May 16, 2006

Track puts depth on display at Dr. Keeler Invitational

The Maroons faced formidable foes and ugly weather over the weekend at the Dr. Keeler Invite. A combination of grit, good training, high team spirits, and a little luck allowed NCAA-bound athletes to maintain their positions in the national placings while their teammates chipped in with their own quality finishes.

At the second “last chance” meet of the outdoor term, men’s and women’s track and field held their ground in the NCAA rankings and against some of the season’s stiffest competition Saturday. The Maroons fended off serious foes on the track and in the standings, clocking several personal records and offering a few stunning performances in the process. No new provisional NCAA standards were met, but fourth-years Jessica Winter (1,500) and Teage O’Connor (3,000 steeplechase), third-year Emil Bojanov (1,500), and the women’s 4×100- and 4×400-meter relays are still in contention for the opportunity to toe the line at nationals.

Second-year Nofi Mojidi led the women’s side in dominating the field in the 100-meter dash and snapping up the only first-place finish for the Maroons in a swift 12.3 seconds. Classmate Myra Collins managed another top three performance at the ultra-competitive meet, scoring third-place in the long jump with a leap of 5.48m that fell a mere three centimeters outside of a provisional qualification. The combined talents of Mojidi, Collins, second-year Cynthia Lin, and first-year Olivia Ndyabagye produced a 49.70 second-place winning performance in the 4×100-meter relay. The women’s 4×400 relay overcame some hand-off difficulties and managed a 3:55.31 for the fourth spot.

The women’s team left Naperville with a long list of top 10 finishes. The Maroons scored a slew of seventh-place efforts from first-years Tiffany Hoston (10.73) and Meagan Ehrhard (1.48) and third-years Trina Ruhland (13.16) and Nellie Movtchan (16.46) in the shot put, high jump, 100-meter dash, and 100-meter hurdles. Ndyabagye (5.26) and second-year Appie Hirve (10.85) contributed two more quality finishes in the jumping events, taking ninth in the long jump and the triple jump. Fourth-year Stephanie Lewis and third-year Dilshanie Perera rounded out the day for the women with a ninth-place, garnering 9.87 toss in the shot put and a swift 19:01.68 5,000-meter for 10th place.

Boosted by the return of one of their more dynamic athletes, the men found similar success. Returning to the track for his first real race since the middle of the indoor season when he was sidelined by a persistent injury, fourth-year captain Pat Hogan turned in a strong performance in the 10,000-meter, scoring eighth place with a time of 32:30.48 as third-year Dan Dickinson rode his shoulder, finishing ninth in 32:34.56. Strutting his stuff for the second week in a row, O’Connor took home the ninth spot in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a 9:18.3 showing.

A plethora of top-notch finishes materialized despite Saturday’s foul weather. The Maroons had hoped to use the second-to-last meet before NCAAs to improve qualifying times and personal records and get in a few more quality races before the season ends. Winds and clouds may have forced a few NCAA qualifiers to put off promoting their provisional marks until next week, but numerous Maroons were able to achieve their other objectives. Men’s and women’s track made some serious strides in the direction of improving career records against a load of worthy opponents and an intimidating line-up.

“The atmosphere was fantastic and people had great races all over the place. People are definitely just focusing on PRs and having fun at this point,” Hogan said. “What was really exciting for me was to see some of the team members really come into their own. A couple highlights that spring to mind: Dan Dickinson ran a great 10k, [third-year] Chetan Huded had a terrific PR in the 5k, and [first-year] Chris Peverada will probably become some sort of legend for the fact that he stopped in the middle of his 10k, threw up, and hopped back into the race immediately.”

With Peverada’s persistence as a model and the team’s optimism running high, Chicago should turn in a performance worth seeing on Saturday at the North Central Last Chance Meet. Provisional qualifiers will face their final chances to clinch their places at NCAAs. Winter, who met the automatic qualification standard, is guaranteed a spot at Nationals in Lisle, Illinois, while fellow distance runners O’Connor and Bojanov are currently placed high enough in the nation that an NCAA berth is likely. The women’s 4×100- and 4×400-meter relays have been provisionally marked to take a few turns around the track in Lisle but face a few battles on the road to securing their spots.

Above all, track and field intends to go out with a bang. In addition to the Maroons hoping for NCAA glory, all Chicago’s track and field athletes are in top shape and ready to offer some of the best performances yet. Personal records will fall, and next season’s MVPs could become apparent.