Bill Ziskin

Track & Field Heads To Tyson Invitational, Ocean Breeze

UAlbany Sports Information   02-09-2017

ALBANY, N.Y. – Last weekend, the University at Albany men’s 4x400m relay team broke an 11-year old school record to win the Boston University Scarlet & White Invitational.  This weekend, the team will seek to improve upon their 24th ranked time in the country at the prestigious Tyson Invitational at the University of Arkansas, as part of another split weekend for UAlbany track & field.

Thirteen student-athletes will make the trip to Arkansas for Tyson, having satisfied the entry standard for their event by a large enough margin to fall within the meet’s predetermined number of acceptances, while the rest of the team will pay Ocean Breeze another visit for the Fastrack National Invitational.

“I think we’re starting to click,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives.  “Everything is starting to come together.  The performances are improving dramatically.  I think people are catching their groove, their rhythm.

“The Villanova meet had some good performances, and I think it was a good meet,” Vives continued.  “Matthew Campbell and Kingsley Ogbonna each cleared 7-00.00 so they’re both knocking on the door.  Anika Hibbard has been consistent at 5-07.00, which means she’s due for an improvement.  The throwers have remained consistent.  All of the hurdlers had either season or personal bests.  And Devon Willis in the triple jump in only his second meet of the season is just off his personal-best.  And Campbell was a foot behind the board and he still jumped over 48-00.00 feet, so he’s developing as a triple jumper.  Dayleen Santana Rodriguez tied her own school record in the 60m.”

The split last weekend was one borne out of necessity.  The schedule originally called for the team to visit the Villanova Invitational at Ocean Breeze exclusively, with an exception for senior Grace Claxton, who was scheduled to speak at a USATF event in Boston the same day.  Claxton would have run at Scarlet & White as a result.

Claxton’s speaking arrangement was rescheduled, however, but she was still entered in the invitational 400m BU’s meet.  Additionally, Coach Vives noticed that the team had no one qualified for the postseason and championship meets in the 500m, and none of the upcoming meets before championship season commenced featured a 500m on the race schedule.  So Vives brought the 400m group to Boston to compete in Scarlet for a chance to earn those postseason qualifying marks.

“We had 11 student-athletes entered in the 500m, and nine of the 11 hit the IC4A or ECAC standard,” said Vives.  “I think what really helped was last Tuesday when I had the group run one 500.  I wanted the women under 1:20 and the men around 1:05-1:06.  I wanted to give them a feel for the event, and that if they could run that fast in SEFCU, it converts to a really good time on a good track.  Some of the men actually ran faster than the SEFCU Arena record.”

Grace’s 53.10 in the 400m earned her the victory, and the time ranks 10th in the country, putting her in a position to qualify for NCAA Indoor Championships, which take the top-16 performers in each open event.

“Grace was a little bit ill, so she ran perfectly for 300, and she tightened up a bit in the final 100,” Vives said.  “She ran with a good field, including a Harvard 400m hurdler, and a Syracuse short sprinter who ran 7.37 in the 60m.  I was hoping she would take it out so Grace could pace off her and be a little more relaxed, but Grace ended up taking the lead almost immediately.  I told her that her race was a precursor for Tyson, and that we wanted her to feel what it was like to open the first 200 in 24-mid.  She was 24.69 at 200, and 38.5 at 300, so she’s on pace, it’s just about closing it out.”

The highlight of the Scarlet & White Invitational was the men’s 4x400m relay.  After hitting the IC4A qualifying mark in the 500m, the quartet of Momodou Jobe, Matthew LeLiever, Jason Tomlinson, and Myles Banfield ran 3:08.49 to win the meet over teams like Mississippi State, George Mason, Virginia, and Boston University.  The time set a new school record, surpassing the previous mark of 3:09.39 set in 2006 by Junior Burnett, Stephen Evans, Gered Burns, and Joe Greene. 

“I think the men’s 4x400m relay finally had some competition to run with,” said Vives.  “We know they are capable, but each leg has to be challenged.  I knew they each had a second or more in them, and Mississippi State and George Mason pushed them to improve by as much as they did.”

The men’s 4x400m relay now leads the Northeast region, and ranks 24th overall in the country.

“We’re actually top-20 when you account for the duplicates on the national leaderboard,” said Vives.  “Texas A&M has four times ahead of us, Baylor, USC, and Texas each have two.  A&M has set a new collegiate record this season, 3:02.52, but after them the next best time is Florida at 3:06.01, so we’re really running with everybody else.”

The relay will have another opportunity to improve upon their time even further this weekend at Tyson, where they will face an even more competitive field.

“That’s why this weekend is going to be good,” said Vives.  “And I’m glad they run the 400m on Friday and the 4x400m relay on Saturday, so they’ll be fresh for both.  The Arkansas track is fast, and the competition is going to be great with LSU, Florida, Texas, and all of those teams.  If we get in the right type of heat where we can run with the right competition we have a shot.  I’d hate to run in a heat where we’re all alone.”

As one of the biggest meets on the indoor schedule, Tyson draws the best performers from across the country, who view the meet as one of the best opportunities to earn postseason qualifying marks.

“I think Tyson is one of the big meets of the indoor season,” said Vives.  “Last year, 11 of 16 women who qualified for nationals in the 400 earned their spot at Tyson.  It’s a meet where all the big schools are going for qualifying marks, because now they know the window is narrow.

“The track is fast, especially for 400m,” Vives continued.  “Kerron Clement set the 400m indoor world record on this track.  Our school record in the 800m was set on this track.  It’s an unbelievable track for 400m.  The bank is a little steeper than, say, Boston Universtiy.  And BU’s track is fast; it has a bounce to it, which keeps people rolling.  But Tyson has wide turns that are gradual.  So going into the turns you maintain your speed very well.”

Coach Vives understands the potential significance of his team competing at a meet like Tyson, and the impact it can have on the development of a program.

“There are a few times, I would say, in a program that there are significant events that lift the program to another level,” said Vives.  “Last weekend one of our alumni, Tim Hoff, who is running on the Master’s circuit, ran with the young guys in the 800m.  When we were still Division III, Hoff was one of our top cross country guys, but we had him running a leg on our 4x800m.  We had a great group of 800m runners and we finally got in to the U.S. Olympic Invitational.  I must have called the meet director 10 times before he let us in, because they had already accepted 12 teams.  We hadn’t run fast yet, but all of our times had come on undersized tracks.  In the race, our team ran 7:44 to claim first place over a bunch of Division I schools like Boston College, Seton Hall, and Syracuse.  That was one of those points where people stepped up.  And Hoff was there last weekend to see another step up where our 4x400m beat Mississippi State and George Mason and Virginia.  And I think now they’re thinking on a different level.  They’re not being cocky, but instead they’ve developed a mentality that they will compete at that higher level.”

All but one event in which the Great Danes will compete at Tyson will feature at least one and as many as six of the current top-10 performers in the country this season.

“I think that our goal of trying to become a championship level team, America East and beyond, and really stepping up to that national platform, is an opportunity that Tyson presents,” said Vives.  “It also gives an opportunity to develop a comfort zone with the traveling, and the competing at that level, like we would have to do for the national meet.”

The remainder of the team will compete at Ocean Breeze for the Fastrack National Invitational.  This group includes the middle-distance and distance runners, who did not compete last weekend at the Villanova Invitational.

“Our mid-distance and distance crew will all run at Fastrack,” said Vives.  “Coach Jones went to a two-week training cycle with them, which I think is smart.  It’s tough to keep racing all the time, especially those coming from cross country.  So they got in a great week of practice last week, and now a lot of the student-athletes will double up this weekend, so they can get used to running multiple events for conference championships.  It’s a good field, so everyone will be shooting for performances at that meet as well.  And since the meet is on Friday, the kids will get another weekend off, which is perfect at this time of the season.”

After this weekend’s meets, the Great Danes will not compete again until the America East Indoor Championships on February 24.

“I think that everybody is getting sharper,” said Vives.  “This is the last fine-tuning effort before championship meets start.  Hopefully we can get a few more qualifiers and then we’ll roll into conference championships.”

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