Author: Riley Kimball (Senior Writer)
Next Friday and Saturday, Occidental track and field athletes will compete with the best of SCIAC for the conference title and a chance at Nationals. After underperforming during the dual meet part of the season, the Tigers are looking for redemption. Entering as something of a dark horse, the team is confident it can leave their weak start to the season behind and come away with big wins and a number of NCAA National meet qualifiers.
“It’s been kind of an up and down season this year,” said Anna Dalton (senior), a distance runner on the team. “We’ve had trouble getting a full, strong lineup for meets.” Dalton herself has been unable to compete for the last several weeks.
Both teams have struggled so far, but head coach Rob Bartlett has few concerns entering the final part of the season. “Both our men’s and women’s teams are championship teams,” Bartlett said. The dual meet format favors teams with depth and the ability to have multiple top performers. For example, taking second and third place together earns more points than first place.
“We have some holes, especially in field events, so in one-on-one situations we’ve been beaten by teams that aren’t really better than us, they can just take advantage of our gaps,” he said. This phenomenon disappears at open meets with many entrants because a team cannot exploit the holes and weaknesses in another. As a result, Occidental’s numerous athletes at the top of the conference position the team well for the SCIAC and National meets.
A number of injuries have held the team back this season. Star distance runner Eric Kleinsasser (senior) may be out for the season, and Sebi Devlin-Foltz (senior) had to miss a number of meets early in the season. Sprinter Meghan Fruth (senior) has been injured since the start of the season, as has been Anna Kurnizki (junior).
“Everyone has these really weird injuries, like Brooke Staton [junior] has a bruised heel from dancing,” Bartlett said. “People have stuff that came out of nowhere. It’s unlucky, but they’re starting to come back now.” Staton and other athletes have started to rejoin their teammates on the track.
In spite of the numerous injuries, Occidental athletes have produced some of the country’s best performances this season. Cole Williams (first-year) impressed the nation at the Distance Carnival in mid-March. Not only did he win the race, beating many Division I runners, but he also posted the fastest time run by anyone in college this season. His time is still the fastest of any Division III runner for the spring 2012 season. Other standouts include Juan German (senior), whose recent hammer throw was the fourth best in Occidental history.
“Juan looks so in charge when he throws the hammer,” Dalton said. “He just looks very . . . powerful.”
On the women’s side, Megan Lang (junior) and Deanna Dupuy (junior) have been dropping times in the 1500 meter race in even the hottest, most adverse weather. Claire Larson (senior) is undefeated this season in the 800 meter in SCIAC races.
The team has built a strong group of first-years to support the program in years to come. “Alex Nieves has dropped like two seconds off his high school 400 meter time, and now the men’s 4×400 is running faster than they’ve run in 15 years,” said Larson, who runs the 800 meter. Williams and Colin Smith (first-year) have two of the fastest times in the 1500 meter in addition to Williams’ top 800m time and Smith’s great distance event performances.
With a week and a half left in the regular season, many groups on the team have started tapering for the SCIAC meet. Sprinters will ease their workouts to get crucial rest in time for the competition, as will throwers and jumpers. Distance runners will minimally alter their training. Williams, Smith, Larson, Johnathan Padron (sophomore) and other elite athletes will keep their workouts relatively unchanged and train through the SCIAC meet, focusing instead on Nationals.
The SCIAC meet will take place at Redlands University next Friday and Saturday, and NCAA National qualifiers will race at Claremont on May 25 and 26.
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