With men’s and women’s basketball’s rollercoaster seasons and swimming’s continued rise from the depths of the UAA, the always competitive track teams have slipped under the radar this winter. The two nationally ranked squads will be a little harder to ignore this weekend, though, as they look to carry over momentum from the Maroon Invite into the league championships and put their best foot forward in the quest for a conference title.
Two weeks ago Chicago track broke into the national rankings, with the women claiming 11th and the men placing 18th. Since then the teams have been in the express lane to the postseason, adding a first-place finish for the women and a silver effort for the men at last weekend’s Maroon Invite to their recent string of playoff-ready outings.
“I walked away from that meet with a really good feeling,” head coach Chris Hall said. “I think we accomplished everything we hoped to.”
Going into the meet, Chicago knew that giving its DII and NAIA opponents a run for their money and finalizing the UAA rosters depended on getting a boost from some of the squads’ role players. Many of the squads’ top competitors entered into fewer events Friday night to avoid wearing down before the Championships in Boston this weekend. Their teammates showed that they are more than capable of picking up the slack, with multiple event winners on both sides putting up points all across the board.
“It was neat to see that we could pull out [fourth-years] Vidthya Abraham, Dilshanie Perera, and Abby Sheldon and that we have the type of depth behind those people of really strong collegiate runners who will get their turn down the road,” Hall said.
Setting the pace for the men, fourth-year Dan Dickinson and second-year Seth Satterlee each chipped in with first-place finishes. The veteran Dickinson snuck by classmate Chetan Huded with 15:44.39 in the 5,000-meter run and wiped out his seed time of 16:00.41, while Satterlee’s 4.28m in the pole vault edged out Beloit fourth-year Dave Maggio.
In an encouraging sign for this weekend, fourth-year Neil Weijer came in runner-up in the weight throw, but his 15.26m toss recorded the longest mark in the UAA on the season.
Helping launch the Maroons past their 13 visitors, third-year Cynthia Lin led a quartet of individual gold grabbers by taking top honors in the triple jump (10.52m) and also contributing with bronze finishes in the 55-meter hurdles (7.55 seconds) and in the 200-meter dash (26.49 seconds). Her speedy time for the 200-meter dash is the best clocked in the league to date and particularly impressive for a first-time appearance in the race this season.
Classmate Myra Collins and first-year Nicole Murphy joined Lin at the podium for field events with Collins recording a 5.30m leap in the long jump and Murphy hurling the shot put for 12.45m to add almost a meter to her 11.48 seed. Back on the track, the distance medley relay’s time of 12:42.45 and second-year Julia Moriarty’s 11:08.42 in the 3,000-meter run rounded out Chicago’s first-place finishes.
“That was neat. That was a lot of fun to watch,” Hall said. “I didn’t expect her to win that event.”
The women’s balance and ability to compete both on the track and in the field has them in prime position to go head-to-head again with the equally versatile Wash U for the league title. While their counterparts on the men’s side display the same kind of depth, it isn’t enough to give them a clear edge in claiming the spot as conference champions. NYU, Emory, and Carnegie Mellon are all strong enough in their specialized areas that they could rack up enough points on just a few events to keep the Maroons out of first.
“The men’s meet comes down to five teams, and there are only seven in our league. It’s that close,” Hall said. “I think the teams on the men’s side are a little bit stronger at four, five, and six than what they are on the women’s side. But I’m also not sure if number one on the men’s side is quite as competitive as what it is on the women’s side.”
With this weekend marking the first time Chicago faces off against league foes on the track, there’s definitely a feeling of anything goes even as the squads look at some favorable matchups on paper. The women may be looking at a coin toss with Wash U as they seek an improvement on last year’s runner-up finish against the Bears, but they’ll have to keep an eye out for 13th-ranked Rochester, the only other UAA squad in the top 25. The men will have a bit more ground to cover if they are going to make the leap from being last year’s fourth-place finish to taking the gold in 2007.
“We are excited about this weekend,” Hall said. “It’s been a couple of years since we’ve felt like we really had an opportunity to really mix it up and win, not to fight to get just a little bit better.”