SPORTS

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March 11, 2008

Track runs away with pair of UAA titles

This Saturday, after years of program building, it was finally Chicago’s turn to cross the finish line first at the UAA indoor track-and-field championships.

Competing at Case Western in Cleveland, both the men’s and women’s teams topped their seven-squad fields, putting an end to several years of dominance by Wash U. The title is the first for the men since 2002, and the first ever for the women.

Propelled by a mix of senior leadership and emerging underclassmen, the men began building their lead Saturday, the second day of the two-day meet, and ended up with 120 points, 10 better than second-place Emory. Carnegie finished third with 93 points, and Wash U was fourth with 81.

“The guys somehow outdistanced the field,” head coach Chris Hall said. “We knew we had the meet wrapped up earlier, and that was a more relaxing atmosphere for the guys. I don’t know if I can put my finger on it completely. We put together a really well balanced team this year.”

Hall pointed to Saturday morning’s shot put as the event that made the men confident they could win. Heading into the throw, Carnegie led in the men’s meet, and second-year James Hulley, the Tartan’s star shot putter, was the heavy favorite to win.

But Hulley had a disappointing preliminary throw and ended up missing the finals. Instead, fourth-year John Anderson won the event for the Maroons, and first-years Joe Walsh and John Sabacinski took third and fourth. Together, the trio earned 20 points for Chicago in the event.

“I think that that point swing at the beginning of the day completely elevated our team,” Hall said. “We went from feeling like we might not win this thing to thinking it’s ours, if we just match our seeds for the rest of the day. And we did that. We never gave an opening for the other teams to get in there.”

On the women’s half, Chicago clinched its first crown by edging Wash U 151–148, a difference that would have given the Bears the title if they had out-placed Chicago in the top three of only one more competition. The Maroons had to wait until the final event of the day to secure the win. Going into that last race, the 4x400, the team knew it had to finish third or better to win overall. To add to the suspense, NYU and Brandeis, which have two of the slower 4x400 teams, were the other squads in the Maroons’ heat. Racing against such weaker competition, there was some concern that the Maroons would not be pressed and would underperform.

“We won our heat in the 4x400 by about seven seconds, so we weren’t pushed as much in that,” Hall said.

After running in the first heat, Chicago could only wait to see how the second heat, which featured most of the faster teams, would pan out. Luckily, the Maroons’ time was good enough to squeeze them into second, edging out Carnegie and Emory by less than one second apiece.

“There were two teams leaning at the finish line in that last section,” Hall said of the Tartans and the Eagles. “Had they been leaning a second earlier, we would have been beaten in the meet, so it was a pretty exciting finish.”

As the Maroons hopped, sprinted, and tossed their way to team championships, several South Siders earned individual distinctions as well. Second-year Nicole Murphy’s 13.31-meter shot put gave her a first-place finish and shattered the previous UAA record of 12.85 meters, set more than a decade ago by Chicago’s Shahla Bolbolan (B.S. ’95). Right behind Murphy were two more Maroons, first-year Kristin Constantine (12.79 meters) and second-year Claire Ray (12.32 meters), who took second and third, respectively. Ray paired her third-place finish there with a win in the weight throw (15.83 meters) to cap off a strong winter campaign. Between both throwing events, this trio put together a whopping 40 points, more than a fourth of the team’s total.

Other top finishers on the women’s half included first-year Stephanie Omueti and fourth-year Myra Collins. Collins soared to a victory in the long jump, while Omueti nabbed first in the 200-meter dash (25.88 seconds) and second in the 55-meters (7.33 seconds). Also coming up big was first-year Malgorzata Bujarska, who followed up Omueti by finishing third in the 200-meter (26.68 seconds) and 55-meter dashes (7.34 seconds). Omueti’s times in both events broke the previous Chicago records, both of which were held by fourth-year Nofi Mojidi, as did Bujarska’s time in the 55-meters.

Garnering another runner-up finish for the Maroons was first-year Bianca Scott, who cleared 1.61-meters in the high jump.

For the men, first-year Jacob Solus’s 13.94-meter performance topped the field in the triple jump. Second-years Bill Cheng and Blake Obuchowski cemented their roles at the center of Chicago sprinting, finishing second and fourth in the 55-meter dash with times of 6.41 and 6.43 seconds. Both beat out the previous records for Maroon sprinters.

Turning in another top triple jump was first-year Drew Jackson, whose 13.81-meter distance put him second. Other second-place finishes came from third-year Seth Satterlee in the pole vault (4.5 meters) and first-year Harry Backlund in the mile run (4:19.03).

Two more third-place finishes (and 12 more points) came from fourth-year Zach Rodgers, who got the bronze in the triple jump (13.37 meters) and long jump (6.75 meters).

Although most of the Maroons will move onto preparation for the outdoor season now, one top athlete still has an indoor event to go. Fourth-year Appie Hirve, who finished second in the triple jump (11.42 meters) and third in the long jump (5.11 meters) this weekend, will go on to compete in the Division III Championships in Ada, OH next Friday and Saturday. Hirve met the provisional-qualifying standard repeatedly this year but recorded her best number at the UAA meet.

Even with so many impressive individual performances, Hall attributed the Maroons’ success to the depth and confidence both teams have built up.

“I think a year ago we hoped we could [win the meet] but maybe didn’t believe it going in,” Hall said. “Our teams went into the meet this weekend feeling like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna win this, this is ours to win, we’ve done the work, we’ve paid our dues.’”