UMass women’s track and field ends indoor season on high note

By Joey Saade

The Massachusetts women’s track and field squad shut the books on its successful indoor season this weekend at the ECAC Championships in a familiar fashion — with strong overall performances.

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Coming off of challenging weeks at the Atlantic 10 and New England Championships, the Minutewomen were able to put in one last strong effort before shutting down in preparation for the upcoming outdoor season.

UMass coach Julie LaFreniere had nothing but praise for her athletes that competed “hard” in their season finale.

“This was the highest level of competition this year,” she said. “I thought that all the participants did a very good job, and finished the indoor season on a high note.”

Sophomore standout Becky Stoyle added to her collection of medals by taking home bronze in the triple jump with a leap of 40 feet, 10 inches. Stoyle was 5.75 inches shy of the championship mark set by Albany’s Patricia McNish.

Stoyle’s bronze was her third medal in as many weeks, after capturing gold at both the Atlantic 10 and New England Championships. LaFreniere was proud of her jumper’s recent streak of dominance, despite the tiring circumstances.

“She’s had just a super indoor season, going through a lot of tough weekends – back-to-back-to-back – she was tired,” Lafreniere said. “But she is a great athlete who has great work ethic.”

Representing the Minutewomen runners over the weekend was Sarah Bittermann, a junior who wasn’t supposed to compete in the indoor season because of an injury that set her back four months prior to the season’s start. With ample reason to lie down, Bittermann instead stepped up and pushed through the adversity.

“I was surprised she even had an indoor season,” LaFreniere said. “The fact that she was able to qualify for the high standards of the ECAC’s and compete is a tribute to her.”

Competing in the 500-meter dash, Bitterman’s time of 1 minute, 15.45 seconds was good enough for the program’s third all-time record, as well as her personal best mark.

“She ran the best time of her life, it was a huge personal record,” LaFreniere said. “She’s just driven, and a real hard worker.”

Bittermann wasn’t the only one setting program records, as the 4×800-meter relay squad finished off its solid season with its best performance of the year. Katie Powers, Maria Marascia, Rachel Hilliard, and Carly Zinner crossed the finish line and ended up in the record books as well, finishing with the program’s third-best ever time of 9:10.36.

“It was the best I’ve seen them compete,” said LaFreniere. “There’s a huge difference between going to track meets every weekend and running hard, and competing well, and they competed very well.”

Closing the curtains on the final indoor season of her collegiate career, senior Nalis Mbianda was the last Minutewomen to compete over the weekend. Her 43-foot, 7-inch throw in the shot put placed her 16th overall in the meet. After falling short at New Englands, LaFreniere lauded Mbianda’s ability to bounce back a week later.

“Nalis was extremely disappointed at the New Englands, (over the weekend) she came out and threw a lot better,” LaFreniere said.

“There’s no comparison between the way she threw at the New Englands and last weekend,” she added. “It was a much nicer way for her to wrap up her senior year indoor season. She was able to redeem herself.”

While the indoor season may be over, the hard work won’t stop for LaFreniere and her team, as they get ready for the outdoor season which begins Saturday, April 6th.

“We don’t have time for down time, and they know that,” Lafreniere said.

“We are getting a few key people back for the start of the season, and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”

Joey Saade can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JSaade122.