[img id="80420" align="alignleft"] Boasting one of the deepest squads in program history, track and field will roll into UAAs this weekend with their eyes locked on the proverbial prize. For the first time, Chicago is seeded first in both divisions. Facing the potential to make program history, the Maroons are feeling the heat.
“This is the first time in my four years on the track team that we’ve seen ourselves as favored to win conferences,” fourth-year Zach Rodgers said. “We’re certainly feeling a bit of the pressure that comes with that, and I think this pressure will drive us to have great performances. We will be disappointed with anything other than first place. ”
“I think we’re pretty nervous,” fourth-year Appie Hirve said. “We all know that the pressure is on, and we can’t expect to have average days and win this.”
On the women’s side, perennial powerhouse Wash U poses the biggest threat to the Maroons’ first UAA title. Breaking the Bears’ seven-year winning streak will require a Herculean effort in the sprints and field events to offset Wash U’s monopoly in the middle- and long-distance races.
“Wash U will dominate 800 [meters] and higher,” head coach Chris Hall explained. “So, we’re hoping to counterbalance that in the 55 to 400 [meter races] and field events. We have an excellent group of sprinters and jumpers and the most talented throwers in the conference.”
To snatch the team title for the first time since 2002, Chicago’s men will have to push past Emory’s sprinters and last year’s outdoor UAA champs, Carnegie Mellon. Contending with the Tartans’ star-studded roster will present the men with one of this weekend’s most formidable challenges.
“Carnegie has a lot of 10-point guys,” Hall said. “Their throwers and middle-distance and distance runners have been performing very well. They have [third-year] Brian Harvey who, I think it is safe to say, is one of the best athletes in the Conference. It will take us few events to make up for each event that they win.”
Coaches and athletes agree that a victory this weekend will hinge on each squad’s ability to score points everywhere on the track and in the field. While both the men’s and women’s contingents have nearly guaranteed conference champions, including first-year Jacob Solus in the triple-jump, third-year Seth Satterlee in the pole vault, and second-year Claire Ray in the shot-put and weight throw, UAA pennants tend to fall into the hands of teams brandishing bevies of fourth- and fifth-place finishes. Chicago is set to prove that what it may lack in star power when compared to Wash U’s women and Carnegie’s men, it compensates for with quality showings from every competitor on its roster.
“We really need everyone to do their part,” Hall said. “In meets as close as this one, every point really does count. Of course we have some people who are definitely going to win their event. But, at the end of the day, it’s the 5k runner who leaned into the finish to move up one place and score one extra point or the athlete who made finals when no one expected him to that people remember.”
The Maroons are gearing up for intense competition in every corner and demanding above-average efforts from every athlete in their UAA line-up. While coaches and athletes are quick to point out that top honors will only follow solid finishes across the board, several factions within each squad are expected to engage in some subtle mental warfare for the sake of facilitating conference success. A good day for the women’s throwers could bolster the rest of the team while chipping away at the optimism of the opposition.
“I’m really hoping our women’s throws squad will be able to set the tone for the day and deflate some of the other teams,” Hall said. “I know that our competition is hoping that our throwers don’t come into this meet throwing as well as they have this season. So if we go in there and perform like we have so far, we can get a lot of mileage out of that.”
On a similar note, Hall credits senior athletes like Rodgers, Hirve, and fourth-year sprinter Cynthia Lin for sending the Maroons into the championship portion of their indoor season with a spring in their step. If all goes well in Ohio this weekend, their veteran sensibilities and competitive strength could provide their colleagues with a push into the top team spots.
“I’m hoping that we can ride their coattails this weekend,” Hall said. “They understand this level of competition, and we know what they can do.”
An indoor title would add to the momentum track and field has been building up since January, and a conference victory in March could translate into a championship triumph in April. Although they are completely focused on pinching points for first place this weekend, Chicago’s track and field athletes can’t help but keep one eye on more distant objectives.
“Outdoor conference is going to be held in Chicago this spring,” Rodgers said. “We want to go into that meet as defending UAA champions.”