Men and women on track at Chicagolands

By Sean Ahmed

The UAA championships might be the focus for men’s and women’s track, but a few Maroons are getting themselves positioned to keep their season going after it’s all over.

Six team members, including one relay squad, met NCAA provisional qualifying standards as the men and women went their separate ways for the two-day, two-location Chicagolands. The 24th-ranked men (40.5 points) ended up 6th of 19 teams Saturday. Their impressive team score was built on a pair of wins from third-year Emil Bojanov in the mile (4:14.59), and fourth-year Teage O’Connor in the 3,000-meter run (8:38.36), and some added depth in the hurdles.

The 14th-ranked women (45.5 points) finished a disappointingly low 8th out of 15 Friday. Their overall finish did not, however, reflect the quality of their individual performances. Second-year Appie Hirve may have missed last week’s 11.19-meter triple-jump mark by a centimeter to finish second, but she still met the provisional qualification standard for the second meet in a row. The Distance Medley Relay squad grabbed second place as well, with a qualifying time of 12:05.42. With coaches focusing on individuals until UAAs, these showings made the meet a successful one for the women.

“We had pretty decent weekends. I was a little surprised when I saw the team scores at Chicagolands,” head coach Chris Hall said. “I don’t put a lot of emphasis on team scores throughout the season until the conference meet. I thought our women performed really well this week, and when I saw they were eighth, I didn’t think that was really indicative of our performances.

“We may have put a lot of trump cards in our DMR, one event.”

That squad, consisting of fourth-year Jessica Winter and third-years Jackie Kropp, Nellie Movtchan, and Alexandra Robertson, puts the team atop the UAA in the event, but that won’t sway Hall into using his all-star lineup at the conference meet. Rather than trying to take big points in only one event, he plans on using “the four national-caliber athletes” in individual events to accumulate even bigger totals. They will likely reunite March 10 and 11 in Northville, Minnesota, for nationals.

Matching Hirve’s qualification-worthy effort, Bojanov also picked up a provisional invite to NCAAs with his mile time. The mark is almost two full seconds faster than any other UAA miler has run so far this season. Despite being unable to draft behind another runner, Bojanov’s mark puts him 11th in the nation.

“[North Central fourth-year Andy Hubner] and I were going to try to pace each other so that we could both get qualifying times. But he dropped off after 800 meters, and I was on my own for the rest of the race,” said Bojanov, who also grabbed a fifth-place finish in the 800-meter run with his time of 1:57.78.

While he couldn’t claim a spot on the line at NCAAs, by all accounts it was O’Connor who had the best performance of the weekend. The cross-country star caught the eye in the 3,000-meter run, which is not run at nationals. O’Connor currently stands at fourth in the league in that event.

“I thought that was a really outstanding highlight for the weekend: Teage’s 3,000,” Hall said. “One of the kids he beat was third in the country last year in the 10k. I thought it was really impressive how he won the race. He dropped from 35 seconds a lap to 30 seconds a lap and blew by everyone. But he didn’t let up. That was a huge confidence boost for him.”

“I figured I would just let the other guys lead for most of the race,” said O’Connor of his first race back from shin splints. “But then they started to slow down, and I just went for it. It really wasn’t planned, it just worked out nicely. About a lap into it, I thought I might not be able to keep it up for three more laps, but I did. It was nice, because this was my first good race of the season.”

Just as O’Connor got his groove back, fourth-year distance runner Pat Hogan had to sit out with tendonitis in his Achilles as a precautionary measure. Though he would have raced had it been the conference meet, Hogan will wait to test his heel until later this week. Hogan will participate in a number of tough, non-impact workouts to maintain fitness.

While the distance runners will maintain a tough training schedule through the weekend, assistant coach Mary Banker will be easing up on the sprinters, hurdlers, and jumpers to allow them to achieve a mini-peak in two weeks at UAAs. Hall and Banker both train the Maroons with an eye on achieving peak fitness in May for the outdoor conference meet.

At the same time, the indoor UAA meet at Henry Crown is important to the Maroons. Fortunately, there were a number of seasonal and personal bests that suggested the training cycles are working just as they should. Second-year Zach Rodgers and third-year Mike Doll made Saturday’s 55-meter hurdles finals with 9th and 10th place finishes (8.30 and 8.36 seconds). Rodgers also added a sixth-place finish with a 1.82-meter high jump. Dan Dickinson’s personal record in the 5,000-meter run (15:38.69) earned him eighth.

On the women’s side, fourth-year Sarah Eldridge and first-year Meagan Earhard earned high-jump marks (5.00 and 4.10 feet) that have them well positioned to score at UAAs. Third-year Vidthya Abraham’s 3,000-meter run of 10:31.98 was good for third in both the meet and the conference.

This Friday, the Maroons host the second leg of the Chicago Invitational beginning at 6 p.m. With the teams’ personally invited professors in attendance, the Maroons will be running shorter distance events in order to be mentally and physically fresh for next weekend’s UAAs.