Indoor Track Arrives at America East Championships
Indoor Track Arrives at America East Championships
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany’s men’s and women’s indoor track teams’ final scheduled trip to the Armory this season is also their most important. The Danes will compete in the America East Indoor Championships on Sunday, February 23 and Monday, February 24.
“I think this is one of the best season’s we’ve ever had, in terms of preparation,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “The athletes are peaking at the right time. We trained through last week, and used this week more to rest. We pulled back in the weight room, and dialed down the intensity. The coaches were done with their hard stuff by Thursday, so the athletes had an extra day to rest.”
This year’s championships are slightly more irregular than usual. The meet will take place on Sunday and Monday. Although the timing isn’t quite as odd as the Monday/Tuesday schedule from last year’s championships, it’s still unusual. Additionally, UAlbany classes were suspended on Thursday and Friday, so the athletes enjoyed some extended down-time heading into the meet.
“We’ve tried to keep the routine as good as possible, considering the days off and the meet schedule,” said Vives. “So we had some team meetings in the morning, so the athletes don’t end up sleeping all day. Ultimately we try to keep things running as normally as we can.”
The Danes will be making their fifth and final scheduled trip to the Armory in New York City for the championship meet. They had previously competed at the facility for the Great Dane Classic, the Columbia Invitational, the Collegiate Invitational, and the Millrose Games.
“The Armory is familiar to us,” said Vives. “It’s our home away from home. And this season we’ve had every type of meet there. We’ve had small meets, large meets, two-day meets, afternoon meets. Our athletes know the quirks of the facility, where everything is, how to warm up, what to expect from the track. We’re ready for just about anything.”
An additional change for the meet is a transition to the NCAA championship style format for the competition. Whereas in years past nine athletes would qualify for finals of the 60, and 10 would qualify for the finals of the 400, this year only eight competitors will participate in the final rounds.
“Because of the format change, athletes will really need to run in the first round, so they can ensure they qualify for finals,” said Vives.
The switch was made in part to remove the human element from the selection process, where a decision may have had to been made regarding who qualifies in the event of a tie, or a time calculation beyond the hundredths place. Additionally, the change will help limit the amount of competitors in the final rounds of the distance races, where too many participants can present a safety issue.
An additional rule change has made it so that athletes can no longer qualify for nationals out of the IC4A or ECAC championships. While that rule may serve to potentially dilute the talent at those meets, the competition may see an increase in intensity this weekend, as it represents many athletes’ last chance to hit a national qualifying mark.
UAlbany is no stranger to success at conference championships. The men’s team has won each of the past eight titles, and 10 of the last 11. The women are defending champions and have won three of the last four titles. This year, both teams are the highest ranked America East squads in the Northeast regional poll.
“The America East is a strong conference when it comes to the middle distance and distance races,” said Vives. “So, our athletes in those events will have to step up. But we run a balanced team, and pride ourselves on doing so. There are events where we have athletes leading the conference, and in most of the events we have someone in the top three. And we have strong relays.”
Further, the Danes have potential scorers in every event that will be contested at championships, based on the America East leaderboard. Kareem Morris and Donald Williams have the second and third fastest men’s 60 times in the conference, respectively. Robert Harris III is tied for third with two other competitors. Jillian Haynes holds the second spot for the women’s 60, and Kahlia Taylor is fifth. Morris is also second in the 200 for the men, and is joined by Winston McCormack, who sits in fifth. Haynes and Michelle Anthony are fifth and sixth for the women. Taariq Jones tops the America East in the men’s 400, and Jason Tomlinson holds the third spot. A trio of Kamilah Williams, Aderinsola Ajala, and Tynelle Taylor-Chase make up the women’s sixth, seventh, and eighth best times. Jones is second in the conference in the men’s 500, and Larry Ramirez holds the sixth spot. Dominique Claudio sits in sixth on the women’s side, and is joined by Williams in eighth and Taylor-Chase in ninth.
“I’m hoping for everyone to run a personal best,” said assistant coach Matt Jones, who works with the middle distance and distance runners. “We’re already prepared, now it’s time to execute.”
In the men’s 800, John DeLallo, Ramirez, Youness Benzaid, and Andrew Pirnie rank consecutively from sixth to ninth. Brianne Bellon holds the 10th spot on the women’s side. DeLallo is also ranked sixth in the men’s 1,000, and is joined by Dylan Lowry in eighth. Kathryn Fanning is second on the women’s side, and Bellon is third. DeLallo is UAlbany’s highest ranked athlete in the mile, coming in at 12th. Fanning is the only UAlbany woman in the top-10, at fourth.
Christopher Buchanan sits in seventh place in the men’s 3,000. Silvia Del Fava tops the women’s side by almost 20 seconds. Molly Pezzulo is seventh for the women. Buchanan also holds the ninth spot on the men’s 5,000 list, and Del Fava again leads the women’s 5,000, also by about 20 seconds. Valentina Talevi is sixth for the women.
“We’re fit and rested, and we want to succeed as a team,” said Jones. “For the seven events I coach, I look at individual scoring potential first, and then back fill with relays. That’s probably the case more in the 4×800 than in the distance medley relay. We’ll run the 4×800 if the meet isn’t decided, otherwise we’ll use it to get some of the younger guys experience because we’ll need them in the future.”
“We’re more loaded in the DMR,” Jones continued, “and if someone is going to beat us we want to make them work hard for it. We’re not necessarily dominant in one event, like some other programs might be. We go for more quality and depth in each event, taking a more balanced approach.”
“Going through the events, the women will be solid on Sunday night,” Jones concluded. “Buchanan can run with everyone in his race, even though his seed might not reflect that. Our men’s DMR will be hard to beat. Pirnie will be fresh in the 800. His tactics were off a bit at Millrose, but not his effort, so we expect him to run well. Benzaid will be fresh for his 800 on Monday, but will be coming off the DMR on Sunday. We have a few men doubling back in the 1,000, which is somewhat concerning, because that’s a difficult double. And for the 4×800, it will be all hands on deck as we need them.”
Kathryn Fanning is the defending champion in the 1,000 and the mile, and is entered in both events again. She’s also in the women’s DMR, so her workload at championships is high.
“We have our best DMR running for the women, with Bellon leading and Fanning closing,” Jones said. “Fanning is where she’s been in the past, and hopefully she can go a little under where she was a year ago. Her big competition in the mile, Olivia Burne from Stony Brook, is only in the 1,000. It’s significant because Burne is ranked 16th in the mile nationally, and nationals only takes 16. Fanning has a chance to qualify with a good effort.”
UAlbany leads the conference in all four standard relays. Both 4x400s hold a slight lead over second place, while the 4x800s enjoy a sizeable gap before the next closest competitor. The men’s distance medley relay sits in third, while the women’s team is second.
“Each one of my groups has worked extremely hard,” said assistant coach Todd Wolin, who works with the jumpers, vaulters, hurdlers, and multis. “Now is the time to see the hard work will pay off. I know what they are capable of. The work is done, they are ready. They need to trust the training and do what their bodies are capable of doing, nothing more.”
Matthew Catera is fourth in the conference in the men’s 60 hurdles, and Rudje Beckford is sixth. Anthonly leads the conference in the women’s hurdles, and CiCi Simon, Taylor-Chase, and ToniAnn Werner come in at seventh and tied for eighth, respectively.
Alexander Bowen leads the conference in the men’s high jump. Matthew Campbell is second, Kingsley Ogbonna is tied for third, and Youseff Benzamia is fifth. On the women’s side, Rochelle Reid is fourth, and Ashley Grant and Min Pacella are tied for eighth. Alfonso Scannapieco holds the lead in the men’s pole vault, and Nathan Hiett is third. For the women, Werner is eight, and Kerri Dutton and Paige Vadnais are tied for 10th.
“The men have a real chance at sweeping the high jump,” said Vives.
“They talk about it in practice, going 1-4,” said Wolin. “That’s the goal they have. Three of them have already beaten their fiercest competition directly, so yeah, they do have a shot. They’re seeded for about 27.5 points now, and could end up with 29.”
“The depth we have in the high jump is intimidating, but in different ways,” Wolin continued. We have eight women competing, and although they won’t all make noise in the event, other teams see one athlete in purple after another after another. For the men, they have the talent at the top.”
The men’s pole vaulters are expecting a similar result as their high jump teammates.
“Alfonso and Nathan want to go 1-2 in the vault,” said Wolin. “I’ve actually put forth a challenge to each group I coach, to see which can score the most points. So the high jumpers, pole vaulters, hurdlers, and multis will have a side competition to keep things fun between them.”
“That’s what I tell them,” Wolin continued. They’re prepared physically, but before each meet I tell them to try and have fun. Because if you’re having fun you’ll be looser and perform better. And if you’re performing better you’ll have more fun.”
Benzamia leads the men’s long jump by over a foot, and Scannapieco is fourth. Aiyanna James leads the women’s long jump, and Solène Bastien is seventh, tied with Vadnais. Kevin Dehaney is UAlbany’s top ranked triple jumper at 10th, and Bastien is fourth for the women, followed by Pony Sokiri in fifth.
Finally, Catera holds the top spot in the men’s heptathlon, and Vadnais tops the conference in the women’s pentathlon. Nicholas Mattera is fifth for the men.
“Vadnais is really third, as there are two women who don’t have marks who can beat her,” said Wolin. “But she’s worked hard, and has started actually training for all the events.”
The last time Vadnais competed in the pentathlon she said collegiate bests in four of the five events, and just missed a collegiate best in the 800.
“She’s improved in each event since the last time,” said Wolin. “Her hurdles time was a 9.41. Now it’s down to 9.16. That’s an additional 51 points. I told her, I don’t care if she scores, she’s going after 3400 points and the ECAC standard. She’s about 130 away with the conversion, and has gained about 100 of those points with her improvements.”
“I don’t want our athletes to do what they’re not capable of doing,” said Wolin. I don’t want them trying to set a PR at each attempt. Clear the bar, and then clear the next one. That’s all they can do. And I don’t want them to get fixated on a personal best. It’s easy to see that best performance and thing that’s the peak. But that mark is only what you’ve done, only the best to date. Not what they can do.”
Abel Gilet is second in the conference in the men’s shot put. On the women’s side, Samantha Kosa and Janice Johnson are second and fourth, separated by just over two inches. Veleisha Walker sits in the ninth spot. Gilet is the highest ranked UAlbany athlete in the men’s weight throw at 11th. Lauren Lopano sits in sixth for the women, and is joined by Kosa in eighth and Johnson in ninth.
“The throwers are in a much better place than they were last year,” said assistant coach Deshaya Williams. “The PR’s have increased, and they’re confident and ready to perform.”
“I think, and expect, all six of the throwers to at least make finals,” said Williams. “And if they make finals they can score. Johnson had a breakthrough in the shot put in practice this week. Abel is still two centimeters away from the school record, and he’ll get it if he can stay patient. Walker is primarily a javelin thrower but she can throw 12 meters in the shot put. Lopano has exceeded expectations in the weight throw, as have Kosa and Johnson. And Jonathan Eustache is ready for a big performace.”
“Some of our athletes are doubling or even tripling, so it will be a long weekend for them. But each one of our athletes knows how to step up for a meet like this,” said Vives. “We’re relatively healthy entering the competition. Our trainer, Joe Tegnander, has done a really great job with our kids.”
“Our athletes have traditionally done it when they’re supposed to,” said Wolin. “What’s interesting is seeing who can do it when it’s unexpected. Like Peter Schweitzer’s mile at Collegiate. Was that a stepping stone or an aberration?”
Although UAlbany has seen a lot of success at the conference championship meet, each year brings new challenges. This year the America East sees the addition of a new team in UMass Lowell, and new teams mean greater uncertainty.
“We’re largely unfamiliarly with UMass Lowell,” said Vives. “We’ve only seen results from them. They have quality individuals, but aren’t necessarily very deep. They will, however, play a factor, and could place as high as fourth.”
UAlbany will likely see its stiffest competition from Maine and Binghamton on the men’s side, and from Binghamton and UMBC on the women’s side.
“I think it will take about 170 points to win the team title for both the men and the women,” said Vives. “Looking at the men’s field, I think both Binghamton and Maine are capable of scoring 150 points. There’s no pressure on Binghamton, as they’re the perennial second place team. And Maine has a great thrower, great middle distance, and great jumpers. The goal is to continue the men’s streak but it will be tough.”
“For the women,” Vives continued, “UMBC and Binghamton are both capable of scoring 130 points I think. UMBC knows what it takes to win a championship, as evidenced by cross country. They may not be deep but they have a lot of up front talent.”
“This is an extremely exciting part of the season,” Vives concluded. “Everyone has a role to play, from the 10-point winner to the eighth place finisher in the heptathlon. This weekend it’s about the team. It’s the last time this specific group will be together for an indoor championship so we want them to keep relaxed and have fun.”