SPORTS

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May 5, 2008

Weather hampers track's bid for NCAA qualifiers

The Maroons’ quest for lifetime bests and national standards continued over the weekend at the Butler Twilight Invitational in Indianapolis. Men’s and women’s track and field was primed to deliver some of the season’s best performances, but a mighty wind and unseasonable conditions combined to thwart their efforts.

With NCAAs and the official end of a wildly successful spring campaign only three weeks away, Chicago’s runners, jumpers, and throwers kicked the competition up several notches. Adding to the nearly unbearable end-of-the-season pressure to hit career-best marks, the provisional qualification system jarred the nerves of Maroons even further as Chicago’s athletes continued to slog through the long, drawn-out battle against each other, Mother Nature, and Lady Luck. The weekend’s results demonstrated the frustration, heartbreak, and excitement inherent in a set-up that guarantees spots to only a select few, those who manage to meet the “automatic qualification standard,” and leaves the vast majority to fight a second-by-second, centimeter-by-centimeter battle for a chance to strut their stuff at nationals.

“The weather was terrible,” head coach Chris Hall said. “There was a 40 mile-per-hour wind all day, so none of the marks counted towards national qualification…Most of the performances were good, but all were relative. All day we were thinking, if we can compete like this when it’s windy and cold, imagine what we can do when the weather is nice.”

A new policy that excludes NCAA-caliber marks set in the short sprints, hurdles, long and triple jumps when winds could skew results left one Maroon holding an officially unacknowledged career-best. More generally, while Chicago’s athletes put forth impressive showings, the fact that adverse conditions always add seconds and detract meters placed an obstacle in the path of Maroons pursuing personal records and positions on the line-up at the national meet.

On the women’s side, fourth-year Myra Collins most visibly suffered from nature’s wrath as high winds required the NCAA to disregard her program record breaking, provisionally qualifiying 5.72-meter effort in the long-jump. Collins was able to retain the bragging rights that accompany a second-place finish against a predominantly DI field, but the technical dismissal of an otherwise championship-worthy performance was still particularly frustrating. Fellow senior and jumps squad stalwart Appie Hirve took fourth in the high-jump and triple jumps with leaps of 1.55 and 11.45 meters while second-year Nicole Murphy proffered a silver-medal showing in the shot put, hurling 13.46 meters. On the track, the women’s 4x400-meter relay finished in 4:13.94 for the number two spot behind UAA rival Wash U. Finally, fourth-year Hannah Moots snatched fourth-place in the 5,000-meter run, breaking the tape in 18:21.54.

The men’s half matched the women’s success by nabbing their own slew of top-five finishes. First-year stand-outs Harry Backlund (3:58.99) and Brian Andreycak (15.16) represented Chicago’s crop of rookies on the winner’s stand with second and fourth-place finishes in the 1,500-meter open and the 110-meter hurdles. Second-year Herman Reeves rounded out the Maroons’ presence in the running events, landing in the number four spot with a 57.27 effort in the 400-meter hurdles. Fourth-year Zach Rodgers led Chicago’s men into the field by bounding 13.98 meters for a top three finish in the triple jump as third-year Seth Satterlee sailed 13-07.50 meters to contribute a fourth-place performance in the pole vault.

“We saw a lot of great performances on Saturday and not just from the people who are aiming to go NCAAs,” Hall said. “It is really hard to shift your focus from chasing down national qualifications and lifetime bests to just attempting to be as competitive as possible.”

Hall is confident that a gentler breeze and a little sun will see the number of new personal records flourish and the size of Chicago’s NCAA-bound contingent grow. While only Murphy, who hit an especially high provisional standard at outdoor UAAs three weeks ago, can be confident that there will be a place for her in the championship line-up, a number of Maroons are only a fraction of a second or a centimeter away from going to the big dance. Second-year Claire Ray and third-year Rachel Venezia are likely national contenders in the discus and 3,000-meter steeplechase. Hall has similarly high, though slightly more reserved, hopes for first-years Jacob Solus and Stephanie Omueti in the triple jump and 100- and 200-meter dashes. With a little luck and some decent weather, both the men’s and women’s 4x100-meter relay teams could toe the line in Oshkosh.

“There are a lot of people who could make it nationals,” Hall said. “Some are ranked high enough nationally right now that it’s more than likely they will go on to NCAAs…Some definitely have the ability and its just a matter of time and opportunity…Others, I’m not quite ready to say so out loud and in print, but I see the potential.”

The Maroons are hoping for clear skies this weekend as they host the Chicago Penultimate Invite at the Ted Haydon Track.