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UMass teams set to compete in A-10 Championships

The stage is set in Kingston, R.I. for the Atlantic 10 Indoor Track and Field Championships. The Massachusetts men’s and women’s teams will travel to R.I. and compete on Friday with the hope of carrying their impressive seasons into an A-10 championship.

After a five week grind, many of the athletes on both the men’s and women’s teams are heading into the championship with over a week of rest since last weekend’s Valentine Invitational in Boston. This bodes well for UMass, as it is now able to compete with fresh legs going into one of the most competitive tournaments of the season.

The A-10 Championship is an annual event at the end of the indoor season where the best teams in the conference compete against one another for the top spot. UMass men’s coach Ken O’Brien said his team especially looks forward to the A-10 meet because it presents a chance to establish the program as elite and get national exposure for the school. He also said that the track program has grown over the years, and is now one of the most competitive on the east coast.

“I’ve enjoyed the growth of the A-10,” O’Brien said. “It used to be two at the top, two in the middle, and two in the cellar, but the last few years it has solidified. There are no easy points in the A-10 any longer.”

Last year’s A-10 meet wasn’t as good as the Minutemen were hoping for, as they finished seventh out of 10 teams. Fortunately, the two top finishers for UMass were underclassmen and return to the squad this season.

Phillip Weltman and Daniel Schwartz each ranked third in their respective event, and the experience they gained last year will certainly help the team this weekend.

O’Brien realizes that while the experience of last year’s meet will help, 2010 is a completely different season with new challenges.

“The next three weeks are our championship season,” O’Brien said. “This weekend opens the doors for a short, tough season where there is no room for error. We have to be on our game. We’re excited about our chances and we expect some good things.”

With solid individual performances throughout the season and strong relay and distance teams, the Minutemen figure to compete in every event they enter.

The Minutewomen, meanwhile, are also in contention this weekend.

UMass will be looking to improve on last year’s meet, where it finished in sixth place overall. In last year’s event, the team saw two school records broken in the triple jump event by Stephanie Aququo and Ida Okkonen. Like the men’s team, both upperclassmen will return to this year’s event with a wealth of experience and hopes of improving upon their marks.

The Minutewomen will take their top-ranked distance medley relay team, along with four top-five ranked athletes into the meet. Karen Roa, Gina Perno, Michelle Jenssen and Courtney Baldwin combined to set a school record at the Giegengack Invitational two weeks ago, setting a mark that is currently two seconds better than second-ranked Charlotte. They should be well rested after only 19 athletes competing last weekend in Boston.

The championship is a two-day event beginning Friday, Feb. 19 at 9:30 a.m. and continuing through Saturday, Feb. 20.

Michael Wood can be reached at mcwood@student.umass.edu.

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