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Annual Showdown for 2011 Heps Women's Cross Country Championship Set for Saturday

Annual Showdown for 2011 Heps Women's Cross Country Championship Set for Saturday

Cross Country Championship Central

PRINCETON, N.J. -- The Princeton women enter the 2011 Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships as the five-time defending champions. Another storyline is that the women will race away from Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx, N.Y. for the first time since 1981 and, due to the layout of Princeton's Windsor Fields course, they will run on a 6k course instead of the 5k distance that had become the traditional length for the League's championship event. All these changes are sure to excite the runners and spectators alike as they prepare for Saturday's Championships.

If the Tigers are to repeat, they will have to overcome some fierce competition. All seven other Ivy teams could be considered challengers and Cornell, Yale and Dartmouth are each ranked in similar positions to the Tigers in the USTFCCA regional polls.

In fact, the Big Red may be slight favorites heading into the 2011 championship after cracking the national top-25 based on a strong fifth-place showing at the Pre-National Invitational in Terre Haute, Ind. Cornell is looking for its first Ivy League Cross Country title since 1998, while Brown (1999), Dartmouth (1997), Harvard (1985), Penn (1990) and Yale (2001) will also try to snap lengthy winless stretches. Columbia, which has finished second at four of the last five championships, was the last team to win an Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championship title before Princeton started its current five-championship winning streak. The Lions captured the 2005 crown.

On the individual level, three of last season's top-five finishers are back in 2011. Princeton senior Alex Banfich returns as the defending champion, having claimed the 2010 crown in 16:58.9. Were Banfich to win the 2011 race, she would become the 10th student-athlete to win multiple Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships. Last year's second place finisher Caroline McDonough of Columbia returns to try and go out on top. Brown sophomore Margaret Connelly finished fifth as a freshman and could use that experience to challenge for the title in 2011.

Team-by-team season recaps:

Brown Bears
Ranked 10th in Northeast … freshman Leah Eickhoff placed ninth at the Dartmouth Invitational … sophomore Margaret Connelly took second and classmate Heidi Caldwell finished third to lead team to third-place at the Iona Meet of Champions … Bears placed 12th at the Paul Short Invitational … juniors Elaine Kuckertz and Bree Shugarts took third and fourth, respectively, as Brown won Rothenberg Invitational.

Columbia Lions
Ranked eighth in the Northeast … topped Saint Michael and Vermont at the Vermont Invite … junior Erin Gillingham placed third overall … team finished eighth in Iona Meet of Champions and fourth at Toledo Bubble Buster … took 27th at competitive Wisconsin Invitational … Noelle Van Rysselberghe placed second and team won the 2011 Metropolitan Championships by 15 points over the second-place team.

Cornell Big Red
Ranked third in the Northeast … junior Katie Kellner took first and fellow classmate Genna Hartung placed second as team defeated Army and Binghamton … Kellner and Hartung placed third and fourth, respectively, in Colgate Invitational … team finished seventh at the Paul Short Invitational and fifth at the Pre-National Invitational … freshman Jade Williams took second as Cornell won the Yellowjacket Invitational.

Dartmouth Big Green
Ranked seventh in the Northeast… won Dartmouth Invitational with sophomore Abbey D'Agostino taking the individual title and senior Alexi Pappas placing second … D'Agostino also took fourth at the Paul Short Invitational as team finished eighth … team earned seventh at the Mayor's Cup and eighth at the New England Championships … D'Agostino took second at Pre-Nationals as Big Green placed seventh.

Harvard Crimson
Ranked 13th in the Northeast … freshman Alaina Alvarez placed seventh and sophomore Alaina Murphy finished 12th in the 5K Bryant Invitational … senior Kaylin Kuzmuk took fourth and Alvarez placed 14th at HYP … team finished in 14th-place at the Paul Short Invitational … Crimson bested two Big Ten teams (Purdue and Illinois) and one Pac-12 team (UCLA) in the Wisconsin Invitational.

Penn Quakers
Ranked eighth in Mid-Atlantic … junior Leslie Kovach helped team finish third at Fordham Follies and Fiasco Invitational with a third-place run led by junior Margaret Diacont finishing 14th … team took second at the Iona Meet of Champions as Kovach placed fifth and Diacont finished sixth … Quakers placed seventh in the Penn State National Invitational as Kovach took 20th.

Princeton Tigers
Defending Ivy League champion … ranked fifth in the Mid-Atlantic and receiving votes in national rankings … took first at the Fordham Invitational with four runners in the top-10 … senior Alex Banfich placed first to lead team to victory at HYP … Banfich took fourth at the Wisconsin Invitational … Banfich placed 13th at the Notre Dame Invite to lead team to an eighth-place finish … rest of the Tigers took fifth at Princeton Invitational on the same weekend.

Yale Bulldogs
Ranked fourth in the Northeast while receiving votes in the national rankings …  team took second at Fordham Follies and Fiasco Invitational as sophomore Melissa Chapman won the individual title and junior Jacque Sahlberg placed third … sophomore Liana Epstein took second at HYP … team finished sixth at Paul Short Invitational and 16th at the New England Championships.