Indoor Track Heads To Conference Championship
ALBANY, N.Y. – After five meets, the University at Albany indoor track program finally arrives at the America East Indoor Championships, where the men’s team seeks to win its 11th consecutive indoor title, and the women’s team seeks their fourth consecutive and sixth in seven years. The meet will mark UAlbany’s fourth trip to the Ocean Breeze Complex in Staten Island this season.
“We’ve competed at Ocean Breeze several times this season and hosted a home meet,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “ We have a familiarity with the facility and know it pretty well, so that’s a plus. Some of these teams like Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, and UMass Lowell are coming there for the first time. It’s the little things that make a difference. We were able to reduce the stress of an unfamiliar facility and give it a home feel for us.”
“I’m excited for them to get in there and compete,” said throws Coach Deshaya Williams. “I want them to have a good time with it. They’ve been there before and know what the distractions are around the circle. They know what it’s like to be in there with all the noise, so I think that’ll be really helpful.”
Last year, the men scored 191 points to win their tenth consecutive title, defeating runner-up Binghamton for the second year by nearly 60 points. The women won their third consecutive title, scoring 197.66 points, edging out runner-up UMBC by nearly 45 points. As a whole, the team collected victories in 12 events, runners-up in 10, and third place in 8. Returning conference champions for the women include Grace Claxton in the 400, which also set a championship meet record. The women’s 4x400 and 4x800 also won conference titles. Taariq Jones in the 400 and Jason Tomlinson in the 500 are returning individual conference champions for the men.
Finally, the UAlbany coaching staff won the Coaching Staff of the Year Award, and Bowen won Most Outstanding Men’s Field Performer. The women’s coaching staff won the Coaching Staff of the Year Award, which they shared with the staff from UMBC.
Once again, the Great Danes are looking to Binghamton for the toughest competition on both sides. New Hampshire’s women’s team has also had a strong season and is pulling close to UAlbany.
“On the men’s side, it’s always Binghamton,” said Vives. “They are the teams that can give us the greatest challenge. They’re deep in a lot of events that we’re not. They have a lot of potential scorers in the pole vault, mid-distance, relays, and throws. Straight across they have good sprinters. They can do a lot of scoring. They’ve always finished second and they’re going for first. It’s going to be competitive.”
“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a full track and field program and scoring in numerous events,” said Vives. “In men, we’re a little deeper in the sprints. We have multiple athletes that can score in the 60, 200, 400, and 500. We have the number one 60 hurdler. Even though he’s a freshman, he’s had a strong season. We also have top-scoring athletes in the high jump and triple jump. The throws will also score. They’re not as deep, but we have quality competitors. We have the number two and three athletes in the weight throw and number three in shot put going into the meet. We can score in all of the relays.”
The men have four performances ranked in the top-eight regionally. Matthew Campbell is second in the high jump for the Northeast (7’- ¼ “). Jordan Crump-King is third in the triple jump (50’-6”). The men’s 4x400-relay team of Taariq Jones, Myles Banfield, Matthew LeLiever, and Jason Tomlinson are third. They ran a collective time of 3:11.26. Jonathan Eustache is fourth in the weight throw (66’-11½”).
“For the women, New Hampshire is super deep in the middle distance and distance events. They were the cross country conference champions and they have a wide field. Binghamton will also be very competitive. They have a young lady who can win four events—long, triple, 60, 200, and she’ll probably on the 4x400 relay.”
“On the women’s side, we’re also deep in those four sprint events with multiple scorers,”Vives said. “The hurdles will be pretty deep with the potential to score 20 points in that event alone. Pentathlon looks really good—we could be one and two in that event—and the weight throw is also strong. We have a hole in the women’s pole vault, but outside of that, we can score in everything else. This meet will take a full team effort to score in 18 or 19 out of the 20 events.”
The women have regionally-ranked performances in five events. Chinwe Igwe is third place in the women’s weight throw for the Northeast (59’-2”). Solène Bastien is at fourth in the triple jump (40’-10¼”). Anika Hibbard holds onto her sixth place in the high jump (5’-8”). The women’s 4x400-meter relay of Halie Snyder, Aderinsola Ajala, Akua Williams, and Grace Claxton remain in eighth with a combined time of 3:46.06. Senior Grace Claxton is eighth in the 400-meter race (54.78).
In the past, the UAlbany team returned to campus and started competing in early January. The coaching staff set the team to open later than it has in previous years with the hopes that the athletes would be fresh through the indoor and outdoor season. The Great Danes have competed four weekends in a row with a small portion of the team participating in a fifth meet last weekend at the Fastrack National Invite.
“Our season was shorter and more compact,” explains Vives. “The change in the schedule gave us more time to train and about ¾ of the team had a chance to rest last weekend, so they’re coming into this pretty fresh. And those who did compete last weekend saw improvements in their events, so it was still a positive for them. Everybody’s ready to go. We’re ready to perform and mentally feel fresh.”
The men’s 4x400 relay is currently third in the conference with their 3:11.26 time. They were on track for a 3:09 this past weekend, but faced a slight trip-up during the race. The women are eighth with a time of 3:46.06.
“I think our men’s 4x400 is strong—we’re really the cream of the field here,” said Vives. “We’re about 6 or 7 seconds faster than the next team. Our women are at a 3:46 and the next team is around 3:52. Both teams are strong. The 4x800 should be competitive on both sides. We’re not stacking our DMR because we want people to be fresh in other events we’re hoping to pick up points in.”
“Our DMR is not our strongest, but they both play a role in the team success,” said Distance Coach Matt Jones. “We’re asking other people to be contributors to team success. The DMR and the 5,000 are what kick off the meet on Friday, so we’re excited about that. I have people filling a role so others can be successful, but really it’s how many people we can have contribute to the overall team success. That’s the goal.”
“We’re just looking to continue our success and development,” said Jones. “We’re still trying to move it forward. This weekend is more about team success than individual success. We might have athletes usually running one event, now we’re asking them to run two or three just to help the entire group be successful. This is sort of a change in the theme of what we normally do throughout the season, but I think that this is a team weekend rather than an individual weekend.”
“Conference will be competitive,” said Vives. “I think our team is prepared and they’re looking forward to the competition. I think that if we execute well, we have a great chance to win both the men and the women’s titles. It’s been an amazing streak that we’ve had—with the men 11th consecutive winners in 13/14 years. I don’t think there’s been another school with those streaks.”
“Conference is about us competing as a team,” said Williams. “I told the athletes to do whatever it takes to get ahead of the next person—that’s the most important thing.”
The team will be attending the showing of the film Race as a bonding experience before conference this weekend.
“I’m excited for the whole team and for the team bonding event tonight,” Williams said. “That’s something we’ve never done before and it’ll help prep them. This is a pretty exciting time—I hope that we all stay super team focused and get it done.”
“We’re very excited,” said Vives. “Our team is getting the opportunity to see Race together before the meet. Now they’ll get to look more at the mental side of competing and learn the story of Jesse Owens and what he had to overcome to become a champion. That’s what athletics is—overcoming obstacles and striving forward to be a champion.”
Events start Friday at 4:00 p.m. with the women’s pole vault, women’s weight throw, women’s long jump, and women’s pentathlon. The women’s 60 hurdles trials will be the first event on the track followed by the men’s 60 hurdles. Events will continue on Saturday evening at 4:05 p.m. with the men’s heptathlon. At 4:05 p.m., the field events will also get underway with the men’s high jump and the women’s triple jump and shot put. Live video of Friday’s and Saturday's events can be viewed following the links at the top of the article.