April 21, 2006

Locked in and loaded, track ready for UAAs

The UAAs may have come a bit quickly, but men’s and women’s track and field are refusing to let the league championships catch them off guard. Instead, they’re looking to do some surprising of their own.

Just four weeks into their outdoor season, the Maroons head to Cleveland today for the key two-day conference meet, where they’ll be stacking their lineups with every last bit of talent they’ve got. After the women and men finished second and fourth indoors, the two squads are looking to take advantage of the added depth provided by some outdoor specialists. This time around, a lot of athletes will be scoring points across the board instead of just the same old contributors placing in a few events.

“Oh, heck yeah we’re excited,” head coach Chris Hall said. “This is what we train for. We’ll have some great performances fighting in a lot of different races.”

Unlike the indoor UAA meet, which came the week before nationals, the outdoor championship takes place a full five competitions before the May 25–27 NCAAs. Though inconvenient timing for teams with national aspirations like the Maroons, the academic-minded conference makes its outdoor meet the earliest in the nation to accommodate final exam schedules. This will be the final meet of the season for many teams, making the athletes on those squads particularly dangerous as they look to make a lasting impression in their finales.

Knowing he can’t completely let off the training pedal this early in the season, Hall is instead looking to put out his absolute best lineup and rely on a talented—and emotionally charged—team.

“The fact of the matter is that we honestly can’t peak for this meet, not if you have national-caliber athletes in your program. You have to go after that national meet,” Hall said. “This is an important meet and one that we get up emotionally for. We may not be going for a peak, but we’re putting everyone in their best events.

“We’re going after it. We don’t do that in our other meets. When people see they’re in their primary events, they get up for it. So I think it’s more of a mental edge that we’re going for this weekend.”

Those events are looking loaded right now, especially in some areas that the conference didn’t see at Henry Crown back in March. The men’s pole-vaulters have the potential to be the most surprising group of all, as the Maroons boast a trio of athletes capable of cracking the top three. Second-year Luke Sandberg (season-best 4.27 m) and first-years John Pribik (4.12) and Seth Satterlee (4.12) have the potential to sweep the event as they enter the meet seeded 2–3–4.

On the women’s side, it’s the so-called “horizontal” jumpers who have excelled all year long, and they figure to leap atop the podium in a couple of events each this weekend. Triple-jumping second-years Appie Hirve (seeded second, 11.02 m) and Cynthia Lin (sixth, 10.69) both will challenge Wash U’s provisionally qualified sophomore Danielle Wadlington. Hirve’s 1.52-meter high jump at last weekend’s Wheaton Invite puts her fourth on the honor roll, and Lin joins the long-jumping threats of second-year Myra Collins (first, 5.35) and first-year indoor national qualifier Olivia Ndyabagye (sixth, 5.16), who has yet to leap her best during this young season.

Many of those names will reappear in the women’s three relay squads, which could produce the exact shot in the leg that the team needs to sprint past Wash U. The 4×100 team of Lin, second-year 200-meter provisional qualifier Nofi Mojidi, third-year Trina Ruhland, and Ndyabagye will give both the Bears and the national standard a run for their money. Mojidi and Lin will also lead the 4×400, while the immensely talented 4×800 of fourth-year Jessica Winter, first-year Melissa Graham, and third-years Jackie Kropp and Al Robertson could have a field day.

“They show the depth of your team,” said Hall, also emphasizing the emotional excitement they’ll generate. “When you’re doing really well in your relays, you’ll do well in the individual events as well.

“I think our women are ready to be the class of the field in the sprinting events. That hasn’t been the case in the past. We’ve been getting better and better to be a major component of the conference meet, and right now I think we’re capable of outscoring people in the conference.”

Though the men aren’t as strong on the sprinting side, third-year 110-meter hurdler Mike Doll could challenge for All-UAA honors. Still, their strength remains with their long-distance team of third-year Emil Bojanov, who will excel at the 800-meter, 1,500-meter, and 5,000-meter runs, and fourth-year Teage O’Connor, who makes an obstacle course like the 3,000-meter steeplechase his personal playground.

Second-year decathlete Zach Rodgers will be the Maroons’ dark horse this weekend, and his accumulated points over seven events could be the foundation to his team’s final standing. “The best athlete in this meet,” according to Hall, Rodgers isn’t expected to win any particular event—there’s no UAA decathlon title to challenge for—but he’ll likely score in all five of his open events and two relays. Last year, in one try, Rodgers became the second-ranked freshman decathlete in the nation and 17th overall.

“He can score in the long jump, he’s going to score in the javelin, he’s going to score in the high hurdles,” said Hall. “To be able to cross over from the sprinting to the throwing to jumping events—you know, we’re going to see some phenomenal people, but they’re not going to do these other events. He’s a year older, a year more mature and has got a real hunger for these types of meets. If we took events away from Zach, he’d get frustrated.”

It’s exactly that sort of drive that the Maroons need to utilize their talent and outdoor depth. Thursday’s practice was as good of an indication as any that they’re ready for the early test.

“Maybe because the weather was nice today—their chests puff out a little bit, they bring a little more energy in practice,” Hall said. “And they get a lot more excited competition wise. We can do something special.”