Track bursts out of blocks for first-place showings

By Kathryn Stewart

Despite a torrential downpour and the inevitable early-season wobbles, track and field made some tentative steps in the right direction at the Elmhurst Invitational on Saturday.

Getting their spring campaign off on the right foot, the Maroons scored top team finishes on both sides as the men broke away from the competition with a sizable lead over second-place host Elmhurst for a 196-point victory. The women’s half of the team dominated almost every event, collecting 242 points and ending the day in the first-place spot.

“We were really just a deeper and better team than all of our competitors,” head coach Chris Hall said. “We didn’t have a particularly good day, but none of the other teams seemed to be having a particularly bad day. There weren’t any Herculean individual performances; we were just able to cover more events and have strong performances in almost all of them.”

A case in point was Chicago’s plethora of top finishes. The women’s sprint squad performed more than respectably, with top-three finishes in the 110-meter hurdles and 100- and 200-meter dashes. Fourth-year Nellie Movtchan (1:07.54) sailed to the top of the field in the 400-meter hurdles, while the 4×100-meter relay crossed the line in 49.27 to come home second overall.

Further success came Chicago’s way in the women’s distance events. Fourth-years Jackie Kropp (2:18.76) and Vidthya Abraham (2:29.27) went one-two in the 800-meter run, and fellow seniors Abby Sheldon (18:17.41) and Dilshanie Perera (18:25.01) repeated the feat in the women’s 5,000. Second-year Rachel Venezia (11:56.76) snatched the gold in the 3,000-meter steeplechase to round out the Maroons’ performance in the long races.

Moving into the field events, the women’s throws squad put forth an admirable showing of its own. Chicago overpowered the competition in the hammer throw with first-years Claire Ray (39.29) and Nicole Murphy (37.83) filling out the first- and second-place spots. Ray (11.74) and second-year Tiffany Hosten (11.73) came back to take the top two positions in the shot put while fourth-year Morgan Muir (third/28.56) returned to competition in the javelin after nursing an injury for most of the year.

In the women’s jumps, Chicago’s bevy of third-year phenoms including Myra Collins (first/5.33), Somayeh Jahedi (second/10.35), and Appie Hirve (third/1.48) continued to nab quality positions in the long, triple, and high jumps, capping off the women’s first outdoor meet of the season.

The men’s team matched their counterparts’ success event for event, beginning in the sprints with first-years Bill Cheng’s (11.00) and Blake Obuchowski’s (11.32) one-two finish in the 100-meter dash and second-year John Eric Humphries’s 52.03 silver effort in the 400.

Not to be overshadowed by their fleet-footed teammates, distance contributed their own quality performances. Fourth-year Chetan Huded (15:44.47) and second-year Jon Ascolese (15:49.86) took the second- and third-place spots in the men’s 5,000 while second-year Eugene Kobayashi (10:42.02) garnered gold in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

Chicago’s up-and-coming throwing squad earned the men’s team a gaggle of top finishes as well. Third-year John Anderson won the discus with a fling of 38.58m as fourth-year Neil Weijer followed in the second spot with a 37.57m and returned to the ring for a third-place, 13.02m finish in the shot put. In addition to Chicago’s sweep of the men’s hammer throw, the Maroons came away with a distinct advantage in the team competition that resulted directly from their throwing squads.

“The results from this meet are somewhat skewed, at least in the throws,” Weijer said. “Since none of the other teams wanted to put athletes in the hammer throw, it gave us about a 30-point head start on the competition.”

Finally, the men’s jumpers chipped in with a top-position garnering performance in the pole vault courtesy of second-year Seth Satterlee (4.12m) and yet another one-two finish for the Maroons, this time in the triple jump executed by first-year and first-time triple-jumper Terrence Robertson (12.93m) and third-year Brian Taylor (12.54m).

Although the point totals were high and Chicago spent a generous amount of time on the winner’s stand at Elmhurst, neither Hall nor his athletes intend to rest on their laurels in the coming weeks.

“It’s always nice to win a meet like that, but that’s not really the first goal,” Huded said. “We don’t enter early season meets with the intent of winning; the main goal is to get people ready for the UAA championship meet. I don’t think we had an exceptional meet, but we performed well overall.”

Accommodating the more practical aspects of the life of a student-athlete at Chicago and weathering the elements during the outdoor season will constitute some of the team’s primary goals.

“Other teams in our conference are not on the quarter system and thus do not have finals and spring break both falling right between the indoor and outdoor conference meets,” third-year Zach Rodgers said. “They also enjoy better weather. In this sense, we need to work extra hard to catch up before we meet at Emory in three weeks.”

After Saturday’s meet, at which a thunderstorm put the kibosh on the 4×400-meter relays, the women’s discus, and the men’s high jump, Hall is hoping to nurture some extra resistance to the elements among the members of this year’s squad.

“Right now, our objective is to cultivate some mental fortitude,” Hall said. “When the conditions are bad, like they were this weekend, other teams are going to show up and compete, and we need to be able to do the same thing and not get all tied up in fretting about how we won’t be able to run a personal best. So, hopefully, if we’re used to running well when the weather is bad, running our best races when the weather is good will be really easy.”

If the forecast is correct, the cool conditions predicted in Naperville, where Chicago is slated to compete at the Chicagoland Championship this coming weekend, will give the Maroons a chance to develop the resistance Hall referred to and bring track and field one step closer to cornering the field at UAAs.