February 12, 2008

Fresh off high rankings, track edged out at IW invite

After stumbling out of the gates at their first meets back in January, men’s and women’s track have raced to the top of DIII, with the women recently ranking fourth and the men sitting in the sixth spot.

Saturday’s Illinois Wesleyan Invite pitted the Maroons against Augustana’s second-ranked men’s team along with Wesleyan’s second-ranked women. Taking on the high-caliber foes immediately put Chicago’s new rankings to the test. The women pulled a runner-up finish with 97 points, behind Wesleyan’s 138.5, while the men took home third with 102.5 points.

“It’s recognition for hard work, which is always nice to have, but this is by no means the end; this is the beginning,” assistant coach David Svodoba said of the squads’ standings. “We continue to aspire to be better than we are.”

On January 12, top-10 rankings seemed a long way off as the Maroons clashed with UW–Oshkosh. The women fell to the reigning outdoor champion Titans 93–57, while the men suffered a 100–56 loss.

The Maroons returned home a week later to first-place finishes at the Phoenix Invitational and have continued to improve in all events since then.

“The biggest thing is that we’re just really deep,” Svodoba said. “We’re at the point where we’re trying to score in every event; I don’t think any [other] team in the conference can do that.”

The Maroons continued to show their depth Saturday, especially on the women’s side, with all four classes contributing to the squad’s strong finish.

Third-year Rachel Venezia led the way for the Maroons, winning the 5000-meter run with a time of 18:17.67, just ahead of first-year teammate Liz Lawton, who took the silver with a time of 18:24.75. Second-years Nicole Murphy and Claire Ray continued to shine in the shot put, as Murphy’s 12.83-meter throw was good enough for second place, and Ray’s 12.81-meter throw earned her the bronze.

Chicago collected three more second-place finishes thanks to fourth-year Appie Hirve’s mark of 10.97 meters in the triple jump, first-year Bianca Scott’s 1.55-meter leap in the high jump, and first-year Stephanie Omueti’s time of 26.21 seconds in the 200-meter dash.

The men’s half kept pace with the women’s efforts by placing in six events as the Maroons tallied 112.5 points, behind Augustana (142 points) and Monmouth (112.5).

First-year Jacob Solus continued a strong season with Chicago, taking the gold in the triple jump. He and fellow first-year Drew Jackson took first and second in the event with jumps of 13.16 meters and 13.05 meters. Classmate Arthur Baptist finished well ahead of the pack in the 5000-meter run, adding the Maroons’ other top finish with a time of 15:35.36.

“Those three will be solid athletes for the next three years,” Svodoba said. “The young athletes have made a smooth transition to competition at the college level…. They were winners in high school, and they know how to win in college.”

First-year Harrison Backlund also finished second in the mile run with a mark of 4:20.69, while the Maroons drew third-place finishes from third-year Herman Reeves in the 55- and 200-meter dashes and fourth-year Zach Rodgers in the long jump.

While the upperclassmen were fairly quiet Saturday, the Maroons’ youth owes a part of its success to the strong leadership presence from the team’s more experienced members.

“They’re the ones that help with a big team,” Svodoba said. “The upper class has done a good job of helping everyone figure out who everyone else is…. The other piece is that we’ve got a pretty accomplished upper class. They’ve just shown the way and helped us put all the pieces together.”

As the Maroons head into the final month before the indoor championships, the women’s team’s experienced core will be looking to avenge a 3.5-point loss to Wash U at the UAA Championship last season. The men, coming off a fourth-place finish in the UAA finals, also expect to be contenders for the conference crown.

“I really feel like we’re going to be ready to compete at our best at that time,” Svodoba said. “It’ll be a tough meet; we’re going to definitely have to bring our A-game if we’re going to contend for either title.”