Phoenix Invite allows Chicago to look ahead

With a shuffled lineup, the men’s and women’s track teams are using Saturday’s Phoenix Invitational as early-season prep-work.

By Jordan Holliday

Going into their second weekend of competition, Chicago’s indoor track and field teams aren’t competing to win now as much as they are preparing to win later.

That is the message from head coach Chris Hall, whose men’s and women’s squads will host the Phoenix Invitational, a six-team meet, tomorrow at Henry Crown.

“We aren’t going to enter to win the meet,” Hall said. “We need to see someone in an event that is not their primary event, though they could do much better in [their primary events]. Instead, we need to see them in different events to build for the conference meet.”

For the Maroons, that means rotating their athletes around, giving them experience not only in the events for which they are best prepared, but also trying them out in new events where they might earn points for the team.

“We need to see what else is out there, especially with kids that are national-caliber athletes,” Hall said. “They might be able to do pretty spectacular things in some other events that aren’t completely different from what they’re doing.”

As they get moved around in these early season meets, the adjustments the athletes have to make can be difficult. While a sprinter trying out a new, short distance might pick it right up, a runner moving to horizontal jumps will face a tougher learning curve.

Hall offered third-year Blake Obuchowski as an example of a runner who might be used in a new event. Obuchowski finished second in the 55- and 200-meters against UW–Oshkosh last weekend, but Hall said he had potential to excel in the 400-meters as well. And even if a new event doesn’t pan out, the athlete might still benefit from the experience.

“I think it will make [Obuchowski] a whole lot stronger in the 200,” Hall said. “Sometimes I think getting outside your comfort zone allows you to get even more comfortable in your zone.”

This may not be a winning strategy for tomorrow, but since the teams’ focus is mostly on the UAA meet in March, these early meets offer the coaches and athletes some room for trial-and-error. A weaker performance or two this early in the season is okay, if it ends up paying dividends come March.

That isn’t to say Chicago will entirely discount tomorrow’s results. After staying competitive against perennial-power Oshkosh last Saturday, expectations will be high for the Maroons, the reigning UAA champions, at each meet they enter this season. Both the men and the women should be at the front of the pack by day’s end, and the women in particular have a good chance at first.

For both the men and the women, the toughest competition will come from Augustana College. The Viking men finished ninth in last year’s rankings, and the women came in tenth in the poll after finishing 15th at the national meet.

The other four teams competing will be Aurora, Olivet Nazarene, Chicago State, and St. Xavier.

When Augustana competed in last year’s Phoenix Invitational, the men finished second and the women third. Chicago’s squads won the men’s and women’s competitions. This will be the first competition of the 2009 season for Augustana’s teams.