Three’s company for track in Cleveland

By Tim Murphy

Entering the conference meet, track and field head coach Chris Hall declared that he was “very excited” to see how his squads would do. More than 20 top-three finishes later, that enthusiasm seems prophetic.

“I think our team performed very well. Our goal for the men was third and we got that,” Hall said. “We really separated from the teams behind us. In indoor we got fourth and we were in a battle with the fifth and sixth place; this time we really gapped them. The women did great as well. It was a little bittersweet because we set our a goals a little high, but it wasn’t that we didn’t perform well but that other athletes from other teams were having phenomenal days.”

Competing in only their fourth meet of the season, both the men and women’s teams grabbed the third spot in the final standings at the UAA championships at Cleveland this weekend. The men finished with 119.5 points, finishing behind Carnegie Mellon (217) and Wash U (166.5). Anchored once again by strong performances in the sprinting and jumping events, the women snatched third with 153.5 points. Wash U won the meet with 227.5 points.

After finishing fourth in the standings at the indoor meet, the men surprised many with their strong showing in Cleveland. Leading the way for the men was second-year Zach Rodgers. The decathlete placed in six events, accounting for 27 points of his team’s points. Rodgers earned all-UAA honors by placing second in long jump (6.58), and third in triple jump (13.26), along with a sixth-place showing in the high jump (1.74m) and fifth in the javelin (46.1m) In addition to his outstanding performances in the field events, the Nashville native snagged eighth in 110-meter hurdles (16.98) and was part of the 4×400 relay team that took fourth in 3:26.89.

“He had a great day and he’s still just a sophomore,” Hall said. “Zach’s just the type of athlete who gets excited for big meets. I don’t know if I’ve ever had this high of expectations for a sophomore before.

While Rodgers spurred the team’s success in the field, the distance events were once again dominated by the Maroons’ vaunted upperclassmen. Third-year Emil Bojanov, winner of the mile at the indoor meet, picked up where he left off, earning first place in the 800-meters in a blistering 1:55.45, outkicking Christoffer Molnar of the Tartans (1:56.01) for the crown. The Bulgarian was equally impressive in the 1,500, placing third with a provisional NCAA qualifying time of 3:54.86.

Earning All-UAA honors for the second time this year, fourth-year Teage O’Connor took second-place in the 3,000 steeplechase (9:27.28). He chipped in with a fifth-place showing in the 5,000 in (15:18.98).

“Teage and Emil have been outstanding,” Hall said. “Their success sets the tone for the rest of the team. They’re not just capable of strong performances, they always deliver.”

Never a particularly strong point, the sprinting events proved problematic for the Maroons. No Chicago runner advanced to the finals in either the 100 or 200-meter dash, and only first-year John Eric Humphries (third in the 400 in 51.13) prevented the squad from being shut out of any points.

In the pole vault, where the Maroons entered the meet with visions of a potential sweep dancing through their heads, the team did not disappoint. Second-year Luke Sandberg (second with 4.25m) led three South Siders in the top five. First-years John Pribik and Seth Satterlee took fourth and fifth with flights of 4.10m. After fouling out of the hammer throw and shot put, second-year John Anderson redeemed himself in a big way with a throw of 41.89 in the discus, good for third place.

“Our vaulters competed really well. To do that with two freshmen and a sophomore is outstanding,” Hall said. “They would be a bit disappointed that they didn’t sweep but it wasn’t because they performed poorly. There’s no way I could be disappointed.”

While the men raised eyebrows with their impressive team score, the women made waves with impressive individual and relay performances. One week after second-year Nofi Mojidi ran a national qualifying time in the 200 at the Wheaton Invite, the basketball star sped to a first-place finish in the 100 with a time of 12.35. Mojidi also took second in the 200 in 25.39. The athlete who single-handedly dispelled the notion of a sophomore slump also played a role in two relays, running the second legs for the first-place 4×100 relay team (49.32) and the second-place 4×400 squad (4:01.02).

The Maroon continued their baton-passing success in the 4×800. Third-years Jackie Kropp and Al Robertson joined fourth-year Jessica Winter and first-year Missy Graham to post second in 9:29.64. Kropp (third in 2:20.30) and Robertson (sixth in 2:24.36) produced top individual performances in the 800.

“Our 4×400 showed they’re ready to hit a standard,” Hall said. “If we leave them fresh one time, and we will, they’ll be off without any problems.”

It was business as usual in the jumping events, as the Maroons matched their indoor success with two first-place finishes. Second-year Myra Collins aced the long jump with a leap of 5.41 and in the triple jump. Classmate Appie Hirve hop-skipped-and-jumped her way to the top with an effort of 11.21, and chipped in with a jump of 1.52 for sixth place in the high jump. She showed her versatility as well, taking eighth in the 100 hurdles in 18.14. Third-year Nellie Movtchan (16.02), a member of the 4×400 squad, was second in the event. First-year Olivia Ndyabagye, the league champion in the long jump indoors, took fourth with a flight of 5.32, and added a fifth-place run in the 100 meter finals (12.89).

“We depend on that [from the jumpers]. All our entries were capable to be in the hunt to not just do well but be all-UAA,” Hall said. “It’s fun for the whole team, and it elevates the whole program. Kids see that and say ‘hey I want to go do that.’”

The distance events, one of the more consistent areas for the Maroons, was once again well-represented despite some tough races. After garnering third in the 1,500 in 4:42.36, the All-American Winter struggled in the 5,000, finishing out of the running in ninth (18:50.01). Another contender for points in the event, third-year Vidthya Abraham, pulled out midway through with an asthma attack.

“We threw Jess into the 5,000 just to see if she could get anything out of it. She was tired, but she’s a senior and wanted to see if she could get a point out of it,” Hall said. “We knew it’d be tough but we’d do it again.”

Led by fourth-year Katie Meinhover, the Maroons excelled in the throwing circle in perhaps the fullest display of the team’s depth. Chicago earned 19 points in the events. The fourth-year volleyball star took second place in the javelin with a toss of 31.38 meters, and eighth in the hammer (35.49). First-year Tiffany Hoston earned All-UAA honors in the discus, with a throw of 36.02.

With the conference meet in their rearview mirror, the Maroons will now have the rest of the season to prepare for their ultimate goal: a strong showing at the NCAA championships May 25–27. The women have a chance to make a name for themselves on the national stage this weekend at the prestigious Drake relays in Des Moines. A solid performance in Iowa would go a long way in boosting the confidence the confidence of a squad that boasts a number of national hopefuls.

“This is a fun time now. The athletes get to focus on themselves,” Hall said. We’ll be fresh for meets and they can hit standards and PRs, the fun stuff.