Harvard women go for five-peat at indoor Heps

By Jeanne Mack

February 24, 2017

In a cruel twist of fate that I only hope does not translate directly to mean my teammates and I were a dead weight on the back of a promising track team, the Harvard women’s team got good the year immediately after my class graduated. Really good. Harvard women have won iHeps (yes this is what it’s referred to on Twitter, gotta save those characters, yo) for the past four years.

“I’m really excited to be heading down to NYC for Indoor Heps at the Armory,” coach Jason Saretsky says. “Our student-athletes have been working hard all year both in the classroom and on the track and are poised to compete at a high level. The success we have enjoyed has been predicated on the achievements of those who came before, so all of the former Crimson track and field athletes should take pride in what we have built here.”

As an alum, I’m excited as well. Can they come back to sweep the sticky floors and Mondo track of the Armory at iHeps with their opponents’ t-shirts for a 5peat this season? Allow me to throw you some context for this question.

They’ve graduated a good fistful of scoring seniors, women who they’ll definitely feel the loss of this year–like Autumn Franklin and Paige Kouba, who were both Olympic Trials qualifiers last year; Franklin in the 400 hurdles and Kouba in the steeplechase. They also lose the likes of Lexie Schachne who placed second in the pole vault last year and the daring duo (because it is terrifying to think of competing in five events in one day) of Madison Hansen and Allison Morrison who placed 3rd and 5th respectively in the pentathlon.

BUT. Don’t cry because it’s over for them, sing because the possibilities for their real, non-collegiately-insulated lives have just begun! And also because Franklin and Kouba weren’t the only OT qualifiers the Crimson ladies had up their sleeve. Nope, there were three more who are returning to iHeps. Gabby Thomas, only a sophomore now, holds the All-Time Ivy record for the 60m (7.38), the 200m (23.37), and won both events last year. She’s been in blood-red-meat-rare form this season, breaking the school’s 200m record with a 23.01 at the end of January–which was the fourth fastest NCAA at the time.

Along with Gabby, Harvard’s got Jade Miller and Courtney Smith, both qualifiers for the Trials, coming back as well. Miller has PR’ed in the 400 this season. Smith hasn’t posted any recent events, but has posted several inspired Instagrams lately that are just intriguing enough to make me wonder whether she might be coming out of the woodwork to join in some iHeps fun.

There are two pole vaulters stepping up to fill in for Schachne; Nicole Trenchard and Marlena Sabatino are tied for fifth in the Ivy League rankings at the moment, and freshman Zoe Hughes following in last year’s senior pentathletes’ footsteps with a first place pent ranking for the Ivy League. And the jumps are covered, with Raegan Nizdil on the vertical, and Simi Fajemisin and Zoe Hughes again on the horizontals.

In terms of throws events, which I know little about, we’ve got senior Nikki Okwelogu, who is the three-time iHeps shot put champion, looking to round out her stats and make it four. Okwelogu competed at the Olympics this summer for Nigeria and enters Heps with a mark about five feet ahead of anyone else. From a quick perusal of Hepstrack.com it doesn’t seem we have anyone in the top 10 for this year’s weight throw. Maybe that is bad? Maybe Okwelogu will become bored by her own superiority in shot and decide to try her hand at weight throw? I’m not an expert.

Things I decidedly am better versed in than throwing events: distance and middle distance.

The Harvard women’s cross country team were Heps champions this Fall, and that crew is coming back for another round of Heps competition. They’re led by Judy Pendergast, who I’ve never met, but who I did see posted a very spicy 5k time, putting her over a minute ahead of the competition from other teams. As mentioned before, who knows what Courtney Smith might be up to. Lots of mystery and intrigue there. In addition, I think it’s worth noting that women’s distance and mid-distance races at iHeps are usually run much less ridiculously than the men’s races. I chalk this up to college women being generally smarter and more enlightened than their male peers. I think this bodes well for those Harvard standouts who are clearly head and shoulders above the competition, since by running smart, they’ll be less likely to get beat from the slow heat.

Middle distance might be Harvard’s weakest link and I know my college roommate and former iHeps 800m champion Meghan Looney would be tossing in her sleep just at the thought of me typing that sentence. I’m sorry, Meg, there’s just nobody on the roster who looks to be right in the thick of Heps-level competition. Here we are. Never forget though, it is Heps. Anything can happen.

So while the team may not be as deep as previous years, you would be a complete sideways-flat-brim-hat-wearing fool to write Harvard off. I’m an extremely superstitious person and I’ve already knocked on wood at least 35 times writing this, so I’m not going to make any wildly bold claims, but I’ll leave you with this ancient, wise proverb:

Once a rock starts rolling, it’s almost impossible to stop said rock.

Thanks to Brian Panoff for the photo.

Jeanne Mack

Once raced in a poodle shirt which may or may not be a shirt for a poodle. Unfortunately the type of person who does not let little kids win at competitive games. Often cries while running. Currently in grad school to learn to write sentences with subjects. East Coast transplant to Flagstaff, missing NYC bodegas, New England accents and Rhode Island Del's, but not urine-and-vomit scented subway rides. Twitter and Instagram @jmmackattack