Columbia Lions sweep Metropolitan Champs

  NEW YORK - The Lion Kings continue to reign.

                    The Lion Queens, too.

                     The Metropolitan Intercollegiate Cross Country Championships is one of the longest-running undergraduate XC events in America, with a history dating back to 1927.  That would make it 84 years old.

                     But the long list of team and individual champions does not include any winners in 1937.
     Was that 1937 meet actually held, or were the results simply lost somewhere along the way?
    Archivists will have to work on that one.

                   While some other major sporting events were cancelled during the World War II years,
 the Met Intercollegiates rolled right on.  Fact is, the Mets from 1941-45 produced such great champions as  Leslie MacMitchell (a world indoor mile record-holder) and Frank Dixon of NYU.

                   So the latest edition of the Mets, staged Friday at Van Cortlandt Park, was likely the 83rd.
   Then again, that information never did get to the engravers of the 2010 championship trophies,
    who put this one down as the 81st Mets.

                  On the other hand,  no one was really counting when the 15 Met schools gathered for their annual romp over the Van Cortlandt course.  Enthusiasm was high as ever.  A long parade of runners, the men going eight kilometers (just under five miles) and the women five kilometers (3.1 miles) gave it the old college try, battling for every spot from 1 to 139 (men) and 1 to 134 (women.)

                 But there was no question about the destination of those championship trophies.

                A long  procession of Columbia Blue-clad runners made sure of that.

                Columbia’s men took the 1-2-3-4 places with sophomores Mark Feigen (25:46), Patrick
 DeSabato (25:56), Leighton Spencer (25:58) and freshman Johnny Gregorek (26:01) and the doubts
were over in the day’s opening event.

                Just two others, NYU senior Seb Schwelm (26:02) and Rutgers senior Nick Miehe, the
  2009 Met champion (26:05), were able to interrupt Columbia’s run at a perfect team score of 15
               Freshman Byron Jones then ran seventh (26:06) and the Lions settled for a team triumph with a 17-point total, to wrap up their third straight Met title, their sixth in seven years (NYU had won in 2007), and 11th in 15 years.

      “The race started breaking up between the second and third miles,” said the Mohawk-coiffed  Feigen, out of East Greenwich, R.I. “I had no idea what my splits were.  Then, with about 600 or 800 to go, as soon as I could see the finish line, I just took off.”

   As a freshman,  Feigen cut his 1500-meter best to 3:50 and his 3000 PR to 8:21. In high school, he’d gone 800 in 1:54 and the mile in 4:14.

  A philosophy major, he’s philosophical - what else? - about future plans.

   “Right now, it’s just run fast, and after that I have no idea,” he said, smiling.

   “Our Columbia team is awesome. There’s so much competition, just between all our team.
 Coach (Willy) Wood knows how to get the best out of all of us.”

   Impressive as they were, this wasn’t even Columbia’s best.  A group of the leading Lions sat this one out to prepare for the upcoming NCAA  Pre-Regionals in Indiana, and then the Ivy League Heptagonals, back at Van Cortlandt on Oct. 29.

         NYU, the only NCAA Division III member in the field, running against 14 Division I squads,
     was a creditable second at 70, with Fordham (the official host shool for the meet)  edging Rutgers for third, 101-110.

        But Fordham won the slogan contest - its warmup T-shirts carried the message “we run the Bronx.”

        Then it was the women’s turn to take over the “Vanny” circuit.

         With a big chunk of the Van Cortlandt grass area fenced off for resurfacing purposes,
     the men ran two laps around the revised “flats” before heading for the back hills, and the race
      back down the finishing straight paralleling Broadway.  The women raced a single lap around these
    “flats” before taking their own treks to the back hills and then back home.

            The battle for the women’s individual gold medal turned into a race for the history books.
      NYU, which had provided Mets men’s champions as far back as 1928 (when Phil Edwards and
      Nat Lerner ran to a tie) and as recently as 2007 (Hany Abdallah) at last produced its first Mets 
      women’s titlist in junior Maeve Evans.

             With the race evolving into a concluding 50-meter dash matching Rutgers junior Kelly Flannigan
    and Evans, it was the Violet runner who had the extra burst that decided it, by all of a single stride.
     It was so close that both Evans and Flannigan were credited with the time of 18:16.   

    “This was a great confidence-builder,” exulted Evans, after the first major win of her career at NYU.  “This is our home course, and it’s extra nice because we’re going to have our conference meet (University Athletic Association) back here in a couple weeks (Oct. 30.) “

   “Coming out of the woods, it was me and the two Rutgers girls,” said Evans, a marketing major from Swanson, Vermont.  “There was a lot of movement, back and forth, between us, the whole race. I guess I was just stronger. Beating all those Division I runners, that was really something.

     “I’ve been really improving between last year and this year. In high school, I ran the 400 and 800, and my (800) best was only 2:30. 

   “(NYU Coach) Nick (McDonough) has just been great.  He knows so much about this sport. We do a lot of running in Central Park during the week, a lot of loops around the reservoir.  Then a long run on Sunday, 90 minutes. I guess it’s all paying off now.”

   McDonough lauded:  “Maeve has come a long way and has a really bright future. She’s been training really well; she’s dedicated, she’s motivated . She had a tremendous spring and it’s carried over. In two years, I think she can make it to the Olympic Trials in the 1500, she’s already run 4:20 something.

      “And being the first (Met champion) for NYU, that’s just tremendous, that adds to it. She’s stepping up big time for us.”

          Rutgers (where USA distance running Olympian/all-timer Jan Merrill Morin works with
      women’s head coach James Robinson), had produced 10 of the last 17 Met women’s winners
     (including Julie Culley, who set the Met record of 17:21 in 2002) but just couldn’t do it again - by the narrowest of         margins.

          Brianna Deming of Rutgers snared third (18:30) with teammate Jennifer Spitz fifth (18:44)
     but there was no holding off the talent-laden Columbia squad.

           The Lady Lions put senior Alex Crawley over the line in fourth (18:37) and completed team scoring with Emma Giantisco sixth, Hannah Kligman ninth, Sam Lee 10th and Jill Goodwin 12th.

           With three in the top five, Rutgers had the early team lead over Columbia, 10-19.  But Columbia put its next two in at 10-12, while Rutgers was 16-20, and that was the difference.

          Columbia thus took an amazing 13th straight Met title, 41-46, over Rutgers.  The Columbia streak dates back to 1998, so the Lions remain unbeaten in the Mets this century, and more.

          NYU’s women were a distant third, beating out Iona and Fordham, 107-130-142.

         But the bottom line, once again, said that deep-deep Columbia was the gem of the Mets.

         “It was exciting for all of them,” said Coach Willy Wood. “For the women, they were under a little pressure, with our 12-year winning streak, and all, and they came through the way we hoped.

     “Everybody on our team’s trying to make our Ivy League (Heps) team (for Oct. 29), that’s out rop 12. Feigen, he’s basically a miler, so we really didn’t expect too much out of him today.

    “We just wanted him to be feeling comfortable through 6K, and to be confident enough to chase down whoever’s in front him whenever he had to.

   “That’s just what he did.”

   METS NOTES: Top finisher for Hofstra, which tied Wagner for seventh place in the men’s race, was ninth-placer Daniel Rono (26:24), a sophomore from the famed running center of Eldoret, Kenya. He transfered to Hofstra after one year at New York Tech....Seton Hall’s men ran 11th and its women were 15th.  While The Hall (which had a distinguished history in track and field) dropped varsity track last year, it did retain varsity cross country. “A lot of our track kids will continue to train with us, and under the NCAA rule, they can still run five meets for us outdoors. It’s not the same but at least it’s something,” said veteran Seton Hall coach John Moon.

The 18:16 performances by NYU’s Evans and Rutgers’ Flannigan put them in a tie for 15th on the all-time Met Championships list. But Feigen’s 25:46 wasn’t close to making the Mets’ all-time top 50, a list topped by Jama Aden’s 24:05.4 for Fairleigh Dickinson in 1983...Samuel Chelanga won the 2006 Mets title for FDU; he then transfered to Liberty University and ran his way to the NCAA championship.

Fourth-placer Johnny Gregorek, the Columbia freshman, has distinguished lineage. His dad is John Gregorek, the Georgetown grad who made two Olympic teams in the steeplechase and was a 3:51.34 miler.