Penultimate push: Individuals chase NCAA qualification

The Maroons will compete at Stagg Field this Saturday at the UChicago Penultimate Invitational meet.

By Katie Burkhart

They’re coming home.

The Maroons will compete at Stagg Field this Saturday at the UChicago Penultimate Invitational meet.

Having already competed in the UAA Conference Championship meet, the South Siders have largely shifted their focus from team achievements to individual achievements.

“This weekend’s meet is definitely going to have a different feel because it’s a post-conference meet,” first-year thrower Reecie Dern said. “A lot of people won’t be competing, or will be competing in a fraction of their normal events—at this point in the season, we’re really looking to improve individually.”

However, while the season is nearing its end, for several athletes it is not winding down just yet. While many team members take the end of the season as an opportunity to try their hand at new events, others use it to attempt to improve their rankings on the National Honor Roll and close in on NCAA Championship positions.

Third-year distance runner Julia Sizek, for example, is set to compete in the 10,000-meter run.

“I feel like I’m now in an extremely weird position, as I enjoy running for the team more than running for myself—particularly when it comes to nerves,” Sizek said. “It is not fun to be nervous, and I like legitimizing it somehow.”

In fact, with the Penultimate shaping up to be a smaller meet than usual, head coach Chris Hall entered several athletes (including Sizek, fourth-year Sonia Khan, and third-year Sarah Peluse) in the Keeler Invitational in Naperville, IL on Thursday, May 10 to provide an additional improvement opportunity for 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter runners.

“It’s not on our schedule, but coach [Hall] felt like the competition would be good for distance runners,” Khan said. “Julia [Sizek] and I will be working together to try and break 37 minutes in the 10,000-meter run.”

Even at the Penultimate itself, several athletes will be looking to end the season on a high note to improve—or secure—nationally ranked positions. Some of these athletes include fourth-year jumper Paige Peltzer (currently ranked 16th in the high jump) and third-year Kayla McDonald, who currently holds the 28th-place ranking in the 800-meter—a position she is eager to improve, as the top 22 athletes in each event qualify for Nationals.

Despite the small nature of the Penultimate, the competition on the field should be worthy of attention.

“For the throwers, it’ll be a small but healthily competitive group of athletes,” Dern said, who has held her own as a consistent point earner for the Maroons all season. “All competing throwers should get a good quantity of opportunities to throw their best.”

For all team members, however, the Penultimate meet will be a great opportunity to explore new areas of talent—or, at the very least, to support fellow teammates.

“Individually, people are trying to squeeze as much as they can out of the end of this season. As a team, we come together to try and give them that extra bit of encouragement that will help them achieve their goals,” Dern said.

As team captains have stressed throughout the season, this encouragement is often key for exceptional achievement.

“Hopefully we get a lot of people to come cheer us on Saturday because having support really makes a difference,” Khan said. “Knowing you are running for something bigger than yourself really puts the extra edge on a performance.”