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The Harvard track and field team traveled to Big Green territory to compete in the Ivy League Heptathlon Championships. The women’s team came out victorious, with a first-place win, repeating its conference title from last year. The men’s team earned second place, falling behind Princeton by only a single point. Over its two days of competition, the Crimson accumulated 16 individual or relay titles, with runners earning a total of eight First-Team All-Ivy League honors.
“The goal was to win, to get a trophy,” said sophomore distance runner Graham Blanks about the team’s goals going into the meet. “It’s been a long time since Harvard track or cross country has won an Ivy League Trophy.”
On day one, Harvard set the tone with three first-place finishes and with both teams sitting in first place.
Up first, senior thrower Alexander Kolesnikoff won the men’s shot put, making him the first champion for the Crimson and earning him First-Team All-Ivy honors. His 19.58 m throw was over one meter farther than the rest of the shot put field. He was joined by teammate senior Sarah Omoregie, who won the women’s shot put with a throw of 16.88 m. On the pole vault, sophomore Anastasia Retsa tied for second place with a jump of 4.17 m, matching her personal best and the school record.
Junior Jaeschel Acheampong also scored some points for Harvard, taking second place in the men’s long jump for a 7.61 m mark, just a few centimeters shy of his personal best. Sophomore Izzy Goudros also took a spot on the podium, earning bronze for the women’s event for her jump of 5.87 m.
Junior Jada Johnson earned second place in two of the five women’s pentathlon events: the high jump and 800 m run. The West Roxbury, Mass. local scored a whopping 3566 points throughout all five events to increase Harvard’s score.
On the running side, the Crimson added more to the list of athletes on the podium, with one athlete earning First-Team honors and two athletes earning Second-Team All-Ivy honors.
Blanks, the current Harvard and Ivy League record holder in the 3000 m race, earned himself a championship name in the event. The Georgia native ran a time of 8:06.97, which was followed by his teammate junior Acer Iverson, who got the silver medal with a time of 8:07.82.
As well as getting marks in the scored running events, many Crimson athletes ran times that allowed them to advance to the finals.
In the 60 m hurdles preliminaries, juniors Samuel Bennet and Aaron Shirley finished in first and fifth places, respectively, to qualify for the finals. In the men’s mile, first-year Vivien Henz won his heat with a 4:10.30 post to secure a spot in the final.
In the 60 m dash, the men’s team had all four runners advance to the finals, with sophomore Lance Ward leading the team, winning his heat with a time of 6.81 seconds. He was joined by sophomore Collin Fullen, junior Jaeschel Achampeong, and first-year Jonas Clarke, the current record holder for the event.
In the men’s 400 m preliminaries, Shirley led the way, receiving a first-place finish with a time of 48.46 seconds to qualify. His teammate, senior Gregory Lapit, was less than a second behind, bagging first place in his heat with a time of 48.75 seconds.
Harvard kept pace in the 500 m, pushing sophomore Peter Diebold, first-year Justin Levy, and senior Max Serrano-Wu into the finals for the event.
For the women’s team, Harvard had some exceptional races to advance to the finals.
In the 60 m hurdles, Goudros qualified for the finals with a time of 8.62 seconds. Her teammate, first-year Josefina Biernacki, just missed the mark, taking ninth place in the preliminaries with a time of 8.82 seconds.
In the women’s mile, the school record holder, sophomore Maia Ramsden, took third place with a time of 4:50.27 seconds to advance to the finals.
Senior Tina Martin and Goudros advanced to the finals for the 60 m dash, finishing in 7.48 seconds and 7.50 seconds to take second and third places, respectively. In the 400 m, three athletes from Harvard qualified for the finals: sophomore Chloe Fair and first-years Mfoniso Andrew and Jacklynn Okerekie.
In the women’s 500 m, the school record holder, sophomore Victoria Bossong, won her heat, scooping second place overall in the preliminaries to advance with a time of 1:14.85 seconds.
On the second and final day of the Heptathlon Championships, the team earned a number of first-place and podium finishes. Harvard maintained its lead over Princeton, with the men’s team inching very close to the Tigers all day long. Throughout the meet, the number of points that the men’s team earned was crucial in order to keep the gap open between Harvard and second-place Princeton.
“I think everyone knew they had to do what was expected of them or above in order to get that trophy, and I think everyone stepped up,” said Blanks in reference to the Crimson’s performance.
Bennett won the 60 m hurdles, with a time of 7.85 seconds to earn the Crimson ten points overall. In the women’s 60 m hurdles, it was Goudros who got second place for Harvard with a time of 8.45 seconds, earning the women’s team eight points.
In the men’s 400 m finals, Lapit and Shirley finished first and second, with times of 47.92 and 47.96 seconds respectively. Their gold and silver finish earned the Harvard men’s team a combined 18 points. On the women’s side, Fair finished first, running 54 seconds flat to earn herself First-Team All-Ivy honors. Andrew joined her on the podium in sixth place with a time of 56.69 seconds, and together they earned the women’s team 11 points.
For the men’s 500 m, Diebold crossed the finish line first place in his heat with a time of 1:04.57 seconds, seemingly winning the event. However, he was edged out by three runners in the second heat, which eventually put him in fifth place. In the women’s 500 m, defending champion Bossong finished in first place, winning the event in a time of 1:12.08 seconds, earning ten points for her team.
“On day one, my main focus was to do what I needed to do to make the finals,” reflected Bossong about her preliminary race. “I ran a very conserved race and put myself in a good position for the finals the next day.”
In the men’s 60 m dash final, all four Crimson athletes got on the podium, earning the team 19 points combined. In the women’s 60 m dash final, Martin and Goudros finished second and third respectively, running 7.48 and 7.51 seconds. Their gold and silver races earned fourteen points for the women’s team.
In the women’s 1000 m final, Ramsden won the event with her time of 2:44.96 seconds, earning herself her second First-Team All-Ivy honors in the meet.
In the women’s 200 m finals, Martin scored first place with a time of 24.16 seconds, with Fair following shortly behind in second place, running 24.32 seconds, tallying another 18 points for Harvard. Blanks and Iverson also earned themselves their second First-Team All-Ivy and Second-Team All-Ivy honors of the meet, with first-place and second-place finishes in the 5000 m run, respectively.
“We were just focused on maximizing points for our team,” said Blanks about the mindset he and Iverson had going into both of their individual races that day. “The goal for each of us was to go one-two in both of them to try and get as many points as possible. It was necessary for the team if we wanted a shot at winning.”
Blanks ran a 13:53.50 to win gold, followed by teammate Iverson, who ran a 13:54.35 to win silver. These points were so crucial to the men’s team that before the race, as the margin between the Crimson men and Princeton men was a mere two points, with Harvard having the edge at 133-131. After Blanks and Iverson ran, the margin became 13 points, with Harvard in the lead.
On the throwing side, the women’s team swept the weight throw event. Sophomore Stephanie Ratcliffe threw a 21.88 m mark to win the event, followed by teammates senior Estel Valeanu and sophomore Cara Salsberry, who took second and third place, respectively. Junior Cammy Garabian joined them on the podium in sixth place, throwing a 17.89 m mark. These four athletes earned the Harvard women’s team 25 points, helping the Crimson maintain a massive grip over the rest of the teams.
In the men’s distance medley relay, the team of Iverson, junior Jonathan Gamarra, senior Riley McDermott, and Blanks ran a time of 9:57.99 to take fifth place in the event, earning the team two points. Blanks, the 3000m and 5000m meet champion, finished off the relay with the mile, running a 4:09.61 second time.
“I knew in the back of my head that I might get selected to anchor, so when Coach asked me, I just felt honored to do that,” Blanks commented. “I just wanted to get in the race and give it my all, whatever I had left.”
The women’s distance medley relay team earned second place, winning eight more points with a time of 11:28.64 seconds.
After the two events, the women’s and men’s teams still stood in first place, with Harvard’s men's team having a seven-point lead over Princeton, and the women’s team having a 59.5-point lead. Next up was the 4x800 m relay, an event crucial for the men’s team to maintain a lead over Princeton, as a first-place finish for the Tigers would give them the edge needed to win the entire meet.
Throughout the race, Harvard, Princeton, and Dartmouth all battled for first place. On the last lap, Cornell had the lead in the exchange. The Crimson seemed to be in good standing, but in a devastating moment, Harvard’s Henz was knocked over and fell during the last exchange, resulting in the drop of the baton. The team then lost its momentum, and Harvard ended up finishing seventh, not earning any points for the team, granting Princeton the first-place title. At the conclusion of the event, there was no finalization of standings, leaving the men’s team in suspense as the last baton exchange went under review by the officials.
Amidst the women’s 4x800 m run, the officials came to a conclusion about the men’s 4x800 m race scores, finalizing the win for the Tigers — this gave Princeton ten more points and solidified a three-point lead over Harvard heading into the last event of the day.
“It was pretty terrible. It was definitely very painful to watch,” said Blanks about the decision of the race. “Our destiny was out of our hands going into that last event.”
Harvard and Princeton went into the 4x400 men’s relay neck-in-neck in points standings. The last event of the day would make the difference in whether or not the men’s team would join the women’s team as Ivy League Champions. Princeton led the meet with 156 points, with Harvard trailing behind at 153.
The Harvard team was made up of Lapit, Shirley, Serrano-Wu, and Ward. The Crimson, who were the defending 4x400 m relay champion team, went into the race with incredibly high stakes. In order for Harvard to win the championship, the team would have had to win the event, and the Tigers would have to get third place or lower.
The Harvard men’s team had a consistent lead throughout the entire race and Ward, the anchor for the team, crossed the finish line in first place with a time of 3:11.59 seconds. However, the race was not enough to win them the championships, as Princeton finished second place behind the Crimson with a time of 3:12.39, giving it enough points to win the championship title.
Despite a disappointing loss, the men’s team found consolation in its support for one another.
“We went out, our guys did a fantastic job, they won the 4x400 pretty dominantly,” Blanks said. “But Princeton was able to edge right into second place by less than a second. It definitely wasn’t a fun thing to watch.”
“I think after this weekend, it’s brought the team a lot closer — to be able to support each other after a narrow loss like that is pretty necessary for the future of our program.”
Bossong added, “I felt a sense of deja vu as I watched the 4x400 relay knowing what was at stake. I was on the 4x400 relay at our past outdoor championship where the women’s team was put in a similar situation — unfortunately, both of us ended up coming one point short of winning the team title.
“I know that the guys put their all out there on the track that day, and I am confident that they will come back stronger and hungry for the Ivy League title outdoors.”
The meet concluded with the women’s 4x400 m relay, with a win for the Crimson from the team of Bossong, Goudros, Andrew, and Fair. They ran a time of 3:40.69 seconds to earn First-Team All-Ivy Honors and racked up another ten points for the Crimson. Ultimately, the women’s team defended its championship title with a score of 177 points, over 25 points higher than runner-up Princeton.
“Winning indoor championships back to back was a special moment for our entire team,” said Bossong about the women’s team defending their title. “We performed the best in our program’s history which is a testament to our hard work and dedication this year.
The men’s team fell second place to Princeton — with a deficit of one point — marking 163 points on the board, while Princeton prevailed at 164.
“The fact that we’re one point short, it shows that we took a really good shot at it,” Blanks said. “Hopefully that trophy is on borrowed time and will be in our office soon.”
At the conclusion of the meet, Harvard athletes Ratcliffe and Ikeji were named the Ivy League’s Most Valuable Field Athletes for the women’s and men’s teams, respectively. Ramsden earned the title of Ivy League Women’s Most Valuable Track Athlete.
Harvard will next compete in the IC4A/ECAC championship meet this upcoming weekend. The athletes who finish within the top 16 in the nation at this meet will get a chance to compete in the indoor track and field NCAA championships, held in Albuquerque, N.M. in mid-March.
— Staff writer Nadia A. Fairfax can be reached at email@example.com.
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