January 9, 2009

Experienced Chicago eyes repeat title

With a coach that emphasizes the team qualities of track and field, the defending UAA champions are heading into their indoor season with an appreciation for full team effort.

“We won the conference last year because everybody showed up,” fourth-year sprinter John Eric Humphries said. “Those who came in third and fourth and fifth place contributed to the team just as much as those who came in first.”

Humphries is one of the captains of this year’s squad, a team whose roster features 12 seniors, giving the Maroons an experience factor that could go a long way in bringing Chicago to another conference champion.

After the graduation of indoor and outdoor track standout Zach Rodgers, a national qualifier in triple jump and decathlon and point scorer in four events at last March’s conference championship, questions remain for the veteran squad. Despite this loss, the team has high expectations for the season, which begins Saturday at home against ninth-ranked UW–Oshkosh.

“Even though we lost Zach, I expect my teammates to rise up,” Humphries said.

The team enters 2009 with an eight-man freshman class. First-year long jumper and sprinter Donny Chi echoed his captain’s sentiments about the team’s prospects in the coming year.

“We won pretty comfortably last year, and we’ve gotten even stronger,” Chi said.

While a squad’s success can be attributed to a number of intangibles, the Maroons point to their work ethic and team unity as two of the main factors for the team’s success in recent years.

The Maroons have also shown steady improvement from season to season to keep up with tough UAA competition. The title picture figures to be especially crowded this year, evidenced by the latest preseason rankings, which feature NYU and Carnegie at the seventh and eighth spots, respectively, with Emory, Brandeis and Case cracking the top–35 as well.

“In every one of my years here, we’ve managed to get better and better,” Humphries said.

Head coach Chris Hall has played a pivotal role in the Maroons’ success. His arrival in 2001 signaled a complete change in direction for the entire Chicago track and field program.

Since his first year, Hall has produced five UAA championship teams, with the men’s indoor team capturing two of these crowns. He has also significantly impacted recruiting, helping to more than double the team’s numbers from fewer than 20 to more than 50 members in five years.

While this team’s track record certainly gives reason for Maroon faithfuls to expect big things from this year’s squad, Hall emphasizes that the team’s members are setting high expectations for themselves.

“He is always reminding us that we can be better,” Chi said. “He’s even told us that it’s completely possible for us to be a top-10 team in the nation by season’s end.”

The Maroons start off the season with a test, as Saturday’s opening meet pits Chicago against a versatile and consistent Oshkosh squad.

“Coach told us to use this as an opportunity to find out where we are,” Chi said. “This is really the starting point from which we can grow as a team.”