January 10, 2006

Despite rust, track shines in season Opener

While first-race jitters were only to be expected for track and field at the Chicago Opener on Saturday, it proved to be hard training and a depleted roster that led to their overall tepid performance.

Despite less than impressive individual times on the track and mediocre distances in the field events, the women managed a second-place finish overall and the men achieved an unexpected victory. The women (152) fell behind the Division I University of Illinois–Chicago (156), while the men (140) managed to grab the top team spot ahead of five other squads.

The women did perform admirably in races and field events, collecting points after first-place finishes from fourth-year Jessica Winter’s 2:21.05 800-meter run, first-year Julia Moriarty’s 3,000-meter success (11:51.15), and second-year Aparna Hirve’s in the triple jump (10.24). Third-year Leon Gordon accomplished the most for the men’s cause, grabbing first place in the shot-put (13.43) and weight throw (13.23). On the track, third-year Emil Bojanov (8:45.12) ran an exceptional 3,000-meter race, cinching the men’s unanticipated win.

“I really didn’t think winning this meet was a possibility,” head coach Chris Hall said. “The fact that the men were able to win the entire meet, when a large chunk of our runners were at Taking the Next Step, and those that were there weren’t performing at their full strength, is an indication of how good our team could be this year.”

Despite a dearth of individual top finishes, the men’s and women’s track teams came away from the Chicago Opener satisfied by their solid, if not stellar, performances.

“I think the first race of the season is only fun because at the end of the season you get to look back and see how quickly you improved on that time,” fourth-year Teage O’Connor said.

Saturday marked the beginning of what could be a very productive season for both the men’s distance and women’s jumping squads. The women’s jumpers lived up to their sterling reputation and offered a glimpse of what might push the Chicago women ahead of arch-rival Wash U at the conference championships. Hirve dominated the triple jump, but performances from first-year Olivia Ndyabagye (third/4.81) in the long jump, second-year Somayeh Jahedi (second/10.05) in the triple jump and fourth-year Sarah Eldridge (third/1.42) in the high jump suggest that last year’s outstanding jumps team will significantly improve over the course of the 2006 indoor season.

“We have amazing depth,” Hirve, last year’s freshman phenom, said. “Just so many people who can all be relied on to pull off competitive jumps. Last year, we always dominated the scoring places in jump events, and this year we have even more unbelievably talented freshmen to add to our strength.

“It’s hard to see that in the performances from Saturday, but I think by championship time it’ll be evident that we have an unstoppable squad.”

The men’s distance team made their indoor debut with a solid 3,000-meter run. Faced with one of the most competitive fields at the Opener, the second-place finisher Bojanov, O’Connor (third/8:54.88), and fourth-year Pat Hogan (fifth/8:58.27) approached the start with a wealth of experience and a reliable strategy to guide them through their first race of 2006. O’Connor, Bojanov, and Hogan formed an impenetrable pack for the first 2,000 meters before Bojanov burst forward to finish just behind lead runner Derek Scott (8:39.81) of Cornerstone University.

“It’s always terrific having a horde of guys at the line,” Hogan said. “It almost feels like stepping up to a cross-country start.”

The men and women competed with sore muscles from a week of hard training. With only five days of intensive practice under their belts, many freshmen were getting their first taste of collegiate competition, while cross-country runners were facing a jarring transition from open outdoor courses to airless, indoor tracks.

“At this point, we’re training all week long without worrying about meets,” Hall said. “So it was really great to see our guys run a 3,000-meter race that wasn’t just a ‘first-meet-of-the-year-good’ race, but an excellent indoor performance.”

“Running indoors definitely takes a real toll on runners, and it takes several workouts and races to acclimate,” Hogan said. “While we fortunately don’t have to take the turns as quickly as the sprinters, you definitely feel them when you’re running and in your legs afterwards…The air indoors, our track especially offers a fairly hot and dry environment, and halfway through a 3,000 you can definitely feel it in your throat.”

The Maroons will train through Saturday’s duel against UW–Oshkosh, the 2005 women’s indoor national champions and their sixth-ranked men’s squad.

“At this point we’re more concerned with Monday through Friday,” Hall said. “We’re willing to sacrifice a weekend meet for a hard Wednesday practice. Until conferences we just want to see solid performances and improvement.”