May 8, 2009

Time is running out for Maroons seeking NCAA bids

After a welcome respite from competition last weekend, the pressure is back on for Chicago’s track and field teams this weekend.Tomorrow’s meet, the Chicago Penultimate, is the last home meet of the season and, as the name suggests, one of the final chances for the athletes to notch personal records or meet the standards for Nationals.The meet will the be the teams’ first since the UAA Championships two weeks ago, when the men placed fourth and the women took third. Having put in maximum effort at conference, many of the athletes were thankful for an off week before the Penultimate.“Having this past weekend off was really great. It definitely gave people a chance to catch up on homework and sleep. Conference was a very emotional and draining experience and it’s hard to perform well after a weekend of so much excitement,” said third-year thrower Claire Ray, who earned Outstanding Field Performer honors at UAAs.With the conference meet in the books, the focus shifts from team competition to individual qualification for Nationals. “Everyone was very focused on conference and achieving all of their goals so it was nice to have a week off and relax before we go into Nationals mode,” second-year sprinter Ashley Eaves said.While the Maroons did have a break from competition, the extra week was by no means a vacation. Without having to worry about keeping the athletes fresh for a meet, the coaching staff had a chance to intensify the training regimen. Third-year jumper Terrence Robertson welcomed the more grueling sessions. “Coach didn’t have to worry about killing us with his workouts,” he said. “I enjoyed them.”The extra training could prove valuable for Maroons looking to meet national qualifying standards, which pose unique challenges for each athlete in the hunt. Ray, for instance, earned her spot in the meet when she reached the automatic mark in discus at the Benedictine Invite. Ray also has provisional qualifying numbers in the shot put and hammer.“I have a really good opportunity to go down in three events and even being All-American in all three. These next few weeks I plan on really focusing on my form and technique because I know that at the meet the intensity will be there,” Ray said.For most others, like Robertson and Eaves, the emphasis is simply on extending the season.“I’ve had a strong outdoor season, and I’d like to continue it with a trip to Nationals,” Robertson said. Eaves expressed similar hopes for the remainder of the season.“I’m trying to hit the national standard in the 400 hurdles and just have fun, watch everybody else try to hit their goals, and do the best I can do for the last couple weeks,” Eaves said. “This is all we have left for this year so we want to make the most of it.”Even those who do not have a realistic chance at reaching nationals can work towards breaking personal records.“People still have opportunities to reach that personal best, no matter what level they compete at,” Ray said. “I would expect that some huge goals are met in the next few weeks.”Despite the focus on individual achievement, team spirit will still be an important factor in the last two meets as the athletes look towards their teammates for support.“We are still a team—we cheer, we scream, we root for Chicago—but we are a team of individuals,” Robertson said, summing up the Maroons’ situation.