March 7, 2006

Track teams finish strong at league meet

The 2006 indoor season went out with a muted bang as men’s and women’s track performed as expected at Friday and Saturday’s conference meet.

Both teams were satisfied with their overall team performances. The men and the women both fell a spot short of their admittedly lofty UAA goals with the squads performing as predicted coming into the meet. Despite strong performances in almost every event, the women were unable to overtake Wash U (149.50), settling for second place overall with 108.50 points. The men fought valiantly for a third-place finish, but found themselves in the fourth spot behind rivals Wash U (136), Carnegie Mellon (97), and Brandeis University (81) with 66 points. At the end of the day, the Maroons still left the UAAs with new personal, school, and conference records, ready to move from Henry Crown to Stagg Field.

The women’s team can claim three conference champions, a new NCAA provisional-qualifier, and multiple UAA- and school-record breakers. Conference champions included fourth-year Jessica Winter in the mile (5:05.77) and first-year Olivia Ndyabagye, whose 5.60-meter leap in the long jump set new school and conference marks. Ndyabagye’s jump bested her season-best mark of 5.50 and ensured her a spot at nationals. Third-year Al Robertson delivered the final conference victory for the women with a national-qualifying 2:17.77 800-meter run.

“I really think the women competed well this weekend,” head coach Chris Hall said. “It was our goal not to be second, but it was also our goal to put in the kind of performance that would make Wash U realize that there’s someone close behind them. I think Wash U is looking over their shoulders at us.”

The Maroons garnered additional All-UAA honors with eight more top-three finishes. Astoundingly, three of those came in season debuts from second-years Nofi Mojidi and Myra Colllins. Mojidi, who made outdoor nationals as a first-year phenom, wasn’t able to join the team until her basketball season ended last weekend and thus was an unknown quantity in the 55- and 200-meter dashes. Proving to be formidable competition after only two practices with the team, Mojidi took third in both events with school-record setting sprints of 7.42 and 26.20. Classmate Collins, who’d been sidelined with a hamstring injury, made waves in the long jump, taking third with a hop of 5.31 meters.

Four more quality finishes came from first-year Tiffany Hosten in the shotput (second/11.67), fourth-year Sarah Eldridge in the high jump (third/1.57), Winter in the 3,000 (second/10:24.93), and Aparna Hirve in the triple jump (third/10.99). The last All-UAA performance came from third-year Trina Ruhland, Mojidi, second-year Cynthia Lin, and third-year Nellie Movtchan in the women’s 4×400-meter relay. Their 4:05.36 time over the 1,600 meters put the quartet in third place and their names in the school record book.

While the women broke records and gave Wash U something to fear, the men put on a show with one conference champion and six more top-three finishers. Third-year Emil Bojanov dominated the mile, taking first place with a swift 4:16.68. Second-year Luke Sandberg claimed second in the pole vault clearing 4.25 meters, while classmate Zach Rodgers finished third in the high jump (1.86). Rodgers, a decathlete, spent Friday and Saturday multitasking, competing in the long jump (fourth/6.46), triple jump (fifth/12.83), and the 55-meter hurdles (sixth/8.27) and running the third leg of the 4×400-meter relay.

That relay scored an important second-place finish for the Maroons in 3:28.27. The squad of first-years John Eric Humphries and Herman Reeves, Rodgers, and third-year Matt Kolbe came into the meet seeded fourth and finished two spots higher than expected, giving the men’s overall team score an unexpected boost. The men appeared headed for the third spot until the Wash U anchor leg, trying to pass from second to first, face planted into the track, allowing Kolbe to snatch second place and another two points.

One of the most impressive individual performances of the weekend came from third-year Neil Weijer, whose 15.13-meter heave in the weight throw put him in third place and shattered his personal record by a full meter.

“What Neil did was just huge,” Hall said.

“I thought I was spastic,” Weijer said. “But it was a good competition. It was really exciting and just fun to be in.”

The conference meet was the final indoor competition for most of the team, but a small contingent from the women’s team will head to Northfield, Minnesota, on Friday for NCAAs. Winter will battle the best of the best in the mile aiming to maintain or improve her third-place position. Winter will toe the line again with third-year Jackie Kropp, Movtchan, and Robertson, forming the 10th best Distance Medley Relay squad at nationals. Ndyabagye, 11th in the nation, will try to continue her improvement in the long jump.

In the meantime, the remainder of the men’s and women’s teams has already started training for the outdoor season.

“We treat track as one long season encompassing indoor and outdoor,” Hall said. “Based on how our indoor season went, I think we can look forward to a really promising outdoor season.”