Swift track nets bounty at Butler

By Kathryn Stewart

The heat was on, but track and field managed to keep its cool in the Hoosier State. The squad returns to Hyde Park with one spot at nationals guaranteed and a few more well within their reach.

Chicago’s hopes of bringing a bevy of competitors to the national meet came closer and closer to being realized at the Butler Twilight Invitational Saturday. The squad snagged five NCAA qualifications during the first of their three scheduled last chance meet appearances. In the process of improving their places in the national standings, the women scored a gaggle of top-five finishes while the men raked in their own collection of quality performances.

Fourth-year Jessica Winter cinched a spot at the Big Show with a 4:32.37 1,500-meter run, garnering second place and surpassing the automatic NCAA qualification standard. Winter may be joined at nationals by Saturday’s second-place women’s 4×100 and 4×400 relay squads, who both met provisional standards. Second-years Cynthia Lin, Nofi Mojidi, and Myra Collins and first-year Olivia Ndyabagye whittled their 400-meter relay season best down to 48.61 while Lin, Mojidi, third-year Nellie Movtchan, and first-year Lauryn Nwankpa did the same in the 1,600-meter relay with a 3:55.72 turn around the track.

While the woman’s team is sure to boast a representative at nationals, the men’s team may have two of its own headed for Lisle, Illinois. Third-year Emil Bojanov could finally make his NCAA track and field debut after nearly qualifying for the meet in the 1,500 during the 2005 outdoor and 2006 indoor seasons. The Sofia, Bulgaria native broke the tape on Saturday in 3:52.26, earning him the distinction of being the ninth- fastest Division III 1,500-meter runner in the country. Sitting pretty in the rankings with a time only two seconds off the automatic standard, Bojanov is likely to toe the line at nationals.

Similarly, fourth-year Teage O’Connor may cap off a productive Chicago career with a jaunt to Lisle for a chance to compete against the best in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. A 9:12.74 second-place effort at Butler lifted O’Connor to the fourth spot in the NCAA rankings.

The women’s distance squad polished the Maroons’ sterling reputation with more superior finishes in the 800- and 3,000-meter runs. Third-year Jackie Kropp grabbed fifth with a swift 2:16.71 in the half-mile. Classmate Vidthya Abraham (10:23.36) and second-year Rachel Berg (11:21.42) worked together to grab second and fourth in the 3,000. Chicago’s hurdlers and jumpers proved to be nearly as formidable, as Movtchan, fresh from her Drake Relays debut, sailed in at fourth with a 16.61 effort in the 100-meter hurdles.

Fourth-year Sarah Eldridge shared first-place with three other competitors in the high jump after a 5.0-foot leap, while Ndyabagye (5.38) returned to the long jump and clamed a fifth-place finish. Two more top-five performances emerged out of the jumping pits as second-years Appie Hirve (11.01) and Somayeh Jahedi (10.08) landed second- and fifth-place bounds in the triple jump.

Like their counterparts on the women’s team, the men’s hurdlers and jumpers produced a set of excellent performances. Third-year Mike Doll snatched fifth in the 110-meter hurdles while first-year John Pribik took home the fifth spot in the pole vault with a 14.0-meter mark. Fourth-year Brett Peterson and second-year Brian Taylor made sure the Maroons were well represented in the triple jump, capturing second and fourth with bounds of 12.97 and 12.29.

With the end of the season around the corner, track and field is increasing intensity in practice and competition. While only a select few are likely to make it to Lisle, Chicago is hoping to bring as many as they can and break a few personal records on the way.

“Some members of the team are focusing on improving their national qualifying provisional standards,” Winter said. “Others are looking forward to achieving personal bests at the next two last chance meets.”

As the list of provisional qualifiers becomes longer and longer, the ablest Maroons are focused on training right and racing hard. Even with nearly four seasons under their belts and a solid six months of rigorous training, an experienced athlete isn’t always prepared for every minute of heightened competition. The pressure to perform can make even the most steeled veteran a little edgy.

“I was a little bit anxious because everyone else had done so well that I felt like if I didn’t have a fantastic race I’d be the only loser on the team,” Winter said. “I am usually pretty arrogant, but this time I wasn’t entirely confident before the race. As soon as the gun went off, though, I felt that everything was in control, and the race went exactly according to plan.”

Even with perfect races under their belts, it’s not uncommon for NCAA hopefuls to be shut out of championship competition only a week before nationals. NCAA provisional qualifiers can’t count on toeing the line at nationals until the final last chance meet is done.

“With two weeks left there’s quite a bit of pressure to hit these standards,” O’Connor said. “But less so after this weekend’s performances. While we hit a lot of provisional standards, many of them are on the fence and might not go, so we do need to continue improving.”

The Maroons bear down and focus on shaving off those pesky tenths of a second, adding a few fractions of an inch, and perfecting hyper-efficient hand-offs. The Doctor Keeler Invitational in Naperville this coming Saturday should offer some of the best races yet, as the women’s 4×100 and 4×400 and O’Connor all continue to build their NCAA profiles.