Having already competed in three events and with four of its athletes qualified for the New England Championships, the Massachusetts men’s track and field team is off to a hot start in 2013.
The Minutemen competed at the URI Heptathlon last weekend and finished third out of nine teams at the Sorlien Invitational (also at URI) on Sunday.
UMass coach Ken O’Brien said the team looked shaky in its first event, but made some big improvements at the most recent meet in Kingston, R.I.
“We had some notable improvements, and most people made some at least pretty significant improvements, whereas some people really hit the nail on the head,” O’Brien said.
Highlighting the Sorlien Invitational were pole vaulters Gregory Copeland and Michael Cyphers. Both Copeland and Cyphers, who finished third and fourth, respectively, reached a height of 15-feet, 1-inch to qualify for the New England Championships.
It was the second time this season that Copeland and Cyphers matched each other. Previously, they both vaulted a height of 14 feet, 3.25 inches in the season opener to tie for third place.
O’Brien said it was the first time in school history that two vaulters cleared the 15-foot-1-inch mark. He said he has been very impressed with Copeland and Cyphers’ performances.
“That’s a nice one-two punch to have,” he said.
In the other field events, A.J. Grube finished fifth in the high jump with a height of 6 feet, 0.75 inches, and Brendan Cavallaro finished seventh in the shot put with a throw of 45 feet, 0.5 inches.
O’Brien said the throwing events will look at in order to get some depth behind Cavallaro. The Minutemen showed some depth in the distance events, with three top eight finishers in the 800-meter run, four in the 1,000-meter run and two in the mile run.
Jared Reddy placed third in the 800 meter with a time of two minutes, 0.78 seconds, while Quentin Stipp and Michael Giardina followed in seventh and eighth place, respectively, with times of 2:02.83 and 2:02.84.
In the 1000-meter run, Ben Groleau finished third with a time of 2:31.64 and was followed by Anthony Taylor in fourth at 2:32.47. Stephen Ness and Nick Otis finished seventh and eighth in the event with times of 2:36.28 and 2:36.97.
In the mile run, Patrick McGowan and Thomas Mullen pulled out sixth and seventh-place finishes with times of 4:27.18 and 4:27.46.
O’Brien said there is a lot of versatility and depth with the runners in the distance events, and they should come out with some high-scoring combinations.
“The middle distance events (have) some good variety and versatility,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got a lot of the younger kids who we can combine into a couple of relays. And rather than (have them) be younger, backup people, if we combine them all in a relay or two, I think we’ll actually move toward the front of the scoring pack.”
UMass’ Quinn Ryder finished fourth in the 60-meter dash with a time of 7.09 seconds, and Patrick Farnham finished fifth in the 200-meter dash at 22.98 seconds.
Farnham also teamed up with Bradley Donahue, Zachary Hildenbrandt and Paul Grafov in the 4×400-meter relay to finish fourth with a combined time of 3:29.50.
Hildenbrandt and Grafov also scored in the 500-meter dash, with the latter coming in third with a time of 1:06.77 and Hildenbrandt finishing sixth at 1:09.12.
Stephen Bigelow finished fifth in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.56 seconds, followed by Zach Grube in eighth at 8.8 seconds.
Competing in the URI Heptathlon
In the days preceding the Sorlien Invitational, UMass sent two athletes to compete in the URI Heptathlon.
Nick Ingham finished eighth out of 11 in the event, with his best finish coming in the 1000-meter run, where he finished fourth with a time of 2:52.08. Conor Megee also competed in the event, but did not place.
The week before the events at URI, the Minutemen opened their season at the Yale Invitational.
Otis finished second in the 800-meter with a personal best time of 1:56.4, just missing qualifying for the NECs by 0.4 seconds. He did, though, show he is ready to go after missing the entire 2012 season due to injury.
Ryder did qualify for the NECs in the 60-meter dash with a personal best time of seven seconds flat, good for third place in the event. Bigelow also qualified for the New England Championships in the 60-meter hurdles for the second straight year, getting a time of 8.51 seconds in the preliminaries.
Grafov finished third in the 400-meter at 50.52 seconds. The 4×400-relay squad also came through for UMass, finishing fourth with a time of 3:23.81.
In the field events, A.J. Grube finished fifth in both the triple jump (42 feet, 9.75 inches) and the high jump (6 feet, 2.25 inches). Peter Farlow finished seventh in the long jump with a distance of 21 feet, 5.25 inches, and Cavallaro finished seventh in the shot put after throwing 44 feet, 8.75 inches.
Now that O’Brien has seen UMass compete in a few events, he plans to use the next couple of weeks to get a better sense of the team’s strengths and weaknesses and how they stack up against other teams.
“I think within the next two weeks we’ll get some information on our opponents,” O’Brien said. “We’ll try to see if there’s some events that are stronger than the others, and at some particular point, we’ll match up our best people in their best event where they can finish in the top three or four places. “But then we might look for some weaknesses or some openings that other opponents present that we might be able to sneak some of our backup people in to score in places,” he said.
The Minutemen will next compete at the Joe Donahue Indoor Games on Friday in Roxbury, Mass. The event is set to start at 4 p.m.
Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan can be reached email@example.com.