SPORTS

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February 20, 2007

Cheng, Ruhland tear up track at Chicagoland

By Wayne  

Picking up the pace for the postseason push, this weekend marked track’s latest solid outing in a string of strong individual performances to gear up for NCAAs.

Toeing the line last week at UW–Whitewater, the Maroons took on a bevy of nationally ranked teams and got another dose of top-notch competition Saturday at the Chicagoland Championships. Playing host at Henry Crown, the 18th-ranked men ran away with fourth place, while the 11th-ranked women burned rubber in Romeoville, Illinois and turned for a third-place performance. Lewis University lapped the opposition in the men’s competition with 179.5 points, while Chicago managed 53 points of their own. The women’s team scored 90.5 in the 17 events but trailed behind the Lewis women’s 177 points.

While the entire lineup contributed to the Maroons’ top-five finishes, first-year Bill Cheng took the greatest strides toward making a NCAA cut. The rookie continued his breakout year with a speedy 6.49-second showing in the 55 meter, missing the national qualifying standard by 1/100th of a second.

“Bill has been a real surprise for us since the beginning,” head coach Chris Hall said. “We didn’t know what he could do at the beginning of the year, but every meet he comes out and proves himself. He’s only been beaten once this season and that was last week, but he responded well to that and came out strong this weekend.”

Aside from Cheng’s explosive race, two other Maroons medaled in the men’s events. Fellow first-year Blake Obuchowski received the bronze in the same 55-meter race with a time of 6.60 seconds, while fourth-year Brian Hague recorded an 8:46.67 in the 3,000-meter run for second. Unfortunately, the squad’s highest point-scorer, third-year Zach Rodgers, had to sit out this weekend due to injury.

“Overall, I’m satisfied with how the men did, even though they were hurt by injuries,” Hall said. “We were only a few points shy of third place, and if Zach were racing on Saturday, we’d definitely be able to come in at third.”

Outstanding individual performances were not limited to the men’s side. Fourth-year Trina Ruhland edged closer to a spot at nationals, recording a provisional long-jump distance with a 5.47m leap, falling short of 5.70m automatic bid. The best long-jumper in the league, the veteran is currently ranked seventh in the

nation.

A bevy of other top finishes from the rest of the women’s squad helped push Chicago to its highest placing in the Chicagoland Championships in years. Classmate Abby Sheldon joined Ruhland for first-place honors, running the 5,000-meter in 17:52.76. A trio of Maroons grabbed runner-ups spots with fourth-years Vidthya Abraham and Jackie Kropp seizing silver in the mile run (5:16.12) and the 800-meter (2:18.12). Third-year Myra Collins joins Ruhland among the cream of the crop

in the long jump, finishing right behind her teammate with a 5.38m leap.

“I was very pleased with the women in Chicagoland,” Hall said. “We are still working on positioning ourselves to be part of our conference squads, but we are learning to buy into the team concept. The team is really covering all the events—distances, jumps, throws, and all the field events. We have put ourselves in meets with a ton of great competition, and we’ve been humbled by that. At this point in the season, the women are responding to those challenges and learning not to be intimidated.”

More tough opponents and lessons lie ahead for the South Siders when the squads host the Maroon Invite Friday. The meet will be the last chance for Chicago to make final adjustments in a meet atmosphere before traveling to Boston next week to take on the UAA. That will be the teams’ NCAAs hopefuls’ closing shot at making the cut to nationals at Terra Haute, Indiana March 9–10.

“As I’ve always said, you grow through experience. We are doing much better at this point in the season, so we’re not going to make any dramatic changes. So far, we have not backed off from our training, so hopefully, in these upcoming meets, you’ll see our athletes be stronger and fresher. The bottom line is that we’re just going to aim for faster times and longer distances.”