All season long, the Harvard women’s track and field team has relied primarily on its throwing corps to put points on the board and keep the squad competitive. While the Crimson throwers continued to impress at the Indoor Heptagonal Championships over the weekend, it was the team’s group of sprinters who stepped up in a big way for Harvard.
Going into the final two events of the two-day competition, which was held at Gordon Indoor Track, the Crimson was clinging to a 101-100.7 lead over Cornell. In the penultimate event—the 4x800-meter relay—Harvard finished in second place and the Big Red in fifth to extend the Crimson’s lead to just over six points.
“There was a huge amount of pressure [on the relay teams],” Harvard coach Jason Saretsky said. “I think they all knew what was at stake and they just went out there and executed.”
In the final event of the championship meet—the 4x400-meter dash—Harvard’s quartet of freshmen Autumne Franklin and Christi Scott, sophomore Gabrielle Scott, and junior Olivia Abbate needed to finish in fourth place or better to secure the team title.
“I was anchor leg so I felt a lot of pressure,” Franklin said. “Especially because the score was so close, I felt like it was all on me.”
Though Cornell topped the Harvard foursome in the relay, Franklin crossed the finish line in second place to earn her team the conference crown.
“[After the race] people were crying, people were running up to me and giving me hugs, and picking me up off my feet,” Franklin said. “Everyone was so excited about the win. There’s been so much energy, it’s been wonderful.”
Including the eight points from the 4x400, 59 of the team’s 117 total points came in sprinting events, as the Crimson edged the Big Red by a final tally of 117-112.7 to win the Ivy League Championship for the first time since 2000. On the men’s side, Harvard recorded 86 team points, which was good for third place behind Cornell and Princeton.
“It was awesome,” Saretsky said. “That’s the best word I can use to describe it. We came into the meet with an outside chance to win it, and we had a number of people really step up and have some amazing performances out there. I just couldn’t be prouder of our women’s team.”
The weekend began in record-setting fashion for the Harvard women. Coming off a dominant performance at the HYP meet two weeks ago, junior co-captain Adabelle Ekechukwu cruised to a victory in the weight throw. Though the junior, who is also a Crimson arts and multimedia editor, scratched on her first two throws, her final toss of 20.83 meters broke the Ancient Eight record that she set at HYP. Ekechukwu’s closest competitor, Princeton freshman Julia Ratcliffe, who set the conference record at the beginning of the season, was two full meters short of the record-breaking heave.
Ekechukwu was named the women’s MVP of the meet, a distinction that was earned on the men’s side by senior Nico Weiler for his performance in the pole vault. Weiler, who finished in fourth place at last year’s outdoor NCAA Championships, won the event with a clearance of 5.38 meters. None of the event’s other participants cleared a height greater than 4.70 meters.
“[Ekechukwu and Weiler] put in so much hard work and are clearly very talented as well,” Saretsky said. “They’re just national-caliber athletes.”
Weiler’s victory gave the Crimson 10 team points, a figure that was doubled by a trio of throwers in the shot put. Junior Dustin Brode, sophomore Ben Glauser, and senior Edward Brucker finished in first, third, and fourth place, respectively, in the event.
On the women’s side, Harvard notched 18 points in the 60-meter hurdles, as Franklin and classmate Martina Salander took the top two spots in the event.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more in my race,” Franklin said. “I think I was just very focused…. Also, with the energy of the meet, I felt like I was just absorbing all of the hype.”
Franklin crossed the finish line in a blistering 8.43 seconds, besting the Heps record by 0.01 seconds. Salander was just behind her classmate, coming in at 8.57 seconds.
“For our women to go out there and come away with the victory on our home track was a really, really special moment,” Saretsky said. “We’re hoping this is the first of many.”
—Staff writer Dominic Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dominicmtz.