Track & Field Returns to Boston for America East Indoor Championships
ALBANY, N.Y. – Championship season arrives this week for the University at Albany track & field program, kicking off with the America East Indoor Championships at Boston University’s Track and Tennis Center. The men’s team has won the last 12 indoor titles and the women have won the last five and seven of the last eight.
UAlbany has not competed for two weeks, with the last meets coming February 9 and 10 at Arkansas for the Tyson Invitational and at Ocean Breeze for the Fastrack National Invite. Since then, the Great Danes have focused their attention on training and sharpening for the conference championship.
“The training cycle is going real well,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “The training is done, we’re now just trying to keep them sharp and keep them loose. This week is like a recovery week. They may sharpen up Tuesday or Wednesday, and then it’s to the meet on Friday.”
At Tyson, Stephanie Osuji broke her own school record in the 200m for the third consecutive week. Osuji headlined a small handful of UAlbany competitors to participate in one of the biggest invitationals on the indoor schedule. The rest of the team competed at Fastrack in a final opportunity to race before buckling down for the two-week training cycle in preparation for championship season.
“I think both meets were excellent,” said Vives. “Stephanie is doing incredibly to break her school record three weekends on a row on three different tracks. She’s ready to do some good things. Devon Willis’ last jump was a foul, but over 52’. He went for it. Unfortunately he fouled but according to Todd Wolin, it was the best he’s seen Devon jump. Kingsley Ogbonna went 7-01.50, lands in the pit, and the bar dropped after five seconds. That jump is in him. Tara Belinsky has been consistent throwing 49-00.00. Our students needed the weekend off to recharge, and now we’re building towards championship season.”
At indoor championships last season, the men won a program-best 10 events to score 205 points, gapping runner-up UMass Lowell by nearly 80 points. The women won six events to score 212 points, almost 100 points clear of runner-up Stony Brook. Of those top finishers, the men return the winners from six events and the women return five event champions.
The men’s team in particular this year will have to earn their 13th straight title, as UMass Lowell is expected to keep the team scoring close having thoroughly developed its team over the last few seasons.
“Champions rise to the top,” said Vives. “This year will show what the men’s team is made of. Either we step up and get there or we don’t. But everyone on our teams is a competitor. That is one of the things I want to impress upon them, that we’re there and we’re ready to compete. We need to put our best foot forward and if we do that we should walk out as champions. My respect to UMass Lowell, they have steadily been coming. They have been hard at work to develop what they have there. It’s going to be competitive. We haven’t lost one since 2005, which is an amazing record, but we’re not looking to lose one now.
“There are good athletes in every event but I don’t think there’s a team that has it all,” Vives continued. “But you have to worry about those top athletes stealing points away from us. We have to impress upon our team is almost a dual meet mentality. If you pass someone it makes a point swing both ways: we gain two points and they lose two points, depending on the place.”
The women may be more of a favorite than the men this year, but they will still face stiff competition from their opponents, particularly New Hampshire’s middle distance and distance squads.
“New Hampshire has a tremendous distance program,” said Vives. “Elinor Purrier ran a 4:26 mile the other week, which was the second-fastest in NCAA history. And they have others in the distance in middle distance. But I don’t think they have everything that they need. I thought they were going to give us the biggest push last year with the outdoor meet at their place but it didn’t turn out that way.”
From last year’s indoor championship teams, the men will need to replace 69 points lost to offseason departures but the women will only look to replace 31. This season, the men lead the America East in seven events with a total of 35 top-eight performances, and the women lead in eight events with 48 top-eight performances. Further, the women’s sprint depth will prove challenging for other teams to overcome, with the Great Danes boasting five of the top eight marks in the 60m and the 200m, including each of the top three in the 200m.
In years past, the Great Danes have found themselves trailing after the first day of indoor championships after only a handful of events had been scored. Recently, however, UAlbany has, at times, bucked that trend and has had the luxury of leading or holding a share of the lead entering the second day.
“The first day does set up the rest of the meet,” said Vives. “In previous meets where Binghamton could score five in the pole vault for example I knew we would be behind after the first day. I would prepare the team by letting them know we could be in third or fourth place after the first day. But the first day is mostly about qualifying for the finals events on the second day, and on the second day we’ll come back. But it does set a mental advantage when you’re leading after the first day and you have those qualifiers and know you still have points coming.”
The entire season dating back to the first meet in the beginning of December has been in preparation for this week and the weeks to follow. But the America East championship itself provides a final, unique opportunity for the Great Danes to compete as a team
“It’s going to be a great meet,” said Vives. “We’re looking forward to it on both sides. One of the big things to emphasize is that this is a team competition. Track is so often an individual event but this meet will be the last time that this particular group of individuals will be together. It’s one of those things to make memories, to make it special, and to be there for everybody. We want to really bring the energy, and that’s key. We want to emphasize that everyone has to be engaged. All of the event groups will be together and cheering for one another.”
The America East Indoor Championships begin Friday, February 23 at 10:00 a.m. with start of the men’s heptathlon, and the women’s weight throw and the men’s pole vault. The women’s pentathlon will begin at 10:30 a.m., while the bulk of the schedule on the first day begins at 1:00 p.m. Saturday’s events begin at 10:00 a.m.