April 26, 2012

South Siders gear up for UAAs

The wait is over. The UAA Championship is finally here.

Men’s track and field travels to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh this weekend for the biggest meet of its season.

Chicago has become accustomed to high expectations at the conference meet over the last few years, but things will be a little bit different this time around.

“More often than not we go into this meet with goals of being at the top,” head coach Chris Hall said, “but we’ve had a lot of injuries this year—a lot of health-related problems—and we’re not in a position to do that.

“It would be great if we could be in the top four of the meet this weekend. Based on the way indoor went, that would be a very successful meet, and it would be a tough challenge to get that. But I think that’s where we’re at right now.”

Wash U is the favorite this weekend, with Emory and Carnegie Mellon following close behind. Chicago will likely battle it out with NYU and Case Western for fourth place.

After the Maroons’ indoor season—the men finished at a disappointing fifth place in the conference—the team has a more conservative goal, but the expectations and pressure on individual athletes will be as high as ever.

“We expect [our athletes] to execute the right plan this weekend, to perform at a high level, and to do all the right things,” Hall said. “No excuses. This is no longer a warm up; this is what we’ve been preparing for.”

There will be a couple of familiar faces leading the Maroon charge this weekend, with third-years Billy Whitmore and Dee Brizzolara primed to be Chicago’s leading point scorers. Whitmore is ranked first in the conference in the 10,000m by more than 10 seconds, while Brizzolara lies second in the 100m and fifth in the 200m.

Fourth-years Moe Bahrani and Donny Chi will also head into the meet with high expectations. Bahrani is ranked third in the 3,000m steeplechase and Chi sits second in the long jump.

“The last three years, we came into the conference meets as championship contenders,” Chi said. ”While we don’t have that this year, the conference meet still serves as the focal point for each athlete’s season. So I think it’s important for the team to keep a winning attitude and to use this meet to build skills that will be necessary for the future.”

Continuing a yearlong theme, the Maroons have had their fair share of injury problems this outdoor season, but there is a sense that this meet is coming at just the right time for them.

“Unlike the indoor season, the outdoor championships fall in the middle of our training cycle,” Whitmore said. “Most athletes will continue to improve upon seasonal bests and set new personal goals even after the conference meet.”

“I think our team has been performing well heading into this,” Hall said. “I feel like we’re coming into this meet in a position where we’re peaking pretty well. I’m expecting them to rise up a little bit this weekend and perform at a high level.”

The most recent injury victim for Chicago is fourth-year sprinter Jackson Jenkins. Jenkins withdrew mid-competition at the Chicagolands Championship two weeks ago due to a hamstring injury and has not recovered in time for the UAAs. But fourth-year Tyler Calway, who was rested last weekend at the DePaul Invitational and is ranked fourth in the 110m hurdles and fifth in the 400m hurdles, will make a welcome return.

The Maroons aren’t contenders this year, but, as far as the athletes on the track are concerned, that doesn’t change a thing.

“I know we’ll be back into more serious contention within the next few years, but talent isn’t the only thing that’s needed for a team to be successful,” Chi said. “The team needs to understand what it means to perform under pressure, and for the younger guys, this is a good chance to experience setting PRs, climbing up a couple of seeds, and generally going big for the important meets.”

The UAA Championship gets underway at 10 a.m. on Saturday and continues at the same time Sunday morning.