February 2, 2012

DIII superpowers assemble at Whitewater

Just look at Chicago’s competition for tonight’s Leonard “Squig” Converse Invitational in Whitewater, WI. There’s #1 North Central, #2 UW-La Crosse, #3 UW-Oshkosh, and #6 UW-Whitewater, among others.

It’s going to be a challenge.

“This is a very high-caliber meet,” Associate Head Coach Laurie McElroy said. “This is an opportunity to see where we stack up against the top teams in the country. It’s definitely an opportunity for our top performers to have some great opportunities to see some top competitors.”

For the team, progress and preparation—not winning—are what matter most, at least at this point in the season.

“There will be more of a focus on competition,” Assistant Coach Aaron Carley said. “In basketball, in football, you try to go out and win every game. We win the conference meet at the conference meet.”

“I’d say we look at it as an opportunity to hit times that are faster than those run by individuals from teams in our conference,” second-year sprinter Jackson Jenkins said. “Not to knock those teams in our conference, but if you can run with the likes of North Central and Oshkosh, you’ll be pretty well prepared when it comes time to race at conference.”

In a sense, the team’s mindset will be the same as at every other meet this season. The level of competition won’t change that.

“I think we approach it just the same as every other meet,” Carley said. “You anticipate that you’re going to run in certain heats with similar competitions. You race the heat you’re running against.”

Still, based on the field, the team is approaching the meet realistically.

“I don’t think you can expect a kid to go out there and meet a national champ unless you are a national champ yourself, or on the same level,” Carley said. “Some of our best kids may go out there and be 10th in the competition.”

Because the Invitational is a split meet—with the men competing Friday and the women Saturday—the men’s team will be able to take more athletes to the competition. Beyond that, Carley doesn’t see a foreseeable difference in attitude or concentration.

“Our kids still go to class in the morning, get to the bus, and then go about their business,” Carley said. “It’s a shorter week, so you take one day off your training, but I don’t think there’s a major advantage or disadvantage to competing on a Friday or a Saturday.”

But perhaps the field will serve as motivation. Even if the Maroons are crushed this weekend, they can still post performances that move them up in the conference honor rolls and demonstrate improvement, whether it is recent or cumulative.

“I’m hoping to be able to rise to the level of competition we have this week,” Jenkins said.

“What I’m hoping to see,” McElroy said, “is that we’re ahead of where we were this time last year.”

Tonight’s meet at Kachel Fieldhouse begins at 5 p.m.