March 2, 2007

With new depth, track set to take leauge by storm

After years of looking at UAAs as a chance to improve on the previous showing, track has been putting itself in position to not only take gold but also to keep on running with some NCAA bids.

With a deep roster that holds the coveted ability to score highly in both track and field events, the 14th-ranked women head to Brandeis as serious contenders for the league title. After finishing in the top three for the past three years and taking silver to Wash U last season at Henry Crown, the squad hopes to make the final step to the top this weekend and edge the seventh-ranked Bears once and for all. The team could find a potential spoiler to their plans if 19th-ranked Rochester cranks things up a notch in Boston.

At first glance, underestimating Chicago’s shot at becoming conference champions seems easy with only two athletes atop the league leaderboards. However, the team draws its strength from a plethora of Maroons who consistently compete in the top five slots. This core will make all the difference in replacing individual triumph with a broad team effort to net the South Siders most of their points. If last weekend’s first-place finish at the Maroon Invite is any indication, the squad will be putting up a strong fight on many fronts.

Exemplifying the Maroons’ double threat both on and off the track, third-year Cynthia Lin not only claimed the triple jump crown for Chicago last weekend but also posted a UAA record in her third-place 200-meter dash showing.

Lin’s 200-meter seed time puts her at the front of the league in contention for gold, while fourth-year Trina Ruhland’s NCAA provisional-qualifying 5.47m in the long jump gives Chicago its second top ranking. Other individuals in the mix to place highly include third-year Myra Collins, long-jump champ and provisional NCAA qualifier, and first-year third-ranked shot put victor Nicole Murphy.

Amid this balance, Chicago’s long haul runners stand out, helping the team burn rubber. Look to the distance squad to pick up major points for the Maroons after eight separate runners put up point-scoring performances to snag more than half of the South Siders’ track points at the Invite. Fourth-years Vidthya Abraham, Dilshanie Perera, and Abby Sheldon will most likely be setting the pace for this group in Boston.

On the men’s side, the 26th-ranked Maroons will have to repeat the strong individual performance they’ve seen down the stretch to break out of last year’s fourth-place finish and into the conference’s top echelons, where Wash U and Carnegie head up the competition. Even though Chicago enjoys the highest ranking of its UAA foes, the close spacing in the poll makes this weekend competition.

Although the men’s roster can’t claim the same depth of the women’s, they still boast an abundance of potent weapons and seek to net big points with first-place finishes. Named UAA Athlete of the Week after his conference record-breaking weight throw last week, fourth-year Neil Weijer looks to be one of the Maroons to clinch gold and add a punch to the scoreboard.

Other Maroons whose times or scores put them at the top of the league include the pole vault champ second-year Seth Satterlee, whose seed of 4.28m narrowly edges the rest of the pack, and 55-meter dash winner first-year Bill Cheng, whose time of 6.49 seconds is nearly two-tenths of a second ahead of his closest competitors. Claiming a 13.72m distance in the triple jump, third-year Zach Rodgers completes the quartet of athletes who top the conference leaderboards.

Always important to the squad’s chances, fourth-years Emil Bojanov and Brian Hague are also looking at their final shots at a championship banner.

In addition to a chance for claiming conference glory, this weekend will be the last chance for both teams to secure an automatic NCAA bid. Three Maroons have already earned provisional berths with several athletes on each squad just inches or seconds away from qualifying.