Maroons to compete in five events at NCAA Championships

Four individual athletes and a relay team will be representing Chicago at the NCAAs.

By Isaac Stern

All that remains for Chicago is the DIII NCAA National Championship in Lincoln, NE. The Maroons have qualified eight people in five events. On the women’s side, they have first-year Michelle Dobbs in the 800-meter, second-year Brianna Hickey in the mile, the entire 4×400-meter relay team, and third-year Pam Yu in the long jump. For the men, only second-year pole vaulter Michael Bennett will make the trip.

This weekend, all but Bennett competed in the last chance meet in order to improve upon their times to get one final tune up before nationals and ensure their qualification to the meet. Bennett will qualify tied for fourth with his jump of 4.90m from the Phoenix Invitational earlier this season.

Of the remaining four, only Dobbs was able to improve her time at the Point National Qualifier. Her new time of 2:11.48 earned her the fifth seed at the national meet. The 4×400 competed directly against three of the top five teams in the nation, but could not use the additional competition to pull themselves into a faster time. They enter the national championship as the 11th seed with their time of 3:53.46 from Chicagolands. Yu competed in the final qualifier but could not get back to her pre-injury mark of 5.56m from the Private College Invitational. She will compete as the 13th seed. Hickey came close to her best of the season of 5:01.38 but missed by less than a second. She took the NCAA’s final, 17th seed.

“I am really excited to be able to participate in such an elite event,” Hickey said. “I am looking forward to competing against the country’s best milers.”

While an individual national title is definitely a stretch, it is certainly possible and Bennett and Dobbs would be Chicago’s best shot. Bennett is a mere 20cm behind the best vaulter in the country and has not lost this season. Dobbs is two seconds behind first, but as a first-year, still has untapped potential that could propel her.

The 4×400 will have some big decisions to make as the meet approaches. Dobbs was added this final weekend to the established group of second-years Mikaela Hammel and Alison Pildner, and third-year Francesca Tomasi. However, with Dobbs focusing on the 800, first-year Eleanor Kang or fourth-year Jennie Porter could take a spot. Porter ran with the squad at Chicagolands when they got their best time.

“We are really happy to be competing at Nationals,” Hammel said. “No matter what happens, it will be a great experience for us all.”

Yu will likely have trouble competing with the nation’s best as she has been sidelined most of the season by injury, however, her recent jump at practice could be indicative of a big come back.

“I’m kind of nervous about it, but at the same time very excited for it,” Yu said. “I plan to just do my best. Placing doesn’t matter so much to me as just being able to go out there and have a great jump day.”

Hickey can make great strides this week. The top 17 times in the country are all extremely close and a two-second improvement would push Hickey to around the top 10.

“I have yet to break five minutes [converted for track size] in the mile, so that is definitely in the back of my mind as I head off to Nebraska,” she said.

The national meet will begin Friday and conclude Saturday. Chicago has a very exciting week ahead, and a promising future beyond that. Of those competing on the National stage, only Porter will not return next year.