Track set for title shots in Crown brawl

By Kathryn Stewart

This time around, the big dance has come to Henry Crown, where men’s and women’s track will brawl against the fiercest the UAA has to offer.

The Maroons will host the two-day conference meet on Friday and Saturday when the men’s and women’s teams will spar with track powerhouses Wash U and Carnegie Mellon. The men are primed to battle for a third-place finish, while the women’s team is aiming to chase down Wash U for the top spot. Both teams are in a good position to realize their goals, as the women possess a plethora of top-three seeds and the men should offer strong performances in most events. The women should generate competition in every race, with particularly exciting performances in the distance races and field events. While the men don’t have the same wealth of highly ranked athletes, particularly able competitors in the longer races and in the field and potential point scorers in most events should make them one of the most competitive squads at the meet.

“We feel we can compete,” head coach Chris Hall said. “At the very least we want the top teams to take notice of us. The other squads are factors too, of course, but we have goals.”

In the women’s events, fourth-year Jessica Winter is set to win league titles in the mile and the 3,000-meter run. Third-year Vidthya Abraham is seeded first in the 5,000 and is likely to join Winter in the top three in the 3,000. Third-year Al Robertson should provide a victory of her own in the 800-meter, scoring points and allowing the women to sweep all the distance races. In the shorter events, third-year Nellie Movtchan and second-year Aparna Hirve are pegged for top-three finishes in the 55-meter hurdles while first-year Olivia Ndyabagye is set to collect points in the 200-meter dash. Second-year Nofi Mojidi will cut short her post-basketball season break to compete in the 55 and alongside Ndyabagye in the 200-meter.

The women’s field events will provide a comparable amount of excitement, with the Maroons set to sweep the long jump and finish high in the triple jump and shot put. NCAA provisional qualifier Ndyabagye, third-year Trina Ruhland, and second-year Myra Collins are expected to take first, second, and third in the former event, with Ndyabagye settling into on top and Ruhland and Collins duking it out for second. Fellow jumping phenom Hirve will battle with Brandeis first-year Anat Benun for the title in the triple jump while first-year Tiffany Hosten throws her way into the shotput top three.

Finally, a conference championship for the women’s distance medley relay will complement two days of exceptional individual performances.

On the men’s side, third-year Emil Bojanov should lead the pack in the mile, while fourth-year Teage O’Connor will be in close contention with NYU fourth-year Dan Moschella and Wash U fourth-year Brennan Bonner for the top spot in the 3,000. In the absence of fourth-year 5,000-meter specialist Pat Hogan, O’Connor also has a shot at a quality finish in the 5,000. The men can promise more notable performances in the field events with high seeds for several events. Second-year Zach Rodgers is expected to take second in the high jump and the pole vault should see second-year Luke Sandberg in the top three with first-year John Pribick right behind him. Third-years Neil Weijer and Leon Gordon should score points for the men in the weight throw and shot put. Team efforts from the men in the distance medley and 4×400-meter relays should hopefully provide enough points to vault the men into third place in the overall standings.

In addition to the multitude of high-seeded performers on both teams, a flock of athletes outside of the scoring positions are likely to move up during competition and garner the additional points that can make a major difference in the teams’ overall finishes.

“One point is huge at conferences,” Hall explained. “We have a lot of athletes that are seeded sixth and seventh coming in, but who have the potential to move up into the scoring position during the meet. Those kinds of performances will end up determining where we are at the end of the day.”

“We’ve been second many times but have never won a conference title,” Winter said. “The other seniors and I are anxious to get it done before we graduate. If the final scores don’t end up in our favor, though, we want to know that we got every point we could. At cross-country regionals this year, the fact that we missed qualifying for NCAAs didn’t hurt quite as badly as the knowledge that we could have done it, and just missed a few points here and there. Right now, the entire team is focused on scoring everywhere possible.”

Home-court advantage allows the men and women some extra optimism. With the Maroons running on their home track with their classmates present to cheer them on, the men and women are hoping to top off a successful indoor season with a strong showing and plenty of spectators to watch it.

“We invite the whole campus to come out and watch us do this,” Bojanov said. “We’ll put on a good show.”