Track & Field Continues Championship Season at West Point, Princeton
ALBANY, N.Y. – Fresh off another sweep of the America Outdoor Championships, the University at Albany track & field program continues championship season, entering the final weekend to secure qualifying performances to advance to NCAA East Preliminary Championships. To that end, the team will compete at IC4A and ECAC Outdoor Championships at Princeton University starting on Saturday. Additionally, two high jumpers, Victoria Stoffel and Matthew Campbell, and one thrower, David Carlson, will also compete at the West Point Twilight meet on Thursday.
Last weekend, the women’s team won their 11th-straight outdoor title, completing the first women’s Triple Crown in America East history, having won the conference cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track team titles in the same academic year.
Video | We gave Coach Vives a couple days to let Track & Field's #AETF dominance sink in, but caught up with him to talk about winning two more trophies and the secret to the program's remarkable success. Congrats again to all the athletes! pic.twitter.com/T6G0RhojFr— UAlbany Sports (@UAlbanySports) May 8, 2019
“We knew when cross country pulled it off there was a very good chance we could do it, knowing the personnel that we have and the balance on our team,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “And after the indoor season, it was a huge bonus having the outdoor championship meet at home. And the team wasn’t complacent at all. The one thing you worry about is complacency, but the women showed up to compete.”
In addition to completing the Triple Crown, only the third in America East history and the first since the 2011-12 UAlbany men’s team, the women broke the women’s America East Outdoor Championship scoring record, accumulating 254 points, far ahead of runner-up UMass Lowell’s 136.5 points. The women also won 10 of 22 contested events, despite not stacking relays and pulling top-contending athletes out of events on Sunday after the meet had been decided to save them for later meets.
“We point the whole season to championship season, which starts with the conference championship,” said Vives. “The one thing we want to defend is our winning streak. No team wants to be the team to break the streak so they come and they bring it every time.”
UAlbany set championship meet records in two events. Tara Belinsky won the women’s shot put in 49-01.50, breaking the previous record of 48-10.25 set in 2004 by Northeastern’s Zara Northover. Venique Harris won the women’s discus in 178-01.00, breaking the previous record of 160-01.00 set in 1994 by Northeastern’s Theresa Findlay. Harris was named Co-Outstanding Field Performer after the meet concluded.
“Ten events is nearly half of the events in the meet,” said Vives. “I think it was a real dominating performance. Our student-athletes don’t sit back and don’t rest on their laurels.”
In addition to the two championship meet records, Chidinma Matthew swept the 100m and 200m, Cara Sherman won the 10,000m by more than half a lap, freshman Sophia Myers won the 100m hurdles, freshman Alexandria Payne, who plays volleyball in the fall for UAlbany, won the heptathlon, Asia Jinks won the 400m hurdles, freshman EJ Onah won the long jump, and Anika Hibbard won her third outdoor and sixth overall individual title in the high jump.
“Everybody was focused on their events,” said Vives. “We had two, three, and sometimes four qualifiers in event finals. And they just focused on being the very best that they can be. That’s all a coach can ask of them.”
On the men’s side, UAlbany claimed its 15th-straight title, scoring 214.5 points, winning nine events, and setting one championship meet record. Entering the meet, the men were projected to score around 170 points in the meet but outperformed expectations.
“The men knew they were going to be in a battle,” said Vives. “You never really know how much a factor being at home will be. But this past weekend we scored 40-50 points more than we were projected. We had guys breaking 11 seconds in the 100m who had never been anywhere near that. One of our 400m hurdlers, Alex Velasquez, had never broken 55 seconds before. But he runs 54 in the trials on Saturday, and then 53 in the finals, in the rain, on Sunday. Those people stepped up to score points, to finish sixth, seventh, eighth in their events, those types of turnarounds, were tremendous.”
Walter Briggs led the way for the Great Danes, winning both the 110m and 400m hurdles while running a leg on the victorious 4x400m relay. He was awarded with the Most Outstanding Track Performer and Coaches Award for the championship meet.
“Walter is a team person, and will be hard to replace,” said Vives. “He cares more about the team than his individual success. He’s been battling injuries, but still asked to be put in all of his events. We had the meet won by the 4x400m relay, but he still wanted to run.”
The men’s lone championship meet record came in the preliminary round of the 200m on Saturday, when Jan Michael Gutierrez Almedina qualified first overall with a time of 21.13, breaking the previous championship meet record of 21.22 set in 2011 by Boston University’s R.J. Page. Gutierrez Alemdina, who has run a wind-aided 20.95, the only time in program history under 21 seconds, also broke the program record of 21.24 set in 2006 by Junior Burnett, who is Gutierrez Alemdina’s sprint coach.
“Jan Michael’s trial was dominating, and very important for us,” said Vives. “The conference championship has been around for 30 years and for him to break the record in the semifinal. And then on Sunday, we were behind in the 4x100m relay and he ran a great leg to get us into the lead.”
The final weekend of the qualifying window actually will open on Thursday, May 9, at West Point, when two of UAlbany’s high jumpers and one thrower will compete at the West Point Twilight meet. In the past, for certain events, the team has competed individuals in multiple meets in quick succession when it will not impede the student-athletes’ ability to perform at the highest level. This week marks another such opportunity.
“There are a lot of factors that play into the high jump,” said Vives. “Rain and wind can really change a high jumper’s approach. So we just want to give Victoria and Matthew every opportunity to qualify. And with three days apart, we aren’t taking anything away from them, especially if they’re not taking a lot of jumps and coming in later in the competition.”
Stoffel, Campbell, and Carlson will plan to meet the rest of their competing teammates at Princeton University on Saturday for IC4A and ECAC Outdoor Championships. The meet has traditionally held a unique spot on UAlbany’s schedule, with its importance compared to its indoor counterpart somewhat diminished due to its close proximity to conference championships as well as its usual scheduling conflict with UAlbany’s spring commencement ceremony. The meet this year does not conflict with commencement, meaning the graduating seniors will not have to choose to either compete on Sunday or walk at commencement.
Last season, the meet rolled out a dramatic change in its format, moving every event except for the 100m, 200m, and high hurdles to a timed final. This was in response to declining attendance from member institutions, who were taking their student-athletes elsewhere, seeking more competitive events to earn qualifying performances while the window was still open to do so.
“The IC4A was starting to lose attendance because other institutions were creating last chance meets with rabbits for one fast race for qualifying opportunities,” said Vives. “I think that by changing the formant they’re adapting with the times. If you’re trying to qualify for NCAA regionals, its all about performance, so they have made their meet more conducive to those considerations, as opposed to a championship where teams like us already have had their conference meet just the week before, or in some cases on the same weekend. It’s still a championship meet, but its now geared to providing a better environment for qualifying performances.”
With conference championships now over, focus turns exclusively towards NCAA East Preliminary Championships, which start on May 23. As the last qualifying weekend, IC4A and ECAC Outdoor Championships hold a specific objective for the Great Danes.
“Number one, we’re looking at this meet as a qualifying opportunity, and number two, as a way to keep sharp those who have already qualified for later meets,” said Vives. “You don’t want them to go without competition for three weeks before NCAA regionals.”
The way the calendar fell this year, the team will be able to compete this weekend after classes have ended and focus on their qualifying efforts. They will then enjoy a weekend free from competition while they take their final exams, before having to start preparing in earnest for regionals for those advancing.
“The timing for us is perfect,” said Vives. “We have final exams next week, so we won’t be able to get a lot of work done. But they don’t have to worry about competing, they can focus on school and just staying fit. By the following week we’re finished with exams and we leave for regionals.”
Despite the specific, arguably smaller goals for this weekend, it is all part of the preparation for continuing even further this season.
“This is all part of the process,” said Vives. “Our goal has always been to start moving up on the regional and national level. We’re on pace this year to bring the largest group to regionals we ever have.”
The West Point Twilight meet begins Thursday, May 9, at 3:00 p.m. with the high jump beginning at 4:00 p.m. IC4A and ECAC Outdoor Championships begin Saturday, May 11, at 10:00 a.m.