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On Saturday, for just the fourth time in 43 years, a Harvard athlete captured the individual title at the Heptagonal Championships.
Co-captain Maksim Korolev bested the all of the 95 runners who toed the line at Princeton’s West Windsor Fields on Saturday to win the Ivy championship. Korolev averaged 4:43 per mile on the 8k course and crossed the finish line in a conference-record 23:28. He was 16 seconds ahead of the race’s second-place finisher, Columbia’s Nico Composto.
Overall, the Crimson men finished in fourth place at the meet with team total of 103 points. Columbia, which was ranked No. 10 in the latest USTFCCCA rankings, placed three runners in the top five en route to the team title. On the women’s side, Harvard took third, behind Dartmouth and Cornell, who took first and second places, respectively.
“I don’t think there’s another conference in the country that has the kind of parity or the kind of equal playing field that exists in the Heps,” Saretsky said. “The level of competition this year is unbelievable…. It’s one of the most competitive conferences in the country.”
Korolev’s championship performance marked the first time a Harvard athlete won Heps since Dan Chenoweth ’11 took home the individual title in 2009.
Korolev was in the lead pack of the race from the beginning. There was little separation at the first mile mark, with the race’s top 32 runners all within two seconds of each other.
But by the three-mile mark, the massive group had dwindled down to just three runners—Korolev and Dartmouth’s Will Geoghegan and John Bleday. The trio hit three miles in a blistering 14:23.
“Coach told me to get up front and kind of relax and chill as much as I could, and then just take the race over when I felt like I could strike it home,” Korolev said. “At 5K, I felt like I could speed up and I wanted to take it over, so I did that, and the Dartmouth guys just couldn’t keep up.”
The Crimson men were without the squad’s other frontrunner, co-captain James Leakos. Leakos, who has had a stellar senior season thus far, including his wins at the Harvard-Yale dual meet and the Paul Short Invitational, was held out of the meet due to a nagging leg injury.
“He’s a great leader for our team, which is a big part of why both him and Maks are co-captains,” Saretsky said. “But our team didn’t miss a beat, even without him being there. It would have been great to have him out there competing, but I thought other guys stepped up and we finished around where I thought we would.”
In Leakos’ absence, Harvard’s second runner was sophomore Tom Purnell, who missed being in the top-10 by just one second. Purnell took 11th place in the race with a time of 23:58. The squad’s final three scoring runners were juniors Will Geiken, Adam Cotton, and Nephat Maritim, who earned 28th, 30th, and 34th places, respectively.
The gap between Korolev and Leakos and the Crimson’s final scoring runners has hurt the men’s team all season. At Heps, Korolev finished 68 seconds ahead of Maritim. If Leakos would have competed and finished in second place overall, Harvard would have tallied 71 points—still earning fourth, but losing to third-place Dartmouth by just one point.
“The other guys had okay days—no one was really too excited about how they did,” Korolev said. “Even if James had run, we would have gotten fourth as a team because Dartmouth just had a really good day. But it was a solid performance for the team overall…. I think we’re still set to get to nationals and do well there.”
Junior Viviana Hanley and senior Morgan Kelly paced the Crimson women at Heps. Hanley and Kelly were separated by just one second, with Hanley earning eighth place and Kelly taking ninth.
“I was super pleased and really impressed with the gutty performance that [the women’s team] put out there,” Saretsky said.
Kelly, classmate Emily Reese, and Hanley were in fifth, sixth, and seventh places after the first mile of the race. And with two other Crimson runners in 20th and 21st, the Harvard women were in first place as a team at that point.
But the Big Green, led by four-time national track and field champion Abbey D’Agostino, erased the Crimson’s lead by the three-mile mark. Harvard’s first three runners hit three miles between 16:05 and 16:14, while D’Agostino’s three-mile split was 15:24. The Dartmouth senior went on to win the race with a 6k time of 19:40—40 seconds faster than the second-place finisher.
Reese, junior Molly Renfer, and freshman Sarah Gillespie were the Crimson’s final three scoring runners, finishing in 16th, 17th, and 23rd places, respectively.
—Staff writer Dominic Martinez can be reached at email@example.com.
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