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UMass prepares for New England Championship

With the season and the school year winding down, the Massachusetts track and field teams have only two championship meets left on their schedule.

First is the New England Championship, held in Dedham, Mass. Like the indoor championship, the meet is an opportunity for athletes to compete against the best, not only in the region, but across the country. Each event includes the best individual athletes from over 70 colleges and universities throughout the United States.

UMass enters the weekend in the midst of an encouraging and successful outdoor season. Both teams have won or placed in the top five three times, with the Minutemen taking second place in two of their last three meets.

However, despite their recent success, the teams are not overlooking the importance of the upcoming meet. With so many athletes, it is sure to be a tough competition.

“We’re gonna keep working,” women’s coach Julie LaFreniere said. “We’re not done yet.”

UMass is hoping its strong performances from last weekend in Amherst will carry over into the coming weeks as it makes a run in both the regional and national meets ahead.

Last week, the Minutemen took fourth place in the Atlantic 10 Championship. They were again led by  Brian Miller, Sean Busch and Tyler Cotto.

Miller, a nationally-ranked jumper,  topped a school record in each of the past two meets. In his signature event last week, the high jump, Miller again broke his own record when he leaped to a height of seven feet and one quarter inch. Miller won an A-10 Championship. He is also now ranked in the Top 25 high jumpers in the country.

Busch also won an A-10 championship in the pole vault. His height of 15 feet gives him the best mark in the event this season.

Like Busch, Cotto is propelling the Minutemen all season long and continued to do so last week in Amherst. He broke his own record in the 110-meter hurdles and crossed the finish line in 14.45 seconds. Cotto sits in third place overall in UMass history.

UMass coach Ken O’Brien liked what he saw from his athletes on their home turf, and said he was encouraged by the level of enthusiasm they brought to the event.

“It was an impressive performanceand I think the thing that stood out the most was that it was an enthusiastic performance,” O’Brien said. “We came determined to do real well and we did just that.”

The Minutewomen saw fewer outstanding individual performances, but qualified several members for the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship in two weeks.

Rachelle Bourque set a new school record in the javelin throw, taking second place in the event and leading the Minutewomen to a sixth place finish.

Rounding out the qualifying performances were the 4×100-meter relay team, Ida Okkonen, Katherine Finnigan and Holly Heinricher.

“The athletes are great,” LaFreniere said. “They work hard and they deserve what they’re doing.

UMass returns to the field on Friday for the NECs, set to begin at 10am.

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

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