February 28, 2012

Whitmore wins title, Brizzolara overcomes injuries in championship letdown

It’s been fifteen years since the Chicago men finished fifth or worse in the UAA Championships. That same year—1997—the Wash U Bears returned to St. Louis with the title, and the Maroons returned home with nothing.

Let’s call this a full circle.

At the Armory in New York City, Chris Hall’s squad (60 points) finished behind a quartet of conference rivals: Wash U (117), Carnegie Mellon (90), Emory (90), and NYU (75), in a surprising, and disappointing, weekend battle.

“I think [we were] shocked that a couple of schools just had phenomenal weekends,” associate head coach Laurie McElroy said. “I think it was not so much us doing less than we expected. I think it was more of a result of other teams just having major performances at the right time.

“I think, for the most part, we went in and performed where we were.”

And third-year Billy Whitmore—it should come as no surprise—came home with his first conference championship in the 5,000 meters, narrowly defeating Wash U’s Kevin Sparks.

“It was great. For a really long time I wanted to win a UAA title—that’s the one thing I really, really wanted,” Whitmore said. “Going into that last lap, I really wanted it, and I gave it all I got.

“Just the fact that I was able to win a conference title at The Armory—this historic venue in New York City—it was really special. It’s a really special place in the track and field world, and I’m really happy with my performance.”

Another third-year, sprinter Dee Brizzolara, racked up third-place finishes in the 60-meter dash and 200-meter dash. McElroy called his performance “phenomenal.”

“I thought Dee’s performance this weekend was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen,” Hall said. “He is not healthy, and for him to go out and, first of all, decide, You know, I really want to do this. The team needs me, and I’m going to get out there and I’m going to compete and do it well—it takes a special athlete to do that when they’re not 100 percent, and it’s something you don’t often see in our sport out of sprinters.”

Those were the highlights. Other scoring performers include fourth-year Moe Bahrani in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters, Tyler Calway in the 60-meter hurdles, Semi Ajibola in the high jump, and Donni Chi in the long jump, as well as the 4x400 and distance medley relay teams. Nick Rockwell and Dan Heck also finished second and third in the weight throw—a strong showing.

“Nick Rockwell and Dan Heck did outstanding in their throwing events,” McElroy said, “and really helped carry the team, helping us to get that first place, day one lead.”

But the rest, for the most part, was abysmal. Consider: Even though the men were winning after day one of the competition, they ultimately scored in only 10 out of 16 events.

“Every once in a while you’re snake-bit—and we have been, with injuries and sickness throughout the season. And I just don’t think it’s allowed us to get to the level we’re capable of being yet,” Hall said. “We’re not in any way satisfied.”

“I think we were prepared adequately,” fourth-year Brian Schlick said. “We were just missing too many people.”

Let’s call this a disappointment.

“We weren’t expecting to win, but we were expecting to do a little bit better,” fourth-year Robert Cooper said.

“After the first day of competition on Saturday, we were in first place. I think what it came down to at the end of the day was that—and I’m not pointing fingers or anything—we were just expecting to get top three, maybe second if everyone had a good day,” Whitmore said. “So obviously we were a little disappointed with the men and their overall finish. I think we could have scored more points in the field events, in the distant events.”

Let’s look forward. Next Thursday and Friday, individuals will have their last chance to advance to Nationals when they compete at the North Central Last Chance in Naperville, Illinois. The following weekend is the NCAA Division III National Championship in Grinnell, Iowa.

And so the running, the throwing, the jumping, the hurdling, the pole vaulting—goes on.