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Coming off their second place finish at the UAA Championships, the men's track team has but two goals in mind for the rest of the season -- Nationals and PRs (personal records). With these goals in mind, the Maroons have taken to their last two meets, the Butler Invitational in Indianapolis and the North Central Invitational at North Central College, with a sense of determination, and perhaps even a little anxiousness.
On a side note, while most of the team took the week off after UAAs, first-years Tom Haxton and Patrick Sullivan and second-years Tim Tuff and Ryan Raimo headed off to the lights and excitement of Des Moines, Iowa for the Drake Relays. Running in front of a huge crowd, the four put on an impressive performance, finishing 14th in the distance medley relay against some of the best Division III and Division II schools in the nation. Sullivan led off with a 3:08.5 1200-meter leg, handing the baton off to Ramio, the runner-up in the UAA 400 meters, for the 400-meter leg. Only 49.5 seconds later, the baton was in the hands of Tuff for the 800-meter leg, who turned out a 1:57.9 performance. Haxton, rookie MVP at UAAs, anchored the team, running the 1600-meter leg. He turned out even splits to run 4:20.23 as the team finished in 10:16.33, barely missing the school record.
After the two-week hiatus the team set off on a four-hour trek through the Midwest to Indianapolis for the Butler Invite. The meet was highlighted by the mind-bending PRs by the team's two best half-milers - second-years Tim Tuff and Clarisse Mesa and near national misses by distance runners Haxton and Sullivan and third-year triple-jumper Keith Mastronardi.
Mesa, lead things off early in the meet in the female 800-meter dash shaved three seconds off her best time to finish in an inspiring time of 2:20.66. Tuff, cueing off his female counterpart, took off in the last bend of his heat of the men's 800-meter dash to pass several runners in the last straightaway to finish second with a time of 1:54.94, bettering his old personal best by almost three seconds.
Sullivan and Haxton, both of whom have legitimate shots at qualifying for Nationals in only their first year of college track, each came agonizingly close in their respective events. Sullivan, running the 1500, was forced to lead early in the race to keep the pace honest. His early lead then cost him in the end as he was passed by three runners in the last 20 meters, but still managed to edge out seventh place with a time of 3:58.84, only two seconds off the Nationals qualifying mark. Haxton, UAA Champion in both the 10K and the 5K, toed the line for an extremely competitive 5,000. And despite being on pace to qualify for Nationals almost the entire race, like Sullivan, he barely missed the qualifying time by two seconds, finishing in 14:58.
Also barely missing out on Nationals was Mastronardi, whose jump of 13.94 meters in the triple jump was good enough for second place in the meet, but nothing more.
Other highlights of the meet were first-year Adeoye Mabagunje's fifth-place finish in the triple jump with a high of 1.93 meters, first-year Brian Gibel's seventh-place finish in the javelin with a throw of 47.20 meters, fourth-year Nirav Pandya sixth-place finish in the triple jump with a jump of 13.29 meters, and second-year Paddy White's second-place finish in the 10,000 meter (uh, dash? No, race, er, struggle) with a time of 33:26.25.
Six days later, the Maroons invaded the North Central Invitational. Another chance to qualify for some, and another chance to set a PR for others. To roughly quote coach Jim Spivey: "The table is set, we have honey... its time to eat!" And eat they did. Sixteen personal records.
Sullivan again missed qualifying for Nationals by a heart-breaking one second in the 1500 meters, but managed to inspire fellow 1500 runners. First-years Karl Striepe (4:07.65) and Kevin Drake (4:30.13), fourth-year Jesse Bloom (4:28.80) as well as second-year Zoe Swenson (4:50.54), and first-years Darcy Flora (4:54.56), and Sara Chapman (5:03.24) all ran personal records to follow Sullivan's lead.
In the discus circle, first-year Justin Kern threw a personal best of 41.00 meters and moved to number four all time in the school's record books. Third-year Fouad Fatenejad PRed in the 110 hurdles with a time of 15:56 and fourth-year Margaret Bradley PRed in the 10,000 meters, running in the a.m. hours to a time of 39.13.36.
Yet despite Sullivan's near miss in the 1500 and all the other PRs, coming from both the men's and women's sides in the 1500 and other races, the most exciting, inspiring, and perhaps even "key" race was second-year Peter Bugg's 3000-meter steeple chase. Bugg was nimble over wood and water to smash his previous PR in the event and go sub-10 to a time of 9:59.59.
Now with one more meet remaining, again at North Central College, the likes of Sullivan, Haxton, Mastronardi, and others will have but one more chance to qualify for Division III Nationals. And the entire team will have but one more chance to compete for one of the greatest U.S. runners of all time, one of the most successful coaches in school history, and probably one of the nicest men most of the athletes have even met -- Jim Spivey -- in what will be his last meet, sans Nationals, as coach of the University.