February 19, 2008

North Central tests track

[img id="80327" align="alignleft"] Last weekend’s Chicagoland Championships offered track and field another crack at some of the nation’s best athletes. Once all the points were tallied, the women looked ready to run with the best, while the men found themselves eating the dust of the country’s top dog.

In yet another impressive showing, the fourth-ranked women took second place in Friday’s meet, held at Lewis University in Romeoville. The hosting Flyers put up 141.5 points to Chicago’s 122, but the Maroons did manage to slip past third-ranked North Central College, which finished with 114.5 points.

A day later, the sixth-ranked men’s squad played host at Henry Crown Field House for its half of the competition and wound up third behind top-ranked North Central and Lewis. The soaring Cardinals lit up the track, racking up 215 points to the Flyers’ 92 and Chicago’s 88. These three contenders were the real competition, distinctly separate from the rest of the 18-school field. Fourth-place Carthage stood over 30 points behind the Maroons and several also-rans scored in the single digits.

Making the most of its wide array of talent, North Central’s men’s team took first place in 10 of 17 events on Saturday and frequently placed several athletes in scoring position. The Cardinals consistently outscored all comers, and by the end of the day had built a commanding lead over the rest of the field.

“What they have is a very, very deep team,” head coach Chris Hall said of North Central. “I think that where they really separated from all the other teams is what they were doing with their third and fourth runners, or throwers or vaulters.

“In a lot of places we matched up pretty well with their top two individuals. But the separation came shortly after that, and they ended up putting a pretty good show on.”

Though the men struggled against North Central, coming out ahead of the higher-ranked Cardinals was a small upset for the women, and a confirmation that they belong among the country’s top teams. Chicago also knocked off its perenially strong rivals in the Chicago Duals, held at Henry Crown February 2. Lewis College, the lone school to outdo the women at the Chicagolands, is ranked seventh in Division II.

While the South Siders nabbed silver and bronze in the team championships, several Maroons stood out individually as well. Chicago came up big in the 3000-meter run as first-year Liz Lawton and third-year Rachel Venezia finished one-two and brought in 18 points with times of 10:30.58 and 10:40.85.

The Maroons also left their mark on the shotput, where second-years Claire Ray and Nicole Murphy turned in first- and third-place performances, respectively. The duo’s effort was good for 16 points.

Other top finishes came from fourth-year Appie Hirve, who won the triple jump, and fourth-year Cynthia Lin, whose 1:00.87 time in the 400-meter dash placed her second.

Looking ahead to the NCAA championships, Hirve, Murphy, and Ray all put up numbers this weekend that were good enough to meet national provisional-qualifying standards. Reaching the provisional mark does not guarantee a spot in the NCAA field, but it does mean the athlete will be considered when the NCAA field is being filled.

“What Claire Ray did this past weekend in the shotput, I feel pretty good about,” Hall said. “I think that should get her into nationals. I think Nicole’s got to throw a little bit further in order to get in. But they’ve got a shot.”

On the men’s side, Chicago put on a clinic in the 55-meter dash as the second-year tandem of Bill Cheng and Blake Obuchowski raced into the first and second spots, respectively, and picked up 18 points in the process. Cheng’s gold would prove to be the only one of the day for the Maroons, however, although the South-Siders collected a pile of podium finishes. In the 55-meter hurdles, fourth-year Zach Rodgers grabbed third to go along with his second-place showing in the long jump.

Giving the Maroons yet another provisional-qualifying number was first-year Jacob Solus, who covered 14.18 meters in the triple jump, landing him in second.

Rounding out the men’s top-three performances, fourth-year Ryan McCarl clocked in at 4:19.85 in the mile to take third place.

For both the men and the women, the regular season will wrap up next weekend with the Margaret Bradley Invitational at Henry Crown. The meet will also mark the end of a grueling three-week stretch during which the teams have competed four times. After that, the squads have half a month to rest up and prepare for the UAA Championships.

“We feel we’re in a pretty good place to contend and to win those conference titles, for both the men and the women,” Hall said. “Our athletes have put themselves in a position potentially even to be the favorites going into the conference meet.”