Maroons set the bar high for conference championships in Cleveland

By Isaac Stern

[media id=”104682″ align=”left”/]The South Siders will travel to Cleveland, OH this weekend to compete for the conference title. There, they will face off against the best of the UAA in an effort to claim their first conference title in three years for the women and five for the men.

“We’re all really excited about the opportunity we have right now,” first-year pole-vaulter Chase Wilson said. “We know we have the ability to do some great things this weekend.”

Last year’s UAA results are still very much in the minds of the Maroon men and women, and their objective is clear: improvement. In 2012, the men finished fifth in a field of seven while the women took third.

In order to prepare for the meet, the Maroons have decreased the intensity of practice. The added rest should help Chicago fully recover from a busy schedule in the past two months.

“Coach has really slowed things down for us this week,” Wilson said. “Practices aren’t as hard as usual, but we’re still getting some good work in.”

Currently, the men’s squad has 12 members ranked in the top five of their respective events. However, some competitors in the UAAs have not yet competed in their top event due to injury or rest.

For example, fourth-year Brandon Meckelberg, who placed first in the discus last year, has only competed in the weight throw this season.

The women’s team is in a similar situation, with 14 members currently in the top five of their events and some competitors battling injury. Second-year Pam Yu returned to action just last week after being ranked nationally in the long jump during the preseason.

“Injuries have really held us back as a whole this year,” Wilson said, “but mostly everyone seems good for this weekend.”

The level of competition in the UAA has improved as well, which has only made Chicago’s task more difficult. The Maroons have lost to defending conference champion Wash U in several meets this year already.

“Wash U is usually the team to beat,” first-year pole-vaulter Michael Bennett said.

The Maroons must overcome a variety of obstacles to truly have a shot at the conference crown. On the men’s side, the lack of throwers beyond Meckelberg will hinder the South Siders’ ability to pick up relatively easy points. The women, while more evenly balanced throughout, will be facing tougher competition on the whole, competing in a conference that ranked sixth in the nation last week.

However, both the men’s and women’s squads have received a boost from a group of first-years who have done nothing but impress this year. Michael Bennett shattered the school record in the pole vault last week and currently ranks first in the conference. First-year Nkemdilim Nwaokolo holds the best throws in the conference for both the shot put and weight throw. If the Maroons do pull off the conference upset, a great deal of credit will go to this new crop of South Siders.

The Maroons should place in the top three in the conference for both the men and women. And they do have a real shot at the conference title. However, improvements from last year and a talented crop of first-years may still be insufficient for a first-place finish. The increased level of competition in the UAA will most likely prove to be just too high.

“No one would be upset placing third in the conference, but we really do feel we have a legitimate shot at first,” Wilson added. “That is what we are working towards.”

The UAA Championships are set to begin at noon tomorrow and continue at 9 a.m. on Sunday.