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UMass women’s track and field finishes third at New England Championships

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Three members of the Massachusetts women’s indoor track and field team came away with gold medals at the New England Championships at Boston University on Saturday afternoon, highlighting a widespread team effort that earned the Minutewomen third place overall.

Competing against 35 other teams from across the northeast, the Minutewomen’s bronze medal is the program’s best New England indoor performance since they won the overall silver in 1999.

Rebecca Stoyle continued her dominance in the triple jump, winning the event with another personal best, a new UMass program record leap of 42 feet, 0.25 inches. Stoyle has won the last three New England Championships in the triple jump and is ranked 27th nationally in the event.

Following the Atlantic 10 Championships, UMass coach Julie LaFreniere was impressed by her team’s ability to keep competing at its highest level, but was not surprised by the success of her star triple jumper.

“She’s one of the best athletes on campus,” she said of Stoyle. “We expect her to perform week in and week out. And as we approach the championship season…we design the training to have all the athletes peaking at the end of the season. She’s an outstanding athlete and it’s not a surprise to us.”

However, the meet was by no means a one-woman show. Heather MacLean also took home gold with a dominant performance in the 800-meter run. She finished in just two minutes, 12.77 seconds, a new UMass  record and just two seconds shy of the New England record.

MacLean is the first UMass freshman to win an Indoor New England Championship since 2005.

Jumping specialist Courtney Kromko won the long jump (18 feet, 9 inches) and then came back to win bronze in the triple jump with a leap of 40 feet, 2.25 inches. Kromko is the first Minutewoman to medal in two events at a New England Championship since Rose Bryan in 1999.

Rachel Hilliard also won the first medal of her collegiate career in the mile run with a time of four minutes, 53.08 seconds, good for third at the meet. She is the first Minutewoman to medal in the mile since 2001.

“It was a team effort for the group to secure a third place finish,” LaFreniere said.

Minutemen end season strong

The UMass men’s indoor track and field team finished the championships with a number of exemplary performances that propelled it to a 10th place finish out of 37 competing teams.

Co-captain Zach Hildenbrandt led the Minutemen with a silver medal in the 500-meter dash with a time of one minute, 4.25 seconds. The medal was the first of his collegiate career. The other captain, Stephen Bigelow, had a solid weekend as well, finishing fifth in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.07 seconds.

UMass coach Ken O’Brien was very pleased with the leadership abilities of Hildenbrandt and Bigelow this season.

“It was quite apparent that they would take over the leadership roles,” he said. “It was a very competitive 500-meter field and that particular event is right in Zach’s strong point. He finished second, a result he deserves.

“He was richly rewarded for all the work he’s put in into training. … They’ve provided leadership and showed the young kids how things are done. No one works harder; no one takes things more seriously than Zach and Steve have.”

O’Brien is also excited about the youth of this team and emphasized that this type of championship experience is invaluable and can only be gained from competing in high pressure meets.

“The younger guys have great enthusiasm”, he said. “(They) maybe stumbled out of the blocks a little bit, but they have absorbed the feelings that are necessary when the big meets show up. … They’re stepping up in terms of their intensity and their confidence.”

The team portion of the season is effectively over for the indoor track and field team, but qualifying individuals will go on to compete for their specific events at the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships in Boston this weekend.

            Arthur Hayden can be reached at awhayden@umass.edu

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