March 6, 2012

At Last Chance invite, a bittersweet finish

The North Central Last Chance was a tale of two chances last Friday: one missed, one taken.

The women’s distance medley relay team took its chance in emphatic style, finishing second (11:59.64) at the meet to Wash U and smashing the school record by almost six seconds. The team—made up of fourth-year Jaleesa Akuoko, third-year Kayla McDonald, third-year Julia Sizek and second-year Michaela Whitelaw—is ranked 10th in the country after their run. They will now look ahead to the NCAA D-III Indoor Track & Field Championship, which begins on Friday.

“We were running against top teams on Friday which really pushed us to compete well,” Akuoko said of her team’s relay performance. “We made a huge jump in our standings, improving by 30 seconds since UAAs and breaking the standing school record. It’s really cool to be in a nationally ranked relay, especially during my last indoor season.”

While the distance medley team will be the only representative at the NCAA meet for Chicago, they were not the only athletes to finish the indoor season nationally ranked in D-III. Whitelaw finished the season at 43rd place in the mile, first-year Pam Yu sits tied for 37th in the long jump, and the 4x400–meter relay team placed 47th. McDonald also holds the 11th best time in the division in the 800-meter, but has chosen to skip that event at nationals to leave her in better shape for the distance medley relay.

As for the men’s team, last Friday was most notable for a missed chance—by an athlete who didn’t run.

Third-year Billy Whitmore, the men’s biggest prospect for national qualification, was rested in the hope that it would leave him in a better condition for nationals should he qualify. After this weekend’s racing, however, he has dropped down to 16th in the national rankings and does not currently qualify for the division championship. He could still compete, but that possibility is dependent on other athletes withdrawing.

“We rested him so he could be impactful at the national meet,” head coach Chris Hall said. “It was Billy’s decision and I stood by him on that. He wanted to do more than just be at the national meet, he wanted to make an impact. So I feel good that we took that shot. I’m disappointed that he didn’t make it. Knowing that he didn’t get in, yeah, we would’ve preferred to have run him. But that’s the decision we thought we had to make last week with the information we had.”

Despite the disappointment surrounding Whitmore’s missed qualification, Hall was pleased with what he saw from the men who did compete on Friday.

“I thought our men’s distance medley relay—and Renat Zalov in particular—ran great,” Hall said. “Avery Mainardi ran an exceptional time as well. Avery unfortunately false started in the conference meet in the 800-meter but the way he ran on Friday, he would’ve scored in the finals.”

So that’s that—the 2012 indoor season comes to a close for all but four Maroons. The women’s distance medley relay team now looks forward to the NCAA Championship. For the rest of the squad, it’s time to head outdoors.