Track boasts slew of qualifiers

By Kate Fratar

In a meet that was all about hitting NCAA standards and setting personal records, men’s and women’s track didn’t disappoint.

With Nationals at UW–Oshkosh a little more than a week away, the Maroons posted 11 provisional-qualifying marks this weekend as they hosted the Chicago Penultimate Invite. The strong personal performances helped members of both squads strengthen their cases for a spot to compete with the best of DIII.

“I’m really pleased with how our kids are doing right now,” head coach Chris Hall said. “We have more [potential] national qualifiers than we’ve ever had before.”

The women especially showed the range of talent on their roster, with seven individuals and one relay team passing the provisional marks in a variety of events this weekend. Second-year Claire Ray was the only Maroon to clear the cutoff in two events.

Throwing in the hammer and the discus, Ray took first and second in the events, respectively. Her toss of 48.59 meters in the hammer passed the provisional qualifier of 46 meters, and her 46.23-meter effort in the discus fell short 0.15 meters of an automatic bid.

Ray, a 2007 All-American in the discus, is one of several Maroons on the women’s side looking to return to the national stage. Third-year Rachel Venezia is currently ranked 12th in the steeplechase, putting her on the bubble for her second-consecutive NCAA appearance.

By clocking a 10:53.24 in the event at UAAs April 19 and 20, Venezia set a new conference and Haydon Track record. That was the last time she ran it, and coaches are unsure if she’ll participate in the North Central Last Chance this Thursday and Friday.

Because she is on the brink, Venezia is in a tricky position. She needs to be fresh and well rested for Nationals, but she could get bounced from the bubble if she takes this weekend off.

Along with Venezia and Ray, the women have plenty of other athletes gunning for a slot at NCAAs. Aside from fourth-year and Maroon photographer Appie Hirve, who will try to back up her All-American feat in the triple jump during the indoor season, most of the others would be first-timers.

Fourth-year Cynthia Lin (400-meter dash), second-year Myra Collins (long jump), first-year Stephanie Omueti (200-meter dash), and the 4×100-meter relay team all hope to capitalize on momentum from their provisional marks from this weekend.

Lin was not always expected to be in contention for a spot at Nationals. Her 57.35 was good for second, behind a first-place and automatic-qualifying effort of 55.93 by Illinois Wesleyan fourth-year Rachel Anderson.

“[Lin’s] always been a fine quarter-miler,” Hall said. “She finally made the decision that she was really going to run the event and go for a national standard. I was a bit surprised that she could run that quickly.”

For the men, fourth-year Zach Rodgers led the individual push for Nationals, with first-year Harry Backlund and the 4×100-meter relay also putting in top performances.

After placing second in the 1,500-meter at the Chicagolands April 4 and 5—his first attempt at the race—Backlund has continued to be strong competitor in the event. He claimed silver again and shaved more than two seconds off his time from the Butler Twilight last Saturday, dropping from a 3:58.09 to a 3:55.25.

The faster time also snuck in under the provisional standard of 3:55.80. The 4×100 relay team also just beat the cutoff, finishing in 41.65 seconds to clear the 42-second requirement.

“They ran fast,” Hall said. “If those exchanges were cleaned up a little bit, they’d be one of the best in the country.”

While Backlund and the relay edged into provisional territory, Rodgers had some room to spare. His distance of 14.32 meters in the triple jump landed beyond the 14-meter benchmark. Rodgers has made noticeable improvements in his past three meets, recording leaps of 13.78 meters at UAAs and 13.98 meters at Butler.

This spring marks the last opportunity for the veteran Rodgers to earn All-American honors. He competed in the decathlon last year, finishing 11th with 6,415 points. The top eight finishers in each event are named All-Americans.

Although the Maroons turned in some solid efforts this weekend and have a good outlook for continuing into the postseason, they can’t take it easy just yet.

“We still need to get people into the meet,” said Hall, pointing to the North Central Last Chance at the end of the week as one more time for both squads to go all out.

The final test of the year, the meet allows athletes to improve their standing for a shot at Nationals and use the competition to stay in top form.