Breaking the Heps Hex

By Scott Cole / January / February 2004
June 8th, 2007
You can now add Halloween 2003 to the Brown record book: it’s the date the Bears won their first-ever Ivy League cross-country championship—after sixty-three years of competing at the men’s Heptagonals, or “Heps,” in vain.

Victory came at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, where Brown’s top five runners all finished in the top sixteen, leading the Bears to sixty total points, nine better than runner-up Columbia. To understand the victory’s historic dimension, listen to coach John Gregorek: “One of the most enjoyable things about the aftermath,” he says, “was the outpouring from our alumni. We received so many e-mails, letters, notes. They can all relate to how hard the quest becomes.”

“It was almost a chilling feeling,” says Pat Tarpy ’05, who was the second Bear to cross the finish line at the Heps, “to have alumni calling us, e-mailing us and telling us we broke the curse. You get the feeling it was not just for the guys on the team, but for guys who have been watching the program for years.” After the team’s performance at Van Cortlandt Park, Tarpy says, volunteer assistant coach Dave Farley ’64, a Brown Hall of Fame track star, let slip that he’d thought he’d die before seeing the men’s team win the Heps.

Dartmouth entered the 2003 competition as three-time defending champion, returning 2002 individual champ Jarrod Shoemaker, but the Big Green was without two of its top runners from last year. Brown’s outstanding duo of Jeff Gaudette ’05 and Tarpy was buttressed by seniors Matt Emond, Michael DeCoste, and Brendan O’Keefe.

Gaudette was Brown’s first finisher, claiming fifth place overall by covering the 8,000-meter course in 24:51, forty-six seconds faster than his finish the year before and almost ten seconds ahead of Shoemaker. Four Brown runners were bunched together a bit farther back, with Tarpy coming in twelfth, Emond thirteenth, DeCoste fourteenth, and O’Keefe sixteenth, all of them a total of only six and a half seconds apart.

Proof of the team’s talent first surfaced earlier in October at Boston’s Franklin Park, where Tarpy won the individual title at the New England Intercollegiate Championships and Brown finished second, behind perennial national power Providence College. Tarpy overtook two Providence rivals over the final 600 meters to win the 8,000-meter race in 23:57, becoming the first Brown runner to break twenty-four minutes on an 8,000-meter course and the first American to win the race since 1989. Gregorek says Tarpy’s tenacity won him the race. “The two Providence guys worked together and tried to break him down,” Gregorek recalls. “They ran as hard as they could as long as they could. Pat would not let them get away.” The Brown women, meanwhile, won the New England championship for the first time ever, led by a tenth-place finish from Anya Davidson ’06. (Brown also snared the men’s and women’s junior varsity team and individual race titles.)

The last battle for the 2003 men’s team was waged at the NCAA Northeast Regional Meet in mid-November, also at Franklin Park. But the Bears fell one place short of becoming first team since 1996 to qualify for the NCAA Championship Meet, finishing third with ninety-four points, just behind NCAA qualifiers Iona and Providence. Gaudette did get to the NCAAs, however, after running the 10,000-meter course in 30:10, fast enough for a fourth-place finish out of 233 runners and for an automatic bid to the national championship meet. “Missing out on the NCAAs [as a team] was initially extremely disappointing, having won the Heps two weeks earlier,” says Gregorek. “But we actually ran better than we did at the Heps.”

At the NCAA Championship Meet in Waterloo, Iowa, Gaudette placed thirty-eighth out of 255, earning All-America status. A temperature in the teens and a windchill factor near zero did not faze the Biddeford, Maine, native, who started the race conservatively and was in 100th place at the two-mile marker. But he steadily picked up steam as the 6.2-mile (10,000-meter) race went along, moving up to seventieth place three and a half miles in and closing in on fortieth at the four-mile mark. His finishing time of 30:14.5 made him Brown’s first All-American cross-country racer since Chris Schille in 1988.

In the end, though, it was that Ivy championship that mattered most. “This was sort of the culmination of guys passing along a hard-work ethic and guys passing along a tradition,” Gregorek says. “I don’t think Brown cross-country has gotten the credit it deserves. There have been a lot of very good teams at Brown. But it takes something like a championship to bring a program the attention it deserves.”

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January / February 2004