SPORTS

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May 22, 2007

What makes an MVP? A look at this year's standouts

Ask any athlete or any coach, and they’ll tell you that winning requires a full team effort. The banner seasons put up by the Maroons this year have certainly given testimony to that old sentiment, as returning talent mixed with the latest batch of rookies to give teams stability and depth for 2006-2007. At the same time, however, it’s hard for squads to reach new heights without someone setting the pace for the rest of the roster to follow. Here are the individual MVPs contenders for this year’s All Maroons voting.

The iron man: Emil Bojanov, men’s cross country

Charging to the front of the pack last year, Emil Bojanov got a taste of what it would be like to help anchor a team as a fourth-year and one of the squad’s top runners this fall. That position came with added responsibility after last year’s seniors Pat Hogan and Teage O’Connor led the Maroons to their best outing at Nationals, with Chicago jumping from a 16th-place in 2004 up to ninth.

While the squad didn’t book its third consecutive trip to NCAAs, Bojanov returned to represent the Maroons, this time along with classmate Brian Hague. The Bulgarian checked in at 64th in a race of 279 runners with at time of 28:09.

A Zach of all trades: Zach Rodgers, men’s track

A two-time UAA Athlete of the Week this spring, third-year Zach Rodgers turned heads this season competing in the decathlon for the 32nd-ranked outdoor track and field squad. He’ll make his debut at Nationals this week, kicking off his event with the 100-meter dash Thursday.

The first sign that Rodgers would earn a spot at NCAAs came in early April at the Chicagoland Championships where he passed the provisional qualifying standard for the decathlon with a first-place effort of 6,189 points. He locked in his place at Nationals the North Central College’s Gregory Invitational on Wednesday when he collected 6,344 points for the 16th-highest total in DIII.

Leader of the pack: Vidthya Abraham, women’s cross country

Despite battling chronic asthma throughout her career, fourth-year Vidthya Abraham has stayed the course, and come up big this fall at Nationals. In a stiff field of competitors where five points separated the top three teams, Abraham led the Maroons to a 19th-place finish and netted All-American honors when she crossed the line with a time of 23:41 for 27th overall.

There had been some question over who would take over as the lead runner for Chicago after All-American Jessica Winter graduated last spring, and then along came Abraham, who helped steer the team with a breakthrough season. Besides the All-American recognition, she also garnered All-UAA honors and her first Athlete of the Week nod for cross country and stamped her name in the record books in four track and field events.

From the track to the field: Nellie Movtchan, women’s track

With strong competitors across the board, it’s not too surprising that women’s track and field sits as Chicago’s highest ranked team this year. The team finished seventh in the nation after the indoor season and is currently holding down the eighth spot for the indoor campaign. In this heavily packed roster that landed the Maroons the silver at UAAs, fourth-year Nellie Movtchan has still managed to show off her range.

Earning All-UAA honors, Movtchan claimed first in the 400-meter hurdles (1:054.16) and second in the 100-meter hurdles (15.31 seconds), while also pitching in for two of the squad’s relays. Pulling in the final leg, she helped nail down the quartet’s golden effort of 49.19 seconds in the 400-meter relay and also secured the runner-up spot in the 1,600 (4:05.06).

Going the distance: Shane Carlson, men’s swimming

After sinking several school records as a rookie last season, second-year Shane Carlson returned to the decks of Myers-McLoraine Pool for anything but a sophomore slump. Consistently at the front in the 5,000 and 1,650-yard freestyle, Carlson took gold four times this year, twice in the 5,000 and twice in the 1,650.

In Chicago’s fifth-place breakthrough UAA performance, the Houston native slapped the wall in 16:22.27 in the 1,650, meeting the provisional NCAA standard for the event and shaving five seconds off his previous season best.

A fresh wave: Cassie O’Neill, women’s swimming

On a young squad, first-year Cassie O’Neill surfaced as the top rookie and one of the team’s most steady first-place swimmers. She opened the season with a splash, taking first in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 2:19.05. From there, O’Neill switched her specialty and went on to dominate in the 200- and 100-yard breaststroke.

With 12 winning times, O’Neill set the standard for a program adjusting to a new head coach while it continues its rise from league bottom feeders. At conferences, she stole runner-up in both events, clocking a 1:07.53 in the 100 and a 2:25.71in the 200 to earn All-UAA honors. She just missed out on a spot at Nationals for the 200-yard breast.

The wild one: Phil Kruzel, wrestling

Injuries started taking down wrestling early in the season, but fourth-year Phil Kruzel managed to stay healthy to record a career year. Downsizing to the 165-pound weight class from 174, Kruzel helped keep the team afloat down the stretch and finish on a high note with its sixth league title in seven years.

After helping to bring the UAA trophy back to Hyde Park, Kruzel continued his season with a wildcard bid to Nationals, where he battled back from the consolation bracket to garner All-American honors with an eighth-place finish.

At the top of her class: Marissa Lin, women’s tennis

After second-year All-American Vindya Dayananda burst onto the Hyde Park tennis scene last year, garnering All-American status and the UAA Rookie of the Year, it was hard to believe that another first-year would be able to follow in her footsteps. But freshman Marissa Lin nearly matched her doubles partner point for point.

Taking over at first singles, Lin compiled a 9-5 mark at the top spot and 17-8 overall. Like Dayananda grabbed the league’s Rookie of the Year, and then added top rook recognition in the central region by the ITA. While a first-round loss at Nationals cut out her chances of finishing off the year as an All-American, Lin nevertheless demonstrated early on her ability to take on a high-profile role with the Maroons.

Mr. Clutch: Pat Seastedt, men’s swimming

After a season of individual accomplishments, fourth-year and former DI swimmer Pat Seastedt saved the best for last with his effort at UAAs. In addition to hitting provisional NCAA standards with a 58.66 second, fourth-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke, Seastedt turned in a leg for record-breaking 400-yard medley relay.

Passing three swimmers in the first 50-yards of the breaststroke, Seastedt set the quartet on its way to a new school record and second-place at conferences. The 3:28.79 posted by the team drowned the old mark by five seconds and missed claiming first by seven-hundredths of a second.

Now you see ‘em, now you don’t: Rookie sprinters, men’s track

On a squad that has drawn its strength from its distance runners the past few years, a crop of first-years have revitalized men’s shorter races this season. The addition of sprinters has freed up other runners to play to their strengths and given the Maroons an edge in events where they traditionally lagged.

Rookies Bill Cheng and Blake Obuchowski have led the charge of Chicago’s fleet-footed, sweeping first and second in the 55-meter dash at indoor UAAs. Obuchowski kept it up at outdoor conferences, burning rubber in the 100-meter dash with a time of

10.82 seconds for the Maroons’ lone first-place finish.

Doin’ it all: Trina Ruhland, women’s track

Part of a team marked for its depth on the charts, fourth-year Trina Ruhland’s versatility has still shone through this season. The veteran has been a top finisher in the 200-meter dash and the long jump, while doing her part in distance relays and pulling together all her talents for the heptathlon.