Opener bodes well for track

By Kate Fratar

A month ago, both men’s and women’s track took home league championship banners. Now the squads are two weeks away from toeing the line again with their UAA foes to try and repeat their indoor season success.

Without a lot of time to switch gears into the outdoor season, the Maroons are showing signs that they’ve hit the ground running this spring. This weekend the women earned the bronze in a field of 22 teams topped by two D-I squads, while the men placed fifth out of 20 in the two-day Chicagolands.

“I really considered this the first outdoor meet of the season,” said head coach Chris Hall, who gave his athletes a full spring break instead of requiring them to come back early to help host the Ted Haydon Invitational March 29. “There were no excuses after coming back from break, and everyone showed up mentally and performed well.”

On the women’s side, a pair of Maroons won their events and three more put up provisional qualifiers as Chicago finished ahead of all its D-III competitors with 91.5 points. DePaul and Northern Illinois University were locked in a battle for the team title, with DePaul finally edging out the Huskies by a point and a half, 141–139.5.

With strong showings on both the track and field sides of the meet, the South Siders proved the depth and range of talent on their roster. Third-year Rachel Venezia and first-year Liz Lawton led the charge for Chicago with first-place finishes in the steeplechase and the 5,000-meter run, respectively.

Venezia posted a provisional-qualifying time of 11:07.11 and was catching her breath when the runner-up, second-year Kaeley Matuz from Olivet Nazarene, crossed the line at 11:21.24. Lawton also finished with seconds to spare in the 5,000-meter run, clocking an 18:01.90 to beat out the second-place effort of 18:12.23.

Other top finishes for Chicago came from the usual suspects, fourth-year Appie Hirve and second-years Nicole Murphy and Claire Ray, each putting in provisional distances for NCAAs. Ray’s throw of 42.68 meters in the discus earned her the silver, while Hirve’s 11.36-meter leap in the triple jump and Murphy’s 13.14-meter hurl in the shot put both claimed the bronze.

“They competed very well this weekend,” Hall said. “They’re big trump cards.”

For the men, host North Central ran away with the meet, collecting 158.5 points to swamp second-place Lewis University by 32 points. Chicago’s 59 on the weekend barely nudged out Wheaton (58) for fifth.

First-year Harry Backlund turned in the team’s best finish, missing gold in his first collegiate attempt at the 1,500-meter run by fractions of a second. The long-distance race came down to the wire, with the 3:57.62 by Elmhurst third-year Brian McConnell beating Backlund’s 3:57.92 in a photo finish.

“It was a great race right from the start,” Hall said. “McConnell’s a three-time All-American in that event, and Harry’s a freshman still figuring things out.”

The runners started out relatively slow, and with about 300 meters to go, Backlund pulled away from the pack and pressed the pace. Coming down the final stretch, it looked like Backlund and McConnell switched the lead three times.

Following Backlund’s lead, youth was the theme of the weekend for the Maroons. Three rookies claimed bronze while the 56.10 by second-year Patrick Offner in the 400-meter hurdles was also good for third. From the class of 2011, Brian Andreycak’s 15.71 in the 110-meter hurdles, Nick Nunez’s 9:52.37 in the steeplechase, and Jacob Solus’s 13.63-meter distance in the triple jump rounded out Chicago’s highest finishes.

While these Maroons topped the leaderboards for the squad, 13 South Siders collected points for Chicago, indicating a depth that will be important to boosting the team’s score at conferences.

Included in this group was first-year John Sabacinski, who didn’t make it to the podium but set new freshmen records in the shot put, discus, and hammer throw. He also currently ranks number one in the conference for the discus after this weekend.

“He’s the type of guy who’s going to be winning a lot of events,” Hall said.

The Wheaton Invitational on Saturday offers the squads their last chances to prepare for UAAs, which they’ll host April 19–20 on the new track that was added along with the renovations to the football field over summer. Chicago hopes to get a home-field advantage as the women defend their indoor crown from Wash U and the men try to ward off Emory.

“I think the reason we won our indoor meet is because we weren’t 15 individuals but we were on the same page as a team,” Hall said. “It’s going to be tough, but I think we can win this meet.”