By Dylan Hand, Contributing Writer
After wrapping up the regular season, the men’s and women’s track and field teams are gearing up for the America East Conference Championships, starting on Saturday, May 2, in Albany, New York. Although classes are ending, the teams still have five weeks to go in their seasons. This weekend’s meet marks the beginning of the “second season” of conference, regional and national championship meets.
The men’s team is coming off a last-place finish in last weekend’s America East Pre-Conference meet. The meet is usually used as a tune-up, and strong performances here can be key to success in the conference championships.
“Heading into the conference, if you’re on an upside, then it’s really important and I think that’s what you need,” said men’s head coach Jim Boulanger.
One athlete on an upside is thrower Michael Shanahan. The sophomore placed first in the hammer throw in the pre-conference meet with a throw of 58.03 meters, and did so after recently returning from a back injury. Boulanger expects to see a good battle between Shanahan and UMBC’s Thor Seraferas in the hammer throw.
Junior D’Mahl McFadden is poised for a strong performance in the 110-meter hurdles. McFadden finished third in the event in the same tournament last season, and recently won the 60-meter hurdles in the conference championship for the indoor season. Boulanger says that this experience will set McFadden apart from the competition this weekend.
“He definitely has experience in the conference championships, but having run in a lot of big meets is the key because you have to focus on what’s going on in your lane and your lane only,” Boulanger said
Last week, the men’s 4×800-meter team came incredibly close to breaking the school record for the event, finishing .10 seconds short of the 7:33.64 mark. The team is being broken up for the conference championship in order to stack the 4×400-meter team, but the group could be reunited for a future meet to take a crack at the record.
Other athletes to look for include middle-distance runners John Prizzi, Drew Piazza, and Kevin Greene and Jeremy Wildgoose in the steeplechase.
The women’s team is fresh off a second place finish in the same pre-conference meet. The team had five first place finishes including Lauren Perrodin in the 100-meter dash, Virginia Lavallee in the 100-meter hurdles, Elinor Purrier in the 1500-meter run, Jessica Salley in the high jump and the 4×100-meter relay team. Such a strong performance should help the athletes going in to the championship tournament, but head coach Robert Hoppler knows that they can’t stay in the past.
“Last week is last week and we’re moving on to this week and what we want to try to do at the America East Championship,” Hoppler said.
Hoppler wants to have his best athletes in their best events, so the team will lean heavily on its top performers. He plans on having many of them compete in multiple events. It is a strategy that worked well this year for the Wildcats, with distance runner Anne Twombly competing in and winning two events in the indoor America East Championship. All-American distance runners Twombly and Purrier will both be doubling up this weekend, along with Lavallee who will compete in the 100-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles, and the 4×100-meter relay.
Perrodin will take on an even bigger task this weekend as she is set to compete in four events: the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 4×100 relay, and the 4×400-meter relay.
“She’s certainly one of the best sprinters UNH has had,” Hoppler said. The junior owns several school records, including the 55-meter and 60-meter dashes during the indoor season, and she’s on the hunt for more.
The women may be leaning on their top runners to score the bulk of the points, but several field competitors are poised to help the effort. A strong performance by Salley in the high jump could help to tip the scales in the ‘Cats favor, and junior javelin thrower Andrea Turteltaub will lead a contingent of throwers.
The coaches have stressed that the next five weeks are the culmination of the teams’ hard work throughout the year, and will lead a motivated squad to the America East Conference Championships. The Wildcats kick of the postseason meets this Saturday, May 2, at 9 a.m. in Albany, N.Y.