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 The first year after of high school can be filled with new challenges, unexpected success, surprising disappointment, homesickness, bad dining hall food, new friends and late nights.  Knowing the adjustment isn't always easy, we've asked ESPN RISE intern Hilary May, herself a high school standout at Corona del Mar CA and a collegiate runner at Harvard, to contact some of last year's top prep track and field athletes and find out how things are going...one year out.

                                                                     Donn Cabral

“Buffets every meal?! That’s distance runners’ paradise.” – Donn on the Princeton dining halls

Three-time National Champion and Footlocker Northeast Regional Winner, Donn Cabral capped off a stellar high school career in 2008.  Connecticut raised Cabral ventured to Princeton last fall, on a quest to continue his meritable career and test his talent against the Ivy League competition.

DyeStat catches up with Cabral to see what freshman year was like, and what challenges it brought in the classroom and on the track.

Firstly, how are you doing?

I’m doing great. I’m training hard and everything is going well so far! I love the Princeton program and Princeton University.

  Donn Cabral wins the 2008 NSIC Indoor 5k title
  Photo by John Nepolitan

Complete this sentence: Your freshman year was...

...tough at first because I came into the fall season injured and not running affected every aspect of my life. As the year went on and I became healthier and more adjusted to college life, I grew to like it more and more.

Have your goals changed after one year of college? 

My goals haven’t changed and neither has my confidence in Princeton’s ability to help me reach them.

How rigorous is running at the college level versus the high school level?

The biggest difference for me is the daily training pace. In high school I’d do my runs at practice from 7:00 to 8:00 pace and my morning runs would be just under 6:00. Now that I’m in college, daily running pace has gotten significantly faster.

What kind of strength and conditioning do you do to supplement your training?

Weightlifting, core, rhythm and explosive plyos. The supplemental stuff I did in high school is similar to the stuff I’m doing now.

What is the academic side of Princeton like? How hard is it to balance schoolwork with running?

The academics at Princeton are tough. I struggled while I adjusted from public school to Ivy League, but hopefully things will continue to be smooth from here on out. The balance takes discipline, but it isn’t that hard. In a day there’s time for both school and running and you can make it work just fine.

What are you planning on majoring in? What was your favorite class this year?

Economics. I like how practical it is. Also, I believe it will set me up well for the future. My favorite class was my Russian class, though. I’ve taken Russian since middle school and have been to Russia twice.
Is there time to party at Princeton? Are you allowed to have a social life being on the track team, and how do you balance it with academics and track?

Of course there’s time to party or do whatever you’d like at Princeton. After all, it is college. The onus is on you to make sure your social life doesn’t interfere or hurt your training.

Do you go to football games or other Princeton sporting events? What is your favorite on campus thing to do?

I’ve been to a bunch of games, but my favorite sporting event was a hockey game. It was packed and I was sitting in the penalty box getting paid to hold the door for entering and exiting players. 

What is your typical Saturday night like?

Generally I’ll either go out to one of the clubs on campus or chill out with some friends. New York and Philly are close, but so far I haven’t had an urge to be anywhere else.

  Cabral sets a CT 2 Mile state record at the 2008
  Danbury Dream Invite - Photo by John Nepolitan

What is your typical Monday night like?

After practice I usually have an unnecessarily long dinner and unwind with some of the guys then head back to my room and get some work done.

If you could do it all over again would you still choose Princeton?

I think about that surprisingly often when I’m at school, and I am very happy at Princeton and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. It has everything I wanted: Academics, a program that can take me to my potential, great places to train, and other athletes who want the same things I want. If only it could be a great academic school and be easy. That would be perfect.
What is your favorite food in the dining hall?

Oohhh either the steak night, the chicken parm, or the desserts. I miss the dining hall at school pretty badly thinking about this! The food is great and the dining halls are awesome. Also, buffets every meal?! That’s distance runners’ paradise.

Are Princeton runners and students nerdy or normal?

I think to really love Princeton you have to somewhat enjoy school and studying. With that said, some are nerdy, some are normal. The whole spectrum is here. The really nerdy people disappear at night, though, and recede when social people come out to play.

You went to high school in Connecticut, so going to school in New Jersey – was that a major transition or not?

Connecticut to Jersey really wasn’t a big transition. The winter is a bit milder and runner-friendly at Princeton, but that’s the only difference. I’m glad I’m close by. Being able to visit home if I want is a nice comfort.
What do you think of the Ivy League as an athletic league? What do you think of the competition?

I think the league definitely harbors more tradition and a bigger intra-conference competitive spirit than almost any other conference. I’ve enjoyed what little exposure to competition in the Ivy League I’ve had but I hope that by the time I graduate it will be a much more competitive conference.
Princeton men typically have an extremely strong men’s distance program. What do you think about being a part of it? Is it intimidating?

I’m excited to be a part of the distance team, but more excited to be a part of a team in transition. Over the next few years we can hopefully take Princeton not just to the top of the Ivy League, but to a national level. I’m not really intimidated by my teammates-they’re my teammates. They’ve really set good examples on how to get through school and training.

Did you compete in cross country this year? What was that season like for you?

I didn’t compete in the fall because I tore my plantar fascia waterskiing over the summer. Having to call my future coach and tell him I ruined my season waterskiing when I already had plantar fascitis was miserable. The fall season wasn’t much better. I got sick of the bike, elliptical and pool pretty quickly and it was difficult to get into the swing of things in school because I was going through running withdrawals.

  Cabral trails fellow Princeton Tiger Brian Leung at Heps
   Photo by
Dan Grossman
You finished 5th at the Indoor Ivy League Championships in the 3k event. How did the race go for you? What was it like to be at your first Championship meet? How did it feel to score for Princeton?

The meet was pretty cool, it was the first time I had really felt the competition between the Ivy League schools. The event was really energetic and every team seemed to be competing not just to win, but to be the most supportive. As for how I felt about the race, my training had been off and on for so long that I couldn’t be too happy with any performance until I passed my best times from high school. Even though this made me a little more indifferent about my race, the urge to score for my team was a big deal. I had never really felt that before; it was different to compete for your team first, and yourself second.

Outdoors, you competed at many distances – 1500m, 5k, and 10k. What was your favorite? Were there any major transitions from high school to the college level?

The biggest difference that I noticed going in college is that winning races becomes much harder. Hopefully with a full summer of training underneath me I’ll be able to get my first collegiate victories this fall. As far as the distances go, I ran them all in high school so it isn’t a big change.

You also placed well at the Outdoor IC4A meet in the 5k (7th). What was this day like? You ran a NCAA Regional qualifying time. Did you go to regionals?

I had a really removed attitude going into this race. It was sort of an experiment. I knew I wasn’t running to get the team points and I wasn’t running to qualify for regionals because I already had summer plans. I spent a good portion of the day sitting outside in the sun chilling out and doing a little studying for finals. Even though I qualified I didn’t go to regionals because my freshman year had a lot of frustration and I was ready to end my season and begin summer training so I committed to starting my summer job the week before regionals.

What was the biggest shock about Princeton? What was the biggest disappointment?

 I would say the biggest shock was also the biggest disappointment: just paying attention in class and reading the notes was no longer enough. I had to study and practice the things I was learning.

What are you most looking forward to?

I can’t wait until preseason. I can’t wait to get back to the trails around campus and see my teammates and friends again. It’s one of the best 2 week periods of the year.

What do you miss most about high school?

How easy things are when your parents are there to help you out and bear some of the responsibility.
What are your summer plans?

I’m living at the beach in Ocean City, MD working as a waiter at a crab house. Running 90+ miles per week while working on my feet all day is taking its toll, but it hasn’t seemed to be too much.
What is your coolest non-track related talent?

I pride myself on my waterskiing, ping-pong, and after this summer, my beach volleyball. I’m very upset that I’ve given up waterskiing for the foreseeable future.

After college I see myself… with a diploma *fingers crossed*


High School:

PRs: 800m: 1:53.9 (split); Mile: 4:09; 2-Mile: 8:56; 5k: 14:32; 10k: 30:47

Notable High School Accomplishments: Footlocker Northeast champion; All-American; National Champion – Indoor 2 Mile, 5k, DMR.


Freshman PRs: Mile: 4:07 (time trial); 5k: 14:08; 10k: 30:39

Notable College Freshman Accomplishments: All-Ivy Performer. Qualified (but didn’t go) for NCAA regionals.

Photos: headshot - goprincetontigers.com; middle two, John Nepolitan; bottom,
Dan Grossman