April 18, 2008

Track ready to defend indoor UAA crown

Despite following up a pair of indoor UAA titles with a successful spring season, nothing is guaranteed for track and field as it looks to protect its crowns in an intensely competitive conference.

The Maroons will get a chance to defend their victories this weekend when the seven-team UAA congregates in Chicago for its Outdoor Championships. The meet will mark the first major event on the new turf and resurfaced track at the renovated Stagg Field, and the first time the Maroons have played host to the championships since 2001.

Back in March, the men topped Emory by 10 points at the Indoor Championships, while the women narrowly edged Wash U 151–148 for their first ever conference title. Trying to beat the Bears again, the lady Maroons look to snap a four-year outdoor winning streak for the visiting rivals. The men, meanwhile, have to topple defending champion Carnegie Mellon. Neither Chicago squad has ever won the outdoor crown before, but this time around, they are certain to vie for first place.

On the UAA leaderboards, the men stand at the top of only one category, with first-year Jacob Solus, the defending indoor triple jump champion, expected to repeat his gold performance. To compensate for this lack of consistent individual winners, Chicago relies on placing clusters of athletes in the lower positions. If results across the conference so far this season are any indicator of what is to come Saturday, the Maroons are poised to execute this strategy again, with big groups of South Siders seeded around third, fourth, and fifth in events such as the hurdles, shot put, and discus.

In sprints, the Maroons will have to contend with an Emory powerhouse that won big in the 100-, 200-, and 400-meters back in March. Wash U and Carnegie are expected to challenge Chicago in the distance events: Violet fourth-year Hany Abdallah has already met the automatic NCAA qualifying standard in the 5,000-meter, and Tartan third-year Brian Harvey has met the provisional mark in the mile.

For the women, who top the seedings in six individual categories, the approach is a bit different.

Continuing to display overwhelming dominance in throwing and field events will be a necessary if Chicago is to have any shot at duplicating the success they had indoors. Second-year standouts Claire Ray and Nicole Murphy should excel in shot put, weight throw, and discus, three events in which the young

pair has led the Maroons’ throwing contingent by racking up massive points all year.

While the Maroons can count on wins on the field and in the throwing cages, Wash U and Case will likely control the distance running, and Chicago will look to first-year Liz Lawton and third-year Rachel Venezia to stay competitive. Challenging provisionally qualified Emory first-year Jami Edwards, first-years Stephanie Omueti and Malgorzata Bujarska will try to keep the Maroons anchored strongly in sprints. The athletes will meet again in the 4 x 100 relay, where the South Sider and Eagle squads are separated by a tenth of a second.

Despite the impressive field of opponents, Chicago remains confident and hopes its position at the top of the pack will create the motivation needed to secure another victory.

“Winning is always a good thing,” head coach Chris Hall said. “I do feel they will go into the UAAs feeling good about our chances of winning, and a lot of that confidence will be from the way they have performed against other competition, including this past weekend.”

To tune up for the weekend, the Maroons have relaxed their training and abandoned intense conditioning to focus on the more technical aspects of their events, such as block starts and throwing technique.

“The hard conditioning is over,” second-year Patrick Offner said. “Now it’s all about the little, technical stuff and mental preparation. The key is staying calm and focused. We’ve put in the hard work for weeks; this is the fun part.”