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February 24, 2012

Improvement is goal at conference championship in New York

After eight weeks of training and competitive preparation, the UAA Championship is finally here for women’s track and field.

The Maroons have their sights set on a third- place finish in New York this weekend and hope to close the gap between themselves and conference front-runners Wash U and Emory.

“My expectations are that we do better on paper than the level we’ve come in at,” head coach Chris Hall said. “I don’t believe we’re going to be able to catch the top two teams, but we’d like to get closer. It would be unrealistic for us to think we’ll make the jump to beat those teams, but it would be foolish to think we’re not going to make a jump at all.”

“I think we should be shooting for a close third behind Wash U and Emory,” third-year Julia Sizek said. “Emory tends to dominate the sprints and Wash U has a really well-rounded team, but it would be great to mix it up with them in individual events.”

Chicago isn’t the only team challenging for third place. Case Western and NYU also head into the weekend expectantly. The Maroons hold the edge over both teams in the conference honor rolls, but for the first time this season, those lists will mean relatively little. It’s all about who performs on the day.

“Case hasn’t competed in many meets this year, and they could take a big step forward this weekend,” Hall said. “We know what NYU has got, but I think Case could make a leap forward. On paper, NYU is the next closest team to us, but in reality it might be Case.”

The Maroons have eight athletes currently in the top five of the conference honor rolls for their individual events. Compare that to 18 from Emory and 16 from Wash U and you begin to get an idea of the gap Chicago is trying to close, but every point counts, and the Maroons’ highly ranked athletes will be expected to lead the way.

Third-year Kayla McDonald is ranked second in the 800-meter, second-year Michaela Whitelaw sits fifth in the mile, first-year Dern is second in the weight throw and fourth in the shot put, and first-year Kelly Wood is fourth in the weight throw.

It is in the jumps, however, that the Maroons appear to have the most strength in depth. First-year Pam Yu, fourth-year Madison Allen, and fourth-year Lauren Adler are ranked second, third, and fourth respectively in the triple jump, and Yu is ranked third in the long jump. Fourth-year Paige Peltzer, after only one competitive performance this season, is third in the conference in the high jump.

“I’m really excited to compete [with] Pam. We do really well against each other in competition because we push each other,” Allen said. “I’m also excited to compete with Lauren Adler because she’s been out for the past two weeks. We’ll all use each other as motivation, and I think we’ll make it hard for Emory and Wash U to score as many points as they want to in the jumps.”

But, as important as those athletes will be to Chicago’s success on the weekend, Hall is careful to put their contribution into perspective.

“We’re going to have some people vying for higher positions than others, but this is a team weekend,” he said. “For me, someone being seeded second and finishing second is a great accomplishment, but somebody else who’s seeded tenth and moves to sixth and scores a point—that’s what I want to see. Those performances are probably more important than the high finishers who match their seeds. I’m looking forward to see who improves.”

In a season that has been plagued by injury and illness, improvement is probably the best word to characterize the Maroons’ year so far. Several key athletes returning from injury will give the team another boost before competition gets underway this Saturday.

Along with Peltzer, fourth-year Jane Simpson, who has begun competing again in the last few weeks, and Adler, who has missed the last two, will be available this weekend. And even if these athletes are a little behind in terms of preparation, their experience and attitude can have a big influence.

“The best team we could put out there will be out there,” Hall said. “Even if some of them aren’t completely healthy, they’re going to go out there and compete. And that’s a great attitude. That tells me that our kids want to do well.”

“Our entire indoor season leads up to this meet,” Allen said. “We’ve been having fun, but in the past few weeks you can tell that everyone is bringing more focus to practice and making workouts count in an effort to perform well this weekend.”

The UAA Championship gets underway at 5 p.m. Saturday and continues through Sunday.

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