Track Returns To Boston For IC4A, ECAC Indoor Championships
ALBANY, N.Y. – Last week, the University at Albany track & field program won the men’s and women’s America East Indoor Championships for the fifth year in a row. The men and women combined to win 17 of 40 events and set three championship meet records.
Now, the only remaining active student-athletes still competing during the indoor season are those who have satisfied qualifying standards for the remaining meets on the schedule. The first such meet will be the IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships at Boston University this weekend.
Last week, the men won their 12th straight indoor conference title and the women won their fifth straight. The men won 10 of 20 events, and the women won seven of 20. Matthew LeLiever, Grace Claxton, and Chinwe Igwe set championship meet records in the men’s 500m, women’s 400m, and women’s weight throw, respectively. For Claxton and Igwe, they broke their own records.
“I hate to continuously say the best, but the team really did come together,” said Vives. “I think that it was a total team effort and I think that the team showed up and they all competed; every single one of them. It was just an incredible weekend.”
“The throwers did really well,” Vives continued. “They won all four throwing events. They got the message that this was important to us and the athletes competed. Ryan Udvadia was unbelievable. He closed out in the 5,000m in 56 seconds. His last 200m was 27 seconds and his last 800m was 2:03. No one can match his speed. He just looked good against some great competition. That guy from Maine is the conference champion in cross country that beat everybody by 70 meters in the fall. These guys are fast, but Ryan, and Kyle Gronostaj, just looked dominating.”
Claxton, who entered championship weekend ranked 17th in the country in the 400m at 53.10, needed to break into the top 16 to qualify for NCAA Indoor Championships. She made two attempts in the two rounds at championships, breaking her own championship meet record of 54.17 in the preliminary round in 53.73, and then again in the final in 53.05. Neither time improved her national ranking.
We wanted to give it a shot on Friday. We thought we had a good opportunity then. BU is her favorite track and we had people positioned around the oval cheering for her. She ran 53.73 and broke the conference record. The next day she ran 53.05.
“We planned to have Grace run the 4x400m relay, but by then we had scored enough points to secure the team title. So I gave her the option. I said ‘Grace, you have stepped up for the team every season. You have run the 400m, 400m hurdles, 200m, 4x100m, 4x400m, you’ve done it all.’ I told her I was okay either way, we can run the 4x400m and try to set a conference record, finish her last America East and move forward or try the open 400m tomorrow for one final shot. She said she wanted to give Sunday a shot.”
Staying an extra night to run a third hard 400m at BU, Claxton ran a personal-best 52.64, breaking her own school record and her own Puerto Rico indoor national record. Most importantly, the time held up as the 14th fastest in the country, giving Claxton a berth into national championships.
“I’ve never seen anyone do that but that’s what makes her special,” said Vives. “That’s why she is an Olympian and that’s why she is the athlete that she is.”
“The next day she came back to me and said ‘Coach, do you think it was selfish of me?’,” said Vives. “And I said no way because this is the relay of the future so we have to stop developing these young ladies. Then it was someone who didn’t make the final in the 500 who was one of the top seeds who now got an opportunity to run and feel better about it. It was positive all the way around and then she felt better but you know, that how much she thinks of the team. She thought it was selfish but I said ‘no this is your shot and it doesn’t take away anything.’
“There are two types of runners,” said Vives. “There are ones that can run fast when nobody is around and then there’s the type of athlete that steps up to the level of competition, and Grace is that type of athlete. All her best races have been in the Olympics, nationals, and regionals. She drives on competition. We had the right track but we don’t have the competition for America East, so I was worried. Having somebody in the race, that was the difference.”
The men’s team also had a national qualifier, high jumper Matthew Campbell, who also ranks 14th nationally with his season-best mark of 7-02.50. It is the second consecutive season Campbell and Claxton will compete at a national championships together, having each qualified for NCAA Outdoor Nationals last season.
The Last Chance Meet, where Claxton earned her national berth, also produced another postseason competitor for UAlbany. Men’s long jumper Mandé Sémôn, who placed second in the event at conference championships, was one of the handful of athletes to stay behind for one final opportunity on Sunday. He ended up jumping as season best 23-05.50 to satisfy the IC4A standard, meaning his season will continue for another week.
At last year’s IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships, both the men and the women took second place in the team title. The men scored 65 points, falling one point shy of team champion Hampton’s 66, and the women scored 48.5, behind Connecticut’s 62, and one-half point ahead of James Madison and St. John’s.
“Our goal this year is to try to pull it out,” said Vives. “I want the team to not shut down and we’ve been in the habit of doing that. We get to conference, we do everything and then that’s sort of a letdown. This year we tried to emphasize that this is a championship season. You look at the major program and they compete every weekend. They go to their conference championship meet, which is huge, and then they go to the national meet. I want us to kind of get over that hump for this week.
From last year’s second place teams, the Great Danes return defending champions Claxton in the women’s 400m and Campbell in the men’s high jump.
The way the schedule broke down this year, there may be some more competitive teams attending IC4A and ECAC Championships this weekend than usual. Last year, the Big 10 Indoor Championships were the same weekend as IC4As and ECACs. This year they are not, so a team like Rutgers, who features Amsterdam product Izaiah Brown, is expected to make an appearance. Brown, a sophomore, currently holds the second fastest 400m time in the country this year at 45.32.
“I think that it will be competitive because Connecticut always goes with the men’s side and the women’s side,” said Vives. “They are the women’s defending champions. And then there are the Ivy League schools. Harvard is very good. They just won the Heptagonals. It will be competitive but I think if both our teams show up and compete that we have a chance to win.
Claxton and Campbell will continue on to NCAA Indoor Championships next week, but the remainder of this weekend’s competitors will join their teammates in the transition to the outdoor season, which begins Saturday, March 18 with the Spring Break Classic in Puerto Rico.
“I think the kids have to show up like they did last week and not look past this meet,” said Vives. “Indoor tends to be long, and we’ve had a discussion with all the coaches and the kids and we have to keep them focused. Let’s go out, let’s finish on a positive. Some kids are ready to set some records and I think we can do that.”