Outdoor Track Looks To Defend America East Titles

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ALBANY, N.Y. - The outdoor track season is rapidly coming to a close, and the University at Albany program finds itself already on the cusp of the America East Outdoor Championships.  Not only are both the men’s and women’s team defending America East champions from the indoor season, the men are gunning for their tenth consecutive outdoor title and the women are going for their sixth consecutive.

“Ten straight is unprecedented in our conference, and possibly any conference,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives.  “I think both teams can successfully continue the streaks we’ve built.”

Vermont’s facility features a nine-lane, Beynon track, similar to the track UAlbany just had installed this year.  The biggest difference is the lane width, as Vermont’s lanes are narrower than those on UAlbany’s new track.

Looking at the field, the women will likely see the stiffest competition from Vermont, who is expected to receive a boost from hosting the championship meet for the first time.  UMBC potentially will provide the biggest challenge for the men’s team.  The Retrievers have quality sprinters, and won the cross country conference title in the fall.  Additionally, Binghamton cannot be counted out, as the Bearcats were the runner-up indoors in both the men’s and women’s team competition.

“Vermont’s women have great up-front quality, and they know they’re in the ballpark to challenge us,” said Vives.  “And Binghamton is always in the mix.”

Looking that the squad the Danes will field this week, there is a mix of defending champions, returning point scorers, title contenders, and newcomers.  The coaching staff expects quality performances in all events, and that starts with Vives’ own group.

Tynelle Taylor-Chase is the defending champion in the 400m hurdles, and will be joined by teammate Aderinsola Ajala, whose times are just behind Taylor-Chase’s this season.  The pair have the potential to both place in the top three.  On the men’s side, there is the possibility that Jeremiah Obeng-Agyapong and Larry Ramirez could finish first and second, but the goal is similar to the women’s, placing both in the top three.

“Tynelle is a big meet performer, and Derin is right behind her,” said Vives.  “And the men could finish in the top three as well, perhaps even sweep the top two spots.”

In the open 400, Kamilah Williams is seeded sixth, but hopes to break into the top three.  And Ashlee Moxam is looking to qualify for finals, which, according to Coach Vives, usually takes about a 57 or so.

The men’s 400 features a unique combination of champions.  Taariq Jones is the defending indoor and outdoor champion in the event, while Jonathan Santana is a former champion, having redshirted last year.  And with Jason Tomlinson, in the mix, the possibility exists for the men to sweep the top three places.

“Santana and Taariq push each other to be faster,” said Vives.  “They each like having the other around.  Without Santana, Taariq wouldn’t have anyone to chase.  But the 400 group as a whole is looking to improve together, and they want to qualify for regionals.  They think they can run about 3:07 in the 4x4.”

Santana also volunteered to run the open 200, in addition to the open 400 and his spots on both the men’s 4x100 and 4x400 relays.  He is coming off a sizeable workload from Penn Relays, where he ran five races over two days.

“Since it’s his last time around, Santana wanted to try some more things, and really go after the scorer of the meet award,” said Vives.  “He’s proven he can handle the workload, and we’ve gone a bit easier on him this week after what he did at Penn.  But he’s an athlete that steps up for championships, and it helps that the 400 final will be before the 200 final.

The men’s 4x400 relay is expected to defend its title, having distanced itself from the competition.  On the women’s side, however, the result is much less certain, with conference newcomer UMass-Lowell featuring a solid squad.

“If the women are going to win the 4x400, they will need to be on to beat UMass-Lowell,” said Vives.  “But like we did with the indoor championships, by the time the 4x400 and 4x800 roll around we’ll look at the team standings to see if we will run the relays stacked or if we can afford to let some of the younger athletes get some experience in this kind of setting.”

“I don’t think we’re as deep as we were for indoor championships,” said assistant coach Matt Jones, speaking about his middle distance and distance group.  “We still have quality out front in each event, but instead of two or three scorers like we had indoors, maybe this time around we have one or two.”

John DeLallo and Andrew Pirnie are running the open 800 on the men’s side.  DeLallo split 1:50 in relays during both the indoor and outdoor seasons, and Pirnie finished third in the 800 at indoor championships.  Daryl Subran, who didn’t compete at indoor championships, may act as a wild card in the race, making finals and perhaps stealing a point.  The women have three potential scorers in the event with Brianne Bellon, Dominique Claudio, and Breanna Cummings.

“DeLallo can run with anyone in the conference,” said Jones.  “And Bellon is ready to pop a good race.  She’s been steadily improving all season.  Dominique has a chance to be a high scorer, and Breanna can score if she makes finals.”

Dylan Lowry and Peter Schweitzer are entered in the men’s 1,500, and Kathryn Fanning is running for the women.  Lowry split 1:51 in both the 4x800 and distance medley relays at Penn Relays last week, and Schweitzer just missed scoring at indoor championships.

“Dylan should be able to run with anyone,” said Jones.  “Fanning is the second seed, and we’re hoping she only has to run as hard as needed to make finals.  She’s geared to have a great run in finals.  She’ll have the competition, with Olivia Burne from Stony Brook.  Hopefully she’ll have the weather.  Maybe we’ll see a new school record for her.”

Fanning already hold the school record in the 1,500 at 4:22.83.  She’s run 4:25.15 this season.  Her goal before she graduates is to qualify for regionals and break 4:20.

The men’s 5,000 is potentially the strongest and deepest event in the conference, as 42 athletes are entered in the race this weekend.  Christopher Buchanan and James Sommer are running for the men.  Buchanan is running fresh, and can finish in the top three depending on who is doubling from events at Penn Relays, or in the steeplechase at this meet.  Silvia Del Fava is also running fresh for the women, and is joined by Valentina Talevi, Jessica Donohue and Molly Pezzulo.

“We had four guys score in the 5,000 a year ago” said Jones, “and Sommer’s time from this year would have scored last year.  Silvia is fresh off her 10,000 at Penn, and we can possibly see a personal best or a school record from her.  We’re not doubling her because we’re using this as prep for nationals, and we have five weeks of training to do before regionals rolls around.  It’s a good example of how difficult it can be to balance team and individual considerations.  So we’re hoping Talevi and Donohue, who may be doubling from the 10,000, and Pezzulo, to pick up the slack.”

Jonathan Moore is running the 10,000 for the men, and the goal for him is to break 32 minutes, which would have scored a year ago.  Talevi and Donohue are each running their first 10,000 of the season, and are expected to be right in the middle of the pack of 13.  Sommer will double up in the steeplechase, and while he may not be able to break into the top two, Coach Jones thinks he can run faster and hit the IC4A qualifying mark.  And Schuyler Pruyn will run the women’s steeple, looking to adjust her tactics slightly from her run at UAlbany’s Spring Classic where she opened up a little to aggressively.

“For the 4x800s, we’ll look at the team score, and approach the personnel by committee.  For the men, you’ll probably see DeLallo and Lowry, and Pirnie if he is healthy.  Ramirez is in the pools for both the 4x8 and 4x4, so we’ll see with him.  For the women you’ll likely see the same team that ran at Penn.  It usually takes about 9:00 to win, but if the women find themselves in a race where they are pushed, then maybe a school record is in play.  All four of them can go faster.”

“Our women are looking at a pretty balanced lineup,” Jones continued, “and the men are looking to perform better than their seeds indicate.  It’s not really spring yet, so not everything is quite put together.  Some of the athletes, like Bellon and Moore and Lowry, are ready to pop big races.”

If there is one definitive strength of the men’s program, it arguably lies in the high jump, which will field three strong competitors this weekend.  The group of Alexander Bowen, Matthew Campbell, and Kingsley Ogbonna swept the top three spots indoors, and are looking to repeat the feat once again.  Youssef Benzamia will be competing in place of Campbell, who has been sidelined this season with an injury.

“Alex is working on things for later in the year,” said assistant coach Todd Wolin.  “So we’re tinkering a little bit, working on his speed and approach.”

On the women’s side, the high jump is a deeper event as far as the conference is concerned, but the UAlbany jumpers are rounding into form at right time.  Coach Wolin is looking to see how many athletes they can score in the event, where they don’t necessarily have the talent at the top like the men.

Matt Catera will compete in his second decathlon of the season, and faces his stiffest competition in the defending champion Vincent Rentzsch from UMBC.  Additionally, Stefan Buechele and Donald DiBari will be comepeting in their first decathlons of the season.  Paige Vadnais is competing in the heptathlon, where she is looking to place fourth, due to excellent competition from two Vermont athletes and one athlete from UMBC.

Vadnais will extend her workload with the open pole vault and the 100 hurdles.  Catera will also compete in the 110 hurdles outside his decathlon.

With Michelle Anthony and Taylor-Chase in the 100m hurdles, Coach Wolin is hoping for a 1-2 finish, if not better with the other athletes entered in the race.  On the men’s side, he’s hoping Catera and Rudje Beckford can both make finals and score points.

Alfonso Scannapieco and Nathan Hiett are two of the best pole vaulters in the conference.  The pair swept the top two spots at indoor championships.  And Nick Mattera may find himself in the mix as well, having made a solid attempt at 4.75m at Penn, just missing clearing the height.  Scannapieco and Benzemia are both doubling up in the long jump, where they can possibly finish in the top two places, like they did at indoor championships.

“We’re rounding into shape when we need to,” said Wolin.  “I think we may be able to score more points in these events than we did during indoor championships.”

The throwing squad has seen a number of personal bests and school records this season.  Veleisha Walker and Samantha Kosa have set school records in the javelin and shot put, respectively.  Lauren Lopano has improved her personal best in the hammer throw multiple times this season.  Janice Johnson recently just recorded a new personal best in the shot put.

“I think we’re on a good upswing,” said assistant coach Deshaya Williams.  “We’re confident, and we’re excited.  We’ve had a lot of personal bests this year, and now we’re looking to stay fresh to do what we need to this weekend.”

The improvements the throwers have made come as no surprise to Coach Williams, who believes that the training has gotten to the point where the athletes are realizing that their improving marks are indicative of how good they actually are.

“They are starting to live up to the confidence I have had in them,” said Williams.

The men’s throwers are on the younger side, despite some veteran leadership.  With them, the key is learning patience and being okay with whatever happens during competition.  The women’s strength perhaps lies most in the shot put compared to the other throwing events.

“It’s time to come out to do the job,” said Williams.  “We’ve worked hard, we’ve put in the work, and we need to do whatever it takes on any given day to win.  We have just as good a chance as anyone else.”

Competition kicks off Saturday, May 3 at 10:00 a.m. with the first event in the men’s decathlon as well as the men’s hammer throw.  The women’s heptathlon begins at 10:30 a.m.  Saturday’s track events begin at 1:00 p.m.  The first day of competition features finals in four track events, as well as finals in all contested field events.  The remaining track event finals will take place on Sunday, as will the finals in the field events not contested on Saturday.  

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