Thursday and Friday will be the penultimate chance for hopeful Maroons to boost their stock for the NCAA National Championships.
Coming off a third-place finish (both men’s and women’s) at the UAAs two weeks ago, Chicago began the two-day North Central Dr. Keeler Invite in Naperville, IL yesterday, where the South Siders are focusing on individual performances.
“This meet has representation from all over the country but is primarily teams in the Midwest,” head coach Chris Hall said. “As it is mostly made up of athletes trying to qualify for the NCAAs, it really is not a lot of teams showing up as a whole but elite individuals from many, many teams. We use this to go after great [individual] performances, and having elite competition around us really helps to elevate.”
Some Maroons in particular are in the spotlight, chomping at the bit for a spot in the NCAAs in La Crosse, WI May 23–25.
Fourth-year sprinter Dee Brizzolara destroyed the competition two weeks ago, taking first in the 100-meter (10.78) and 200-meter (21.73) sprints at the conference meet.
“Dee has a sense of urgency right now,” Hall said. “I think he understands the importance to elevate if he wants to extend his season. Dee has never competed in an NCAA event and realizes he has an opportunity and is more focused than I have ever seen him.”
In addition to tearing up the track, Brizzolara is acquainted with the turf, as he is currently training for a shot at the NFL as well. But for now, he’s locked in on the Keeler Invite.
“I’m a little nervous for this weekend,” Brizzolara said on Tuesday. “I need to do well and drop down on the national honor roll and hopefully solidify myself into a national qualifying spot.”
The standout fourth-year has shared the recent limelight with first-year pole-vaulter Michael Bennett, who also grabbed gold at the UAAs a couple of weeks ago. Bennett ascended a height of 4.81m, leaving the previous conference record of 4.65m in the dust.
“Michael came out of high school as a very special athlete and very accomplished,” Hall said. “While he is just a first year, I feel he has a [fourth-year’s] focus. He was very close to advancing to the NCAAs indoor and really wants that opportunity. [I] feel Michael has done everything right to extend his season.”
Bennett deflects the praise as he continues to build upon an already impressive first college season.
“I think the training my coaches have been having myself as well as the rest of the team do has made the difference,” he said.
Female NCAA Championship hopefuls include first-year Nkemdilim Nwaokolo (first in discus and second in hammer throw at the UAAs), second-year Kelly Wood (first in hammer throw), and fourth-year Kayla McDonald (first in 800m).
Fourth-year Billy Whitmore (third in 10,000m) and first-year Michael Darmiento (first in 110m hurdles) are also gunning for the national tournament.
Results from Thursday’s men’s events were unavailable at the time of printing, and the only women’s events that had concluded were discus and hammer throw. Wood advanced to the finals in the hammer throw with a distance of just over 43m.
The Keeler Invite wraps up today, and the South Siders have one meet remaining—the North Central Last Chance, one week from now—before the NCAAs.
The Maroons have made Hall proud thus far, but there’s more work to be done.
“I have [felt pleased with the team’s performance this season],” Hall said. “I felt we competed very well at the UAAs but expect better performances now that the weather has gotten better and we are able to narrow the focus to individual goals.”