Women’s track nipped at finish; Cheng lead men to fourth

By Joe Katz

To win in track and field takes talent, hard work, and a little bit of luck. Both the men’s and women’s sides had plenty of the first two elements this weekend. Unfortunately, it took the last one to complete the job.

Though both teams entered the weekend primed to take a shot at the league title, the Maroons fell short at the UAA championships Friday and Saturday in Boston. Led by clutch performances from third-years Nofi Mojidi and Cynthia Lin, the 14th-ranked women raked in 126.5 points but finished a hair’s breadth behind Wash U’s conference-leading 130. Five men earned all-conference honors as the 26th-ranked team enjoyed a historic day in the 55-meter dash, but the squad recorded only 59 points to hold down the fourth spot behind Wash U (113), Emory (90.5), and Carnegie (88).

With such a thin margin, the women’s standing came down to the last event on the second day. Wash U clinched the victory with a 4:00.92 mark in the 4×400, with Chicago’s quartet of Mojidi, Lin, and fourth-years Jackie Kropp and Trina Ruhland coming in second at 4:08.49. However, any number of competitions could have swung the meet the other way, and on the whole the Maroons performed better than they expected. They were just one break short of taking home their first-ever league title.

“Our kids competed really well, but so did theirs. I don’t think Wash U had one thing go wrong through the entire two days of track and field,” head coach Chris Hall said.

The Maroons did their best to position themselves for the win, with a number of athletes putting the team ahead of individual goals. Ruhland had already met the NCAA provisional qualifying standard but knew going into UAAs that she needed a better standing on the performance lists to make it to Nationals. Instead of focusing on that competition, she continued to multi-task for the Maroons by competing in six events, including her first appearance of the year at the pole vault. She wound up with All–UAA honors with her 4×400 relay leg and third-place showings in the 200 (26.93) and the long jump (5.17m), scoring a total of 20 points for Chicago. However, her failure to improve in the jumping pits resulted in her being locked out of NCAAs.

“The pole vault was more or less an afterthought that I came up with on Monday of this week.  Looking at the honor roll, I figured I might be able to score some points there,” Ruhland said. “The pole vault conflicted with both the 55 hurdles and the 55 dash, but I managed to get in one jump at 3.01 meters coming off the dash, and, because it was on the first attempt, I was propelled into fourth place. The craziest day was finals. I had four events in the course of two hours.”

Mojidi, thrown into the mix just six days after the end of her basketball season, won two of the squad’s five UAA titles with a 7.45 mark in the 55 and a 26.26 in the 200. However, coaches felt it would be too much, too soon for her to take on her usual responsibilities in the 400, and asked Lin to abandon her top-three seeds in the 55 and 200 and handle the quarter-mile. Mojidi’s classmate responded with a league title of her own, crossing the line in 60.32.

“When Nofi was able to join us, we pulled Cynthia Lin aside and said we can’t expect Nofi to run the quarter,” Hall said. “We took her out of her best events and put her in something she’d never done before. We knew we weren’t going to lose anything with Cynthia out there.”

The other two conference champs were first-year Nicole Murphy, who met the NCAA provisional standard with a 12.75m heave in the shot put, and third-year Myra Collins, who jumped 5.23m in the long jumping pits. Other top performers included Kropp (second in the mile/5:05.34, and third in the 800/2:23.63), fourth-year Vidthya Abraham (third/10:14.69 in the 3,000) and the distance medley relay squad (third/12:49.53).

“We certainly let Wash U know that we are a force to be reckoned with, and we’re planning on victory in the outdoor season,” Ruhland said.

The men didn’t get the breaks they needed either, particularly in the early going. With a number of teams in the deep conference getting off to good starts Friday, the Maroons found themselves well behind after the first few events and could not get the ball rolling fast enough to overcome the gap. The squad had five all-conference performers on the weekend, well behind their fellow competitors.

“When you get to a championship meet, it’s important that positive things begin to happen at the beginning of the day, that the snowball begins to roll,” Hall said. “I don’t think we got off to a great start, and it was difficult for us to regroup. I personally don’t feel that the point totals at the end of the meet were extremely indicative of what the differences were between the teams. I think if things had gone a little bit differently, Wash and Emory would be scratching their heads.”

There were a number of bright spots in Boston, most notably in the 55. First-year Bill Cheng continued his take-no-prisoners rookie campaign by hitting the tape in 6.53 seconds, good for the only conference title on the weekend for Chicago. His margin of victory was by a razor-thin margin, with classmate Blake Obuchowski just 0.01 seconds back, leading to a brief controversy over which Maroon was the winner. Either way, it was a heady showing for the South Siders, as wins in the 55 or the 100 in outdoor track against the UAA have been hard to come by for the Chicago men. Current football wide receivers coach Derrick Brooms (A.B. ’96) was the only Maroon to ever win either event at the conference meet, earning a sweep in 1996.

“I feel that right now, going into the outdoor season, we can’t wait to put together the 4×100 meter relay,” Hall said. “They should be national caliber.”

“High-level sprinting takes a lot of talent, and Bill and Blake are very talented,” fourth-year Mike Doll said. “Both Bill and Blake are capable of dominating the conference in short sprints.”

Doll and second-year Seth Satterlee each brought home silver showings of their own, with Doll grabbing second in the 55-meter hurdles with an 8.01 showing and Satterlee clearing the bar at 4.15m in the pole vault. First-year Terrence Robertson rounded out the All–UAA performances with a third-place 6.53m leap in the long jump. However, the 4×400 team came in sixth, the distance medley relay squad was last, and the Maroons were shut out of the finals of the 200, the 400, and the 800.

“We did not have any true disappointments this weekend,” Doll said. “Most of our athletes produced comparable performance to what we expected coming in, or better, but it just turned out to not be enough

in a few key spots.”

While none of the eligible Maroons (Ruhland, Collins, and Murphy) were high enough on the lists to earn their way into this weekend’s NCAA meet, both teams are looking forward to their standing during outdoor. The women will have Mojidi for the full season, will benefit from the return of third-year Appie Hirve from abroad, and will gain a number of points in the 400-meter relay, which is not run in the winter. The men will be aided by the full return to health and fitness of Bojanov and Rodgers, along with the addition of the 400-meter relay and the decathlon to the schedule.