April 10, 2007

At Chicagolands, track springs forward amid flurries

Battling the cruel irony of Chicago’s topsy-turvy April meteorology, track had its share of elements to overcome: snow flurries, sub-freezing temperatures, a stiff wind, and even stiffer competition. Thanks to emerging athletes in new events, the Maroons turned up the heat to make the most of a frigid weekend.

Taking on the best squads in the area Friday and Saturday in Naperville, the South Siders netted a flurry of NCAA provisional qualifiers and a number of top finishes at the Chicagoland Championships. Paced by a pair of heptathletes, the women’s squad took second out of 16 schools, while the men grabbed seventh out of 20 competing squads. DePaul, a DI program, took both the men’s and the women’s team titles.

Despite seven cancellations of Maroons home games this weekend in other sports, the show went off without delay Friday, and despite some of the obstacles it brought, the cool clime seemed to have only a marginal effect on the teams’ performances.

A pair of competitions that aren’t events in indoor track due to logistics helped Chicago stay on top in the field as well. Fourth-years Trina Ruhland and Nellie Movtchan put their versatility on full display with a one-two finish in their heptathlon debuts. Consisting of the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter, long jump, javelin, and the 800-meter run, the heptathlon spanned both days of the meet, giving Ruhland and Movtchan time to rack up 4,007 and 3,911 points, and nearly hit the NCAA qualifying standard of 4,100.

“Nellie and I push each other in a really positive way,” Ruhland said. “When one of us had a good throw, the other one would have a good throw. She pushed me in the hurdles (which is her strong event) and the 800, and I helped push her in the long jump and 200. We’re both really competitive so when one person does well the other one steps it up a notch. It really helps to have a teammate to keep up your morale through the seven events, especially in the cold weather.”

More experienced but still untested in the spring campaign, third-year Zach Rodgers paced the competition in the decathlon with a first-place finish. His 6,189 points in the event also earned the team captain an NCAA provisional qualifying cut.

The qualifiers, however, weren’t confined to the multifaceted competitions. Competing in the event for the first time, fourth-year Abby Sheldon crossed the line in the 10k with a split of 37:26.50, earning second place and an NCAA B-cut, while first-year Claire Ray took advantage of another spring-only event to toss her hat into the postseason pool. Ray took second in the discus with a throw of 43.23m in addition to picking up the provisional berth.

“I had thought about qualifying, mostly as a goal for the end of the season, but I knew the time, and it was in the back of my mind,” Sheldon said. “Once the race started, the lead pack got out on pace to hit the standard. I decided to go with them and hang on as long as possible.”

Showing a marked improvement from his season-opening showing at Elmhurst, first-year Blake Obuchowski took the lead early on for the Maroons in the sprinting events. Continuing his ongoing competition with classmate Bill Cheng, Obuchowski broke the 11-second barrier with a swift 10.93 in the 100 meters. Cheng finished a respectable eighth with an 11.22 mark.

The squad’s youth movement continued in the 400-meter hurdles, where second-year Herman Reeves (sixth in 58.53) and first-year Patrick Offner (eighth in 58.73) joined veteran fourth-year Mike Doll (seventh in 58.58) with top-eight finishes. With Offner running the race for the first time and all three battling unsuitable race conditions, the times marked a positive development for the Maroons.

Both teams will look to continue their great leap forward this spring in better conditions Saturday at the Wheaton Invite. The meet will be the squad’s last before the UAA championships, which occur in the middle of the spring season, in contrast to the winter slate, where the meet traditionally comes at the end of the year.