May 26, 2006

Track set to take off at NCAAs

Long after all other Chicago teams hung up their maroon jerseys and began waiting for next year, men’s and women’s track and field still face their last and biggest hurdle of the season.

Brimming with confidence and high expectations, three Maroons will toe the line at the four-day national meet at Benedictine looking to close the books on 2006 with All-American honors. Third-year Emil Bojanov will make his first NCAA appearance with a spot in the 1,500-meter run, while fourth-years Teage O’Connor and Jessica Winter will have their second go in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and the 1,500-meter run.

“The national meet is the most important to our athletes and these three have really put themselves in a place to succeed,” head coach Chris Hall said.

By far the high point of the year for all competitors, the outdoor NCAAs stand as the ultimate goal during five months of training and competition. Both squads structure their workouts around hitting their top times and performances for the end of May despite having capped off their indoor season at the national meet March 10–11.

“I don’t think it’s possible to reach two peaks in a season,” Hall said. “We’ll try to get a little mini-peak in March, but we still train to be at our best by the end of May.”

Making the cut for a spot to take on the best that Division III has to offer is a goal for all members of the team, but it was more like an expectation set on the season for the three Maroons racing this year in Lisle. Rising to meet the challenge head on, Winter, O’Connor, and Bojanov turned in remarkable efforts that ensured national qualification before the North Central Last Chance held May 19. The NCAA announced the men’s selection Monday with the two men’s runners earning their appearances thanks to provisional times of 9:12.74 and 3:52.26 at the Butler University Twilight Invitational May 6–7. At the same event, the veteran captain from the women’s squad secured her slot after clocking an automatic qualifying time of 4:32.37.

Free of the strain of chasing a last minute qualification, the trio was able to ease up down the final stretch to preserve their bodies and minds for the big race.

“They had the right mindsets for meets and knew when they did and didn’t have to worry about them,” Hall said. “On a scale of 1 to 10 in our training we didn’t do anything over a six because you can’t press too hard at this time. We just wanted to stay sharp and maintain how they’re feeling now.”

Right now those upperclassmen are feeling collected and unfazed by the prospect of going up against some of the toughest competition of the year. As this marks to first trip to nationals for Bojanov, he would do well to follow the lead of his teammates. The three-sport captain Winter is making her second-straight appearance after a 4:26.88, seventh-place performance last year. O’Connor is back after a 9:28.40, 13th-place showing in 2004.

“Teage has been looking forward to this event for two years,” said Hall of the fourth-year who missed out on the action last season while he studied abroad.

The eager distance runner lines up on the track today after his classmate and teammate competed in their trials yesterday with finals scheduled for all three on Saturday.

“Each of these athletes feels pretty confident that they belong here,” Hall said. “I don’t think there’s any fear, and one should never go to nationals without thinking of being an All-American.”