May 4, 2007

NCAA bids on the line for track

With UAAs behind them, men’s and women’s track have their next big meet on the radar. The squads have only three more stops on their schedule before Nationals, and both intend to make the most of the championship portion of the outdoor term.

The Maroons’ jaunt to Indianapolis will mark the beginning of a string of “last-chance” meets that will find some Chicago athletes fighting their way up the NCAA rankings, hoping to land a spot at Nationals. For others, the end of the season is the time for runners, jumpers, and throwers in tip-top shape to attempt to nail their career bests. Finally, underclassmen use the tail end of spring to cram in more experience against collegiate-level competition.

“Both teams are at the point where if they’re not on top at UAAs, they’re not going to be satisfied,” head coach Chris Hall said about the Maroons’ frame of mind. “I think knowing that there’s very little separating us from the teams that finished ahead of us at conferences will fuel some outstanding performances in the next few weeks.”

As UAAs move to the rearview, track and field’s priorities will shift a bit, with the Maroons focusing on their primary events in practices and on race days rather than multitasking for the team. Prior to the championship chunk of the season, weekday workouts were often as demanding as weekend meets. Hoping to clock peak individual performances at coming competitions, athletes are toning it down Monday through Friday so they can leave it all on the track come Saturday.

“We’re still working in the same training groups, but training has changed in the sense that rather than spreading our athletes thin for higher team scores, we’re letting them concentrate more on their priority events,” Hall said. “Basically, our hardest training days are behind us.”

At present, Chicago athletes have hit provisional NCAA standards in four events. While meeting a provisional qualifying mark does not guarantee a spot in the national lineup, it does indicate a fighting chance. Although none of the Maroons can claim a reserved spot at the starting line on May 24, several Chicago athletes will be battling to hold their positions on the NCAA roster this weekend at Butler.

Third-year Zach Rodgers is in range to compete with the rest of the best in the nation in the decathlon while fourth-year teammate Emil Bojanov should do the same in the 1,500-meter run. On the women’s side, first-year Claire Ray is hoping for a shot next month with the discus throw, while fourth-years Dilshanie Perera and Abby Sheldon seek to the toe the line in the 10k.

“More of our athletes are capable of competing at Nationals,” Hall said. “[Third-year] Myra Collins, [second-year] Rachel Venezia, [fourth-years] Trina Ruhalnd and Nelllie Movtchan—I think they all have the potential to make it.”

Although the pressure to perform is mounting for those headed toward NCAAs, the South Siders plan to keep cool heads this weekend. While capable opponents are on the docket and a nifty setting is slated for the races, Butler will most likely act as a stepping stone rather than one of the season’s definitive meets.