UMass gears up to host A-10 championships Saturday.

By Michael Wood

The Atlantic 10 championship meet returns to Amherst this weekend and the Massachusetts track and field teams will look to capitalize on competing on its home turf.

The A-10 meet is a highly touted and important meet, determining the best team and individual athletes in the conference. One of three final championship meets, not only does the meet showcase talent, but it marks the beginning of the end of a long and, in UMass’ case, successful season.

The last time the A-10s were in Amherst, UMass didn’t fare so well, taking first place in just one event over the weekend. This year, men’s coach Ken O’Brien said the Minutemen know the ramifications of the meet, and are ready to compete in front of their home crowd in such a critical contest.

“[A-10s] are a big meet for us,” said O’Brien. “Everybody primes themselves for outstanding accomplishments all season, and the guys have been looking forward to this for a long time.”

Home turf has been an advantage for UMass this season, as the Minutemen took second place in the UMass Nine-Way meet, and the Minutewomen won the event, while breaking several records in the process. Both teams are poised and ready to duplicate those performances on Saturday.

“It seems that being home helps the guys,” O’Brien said. “Every one of our athletes mentioned that the enthusiasm of the fans helped propel them to some outstanding performances. We’ve had great fan support for UMass track, and I’m looking forward to the same thing on Saturday.”

UMass is confident coming into the weekend thanks to another strong showing last week in the New Hampshire pre-conference meet. Between the two teams, a combined six school records were broken and 14 athletes qualified for the New England championship next week.

Lisa Wilson, Gina Perno and Nicole Pompei led the way for the Minutewomen, each breaking or improving upon UMass records.

Wilson, who has been an important part of the Minutewomen this season, continued her dominance, as she broke two of her own records in the shot put and the hammer throw events. She earned first place in both events, as she threw the shot put 48.75 meters and the hammer 176 feet. It was the third consecutive meet in which Wilson topped a personal record.

Perno also left her mark in the record books, as she now sits third all-time in school history in the 800-meter run. She crossed the finish line in 2:12.15 and placed second in the event.

Pompei has had a successful freshman season for the Minutewomen. Not only has she consistently impressed in each meet, but she has etched her name into the record books early in her career. Last week, she won the pole vault event by reaching a height of 11.75 meters, and is now fourth in UMass history in the event.

Minutemen Tyler Cotto, Sean Busch and Brian Miller kept pace with the women, as they also broke school records in their respective events.

Miller was most impressive of the three, as he now holds the top mark in school history in the high jump. He won the event by leaping to a height of 6.25 meters.

Busch has been a steady performer for the Minutemen throughout the indoor and outdoor season. Last week he finished in second place in the pole vault with a height of 15 meters.

Cotto, a veteran and leader of the Minutemen squad, showed why he is such an asset to the team. In the 110-meter hurdles, he qualified for the New England and IC4A championships, and set the fourth-best time in school history in the process, crossing the finish line in 14.51 seconds.

With such impressive showings last week, Brian Miller and Lisa Wilson were named tri-UMass Athletes of the Week. The award is given out weekly to the athletes who exemplify outstanding performances and best help their team.

Both Miller and Wilson were also named A-10 performers of the week for their showings in the UNH pre-conference meet. This is the first time each senior has taken home conference honors in the outdoor season.

The A-10 meet is scheduled to begin Saturday morning at 9 a.m.

“I expect a handful of outstanding performances from our guys, and other teams as well,” O’Brien said. “Everybody brings their ‘A’ game to a conference meet.”

Michael Wood can be reached at [email protected]