Tracking NCAA gold: Track and field standouts put months of training to test

For a few select members of women’s track and field, the season ends this weekend in the best possible way: a trip to Nationals.

By Ryan Tryzbiak

For a few select members of women’s track and field, the season ends this weekend in the best possible way: a trip to Nationals.

Five Maroons will compete this weekend at the National Championships at Marietta College in Marietta, OH. The meet began yesterday with a day of mostly preliminary action—although one Maroon, Claire Ray, already has an All-American performance under her belt—and it continues today and tomorrow.

In throws, Chicago sent third-years Nicole Murphy and Ray. Both secured berths in the shot put and discus, and Ray made it in the hammer throw. Another multiple event qualifier, second-year Stephanie Omueti, got the green light in the 100- and 200-meters. Fourth-year Rachel Venezia qualified in the steeplechase, and first-year Paige Peltzer qualified in the high jump.

Of those five, just two, Ray and Omueti, competed yesterday. Ray finished seventh in the hammer throw, good enough for All-American designation. Omueti ran in a preliminary heat of the 200-meters, but narrowly missed qualifying for the finals.

Nationals caps a spring season that lasted a mere seven weeks, but in reality, the meet represents the culmination of countless hours of hard work that began in the fall.

“Preparing for Nationals began October 13, 2008. That was the first day of practice,” Omueti said. “I have done everything my coaches have asked of me: the new weight room program, staying on pace times at practice, core work, staying healthy, and taking time off when needed.”

Omueti placed special emphasis on the impact of the weight-training program.

“I attribute my success to Coach Sion’s weight program,” she said. “We were challenged physically and mentally in the weight room this season, and my body responded very well to the intensity of the program.”

The intensity of the training regimen seems to have set a tone that carried over to competition days. And despite admitting that the months of hard work have taken their toll, Venezia remains motivated to perform even better.

“Overall, I haven’t had a very good year because I am mentally burnt out of running,” she explained, but she added, “I am in the best physical shape that I have ever been in, and it would be a shame to waste it due to an inability to focus.”

With the tough task of qualifying for the event completed, Nationals is one last chance for the athletes to test themselves against the best competition DIII has to offer and set new personal bests. Peltzer spoke of surpassing her effort from the conference meet.

“My goal is to at least clear 1.67 [meters] and see where I go from there,” she said. “If Outdoor [Nationals] are anything like Indoor Nationals, I would place in the top eight with that kind of performance, and that would be cool.”

Omueti has set even more ambitious targets for herself.

“Ideally, I want to be on top of the podium when all is said and done. Anything is possible at these meets,” she said. Recognizing the difficulty of that task, she added, “I want the big prize, but if not, I’ll settle for no less than fifth place.”

Nationals is an event for serious athletic competition, but it also is an opportunity for the athletes to have some fun away from the drudgery of academic responsibilities. Venezia, who said eighth place—the cut-off for All-American status—was her goal, identified “only eating free food” and “no classes” as two of the things she was most anticipating about the event.

The discus and steeplechase will take place today. The shot put, high jump, and 100-meter finals follow on Saturday.