitions in convincing fashion. Yale will also rely heavily on other older members of the team, including Kayali, O'Callaghan, juniors Jared Bell and John Hinkle, and senior Joe Kingsbery.

"I'm excited to watch the guys race," Muchetti said. "It's obviously going to be a little strange for me to be coaching, rather than competing -- I was fortunate enough to race at Heps the last four years. Hopefully I'll be able to give the younger guys some useful advice, in terms of tactics, but I don't want to overload them with information. If they toe the line focused, and prepared to compete, they'll perform well."

The last time a Bulldog won an individual Heps cross country title was when Jim Gibson crossed the line first in 1989. Since then, the best finish was by Lucas Meyer (second in 24:39) at the 2004 meet. Yale's top team result in the last 10 years was a third-place finish in 2003.

This year, the men's race is scheduled to go off at 11:45 a.m. Directions to the meet, results from previous years and day-of-race results can all be found at http://www.ivyleaguesports.com/sports/heps-championships.asp?intSID=1.

report by Bevin Peters '09, Yale Sports Publicity

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