May 23, 2006

No new bids for track at last invite

With some athletes gunning for spots on the line at nationals and others just striving to end the season on a high note, men’s and women’s track made sure to take advantage of their last guaranteed chance to burn rubber.

Competing in their final scheduled meet before NCAAs, the Maroons took their terminal shots at qualification at the North Central Last Chance on Friday. The meet wrapped up the season for most members of the 10th-ranked women’s squad and the 28th-ranked men’s team. When the field was announced yesterday, only fourth-year Jessica Winter made the cut with a 4:32.37 mark in the 1,500 for the women, while her classmate Teage O’Connor and third-year Emil Bojanov punched their tickets to the Division III National Championships in Lisle, Illinois with a 9:12.74 3,000-meter steeplechase and a 3:52.26 1,500 for the men.

An eager field filled with athletes looking to do some damage of their own as the spring wound down was not enough to push any other Maroons through. Despite the dearth of qualifiers, the level of competition may have helped some Chicago athletes make critical improvements.

“A lot of people come in with just a few athletes trying to qualify,” head coach Chris Hall said. “In order to reach that national level in track, you really need the experience with tough competition and to get pushed.”

With Winter having already met an automatic standard and Bojanov and O’Connor both featuring strong profiles for selection, the trio was able to take the weekend off and rest up while their teammates continued to burn. Looking to join their teammate, the members of the women’s 4×100- and 4×400-meter relays were among those who seemed to find the right amount of fire. In their final pushes for a slot to race this week, the two teams clocked provisional-qualifying times of 48.68 and 3:53.74 for second and fifth place finishes.

With a strong run at the Drake Relays in addition to the North Central performance, the quartet was optimistic about their chances. Despite their improvements, making the provisional cutoff was not enough to ensure an appearance in Lisle.

While the 3:53.74 posted by the 4×400m relay failed to capture the four a spot at NCAA, it set a new standard in Hyde Park. The relay team, led off by first-year Lauren Nwankpa and followed by second-years Nofi Mojidi then Cynthia Lin with third-year Nellie Movtchan at anchor, breezed past the 3:54.35 mark from last season to establish the current program record in the event.

Working with teammates in a bid for a postseason appearance and tearing down records along the way, the speedy Mojidi has left opposition in the dust all season long in her solo performances. The second-year turned in another top-notch showing in the 200-meter dash, just missing the provisional qualifying time of 25.36 when she crossed the line for second with a swift 25.55.

Also going out with a bang for the women’s squad, second-year Myra Collins and fourth-year Sarah Eldridge both finished third in their events. The veteran recorded a 1.58m in the high jump, and Collins completed a 5.41m leap in the long jump.

As the women fought for their place at nationals, the men’s side felt the full strength of the competition and struggled in the lanes. Third-year Mike Doll put up the only top-10 finish for the Maroons on the track, taking seventh in the 110-meter hurdles at 15.72. Still on the rebound from a nagging injury sustained during the indoor season, fourth-year captain Pat Hogan came in 34th in the 5,000-meter run with 15:35.78 in the 63-man race.

The troubles followed the team into the field events, as only one Maroon posted a top-10 finish. Fourth-year Brett Peterson posted Chicago’s second highest finish on the day with ninth place in the triple jump at 13.28m.

It has been quite a season on the track for the South Siders as the two teams wrap up an impressive year ranked among the top 30 in the nation. After the women came out in full force to take first in the outdoor opener at Elmhurst, the men picked up steam down the stretch to match the ladies with a third-place effort at the UAA championships in Cleveland. While the North Central Last Chance marks the end of the road for most of the athletes, with Winter, Bojanov, and O’Connor all gunning for All-American honors, the best may be yet to come for the NCAA-bound Maroons.