UMass indoor track and field preps for Atlantic 10 Championships at final meet

By Arthur Hayden

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The Massachusetts women’s indoor track team traveled to Boston on Friday to face the toughest competition it has faced all season in the unscored Hemery Valentine Invitational.

Up against a stacked field of competitors – including Rutgers, Cornell, Rhode Island, Dartmouth – the Minutewomen stepped up to the challenge, setting a bevy of personal records.

Freshman Heather MacLean led a group of strong 800-meter runners by breaking the UMass women’s record, finishing the race in just two minutes, 10.48 seconds. The three runners behind her – Sarah Bittermann, Courtney Neves, and Katie Powers – all posted personal records as well. Had the four Minutewomen run the 4×800 meter relay with the same times, they would have broken the UMass 4×800 record by six seconds.

One defining characteristic of this season’s indoor team has been consistency, and Friday’s meet was no exception. The usual top performers for the Minutewomen were at it again; distance runner Rachel Hilliard, jumping specialists Rebecca Stoyle and Courtney Kromko all had impressive meets.

Hilliard, a junior, ran both the mile and 1000-meter run and once again, ran two tremendous races, finishing with the fourth-best time in the conference in the 1000-meter (2:57.65) and posting another sub-five minute mile (4:59.76).

On the field side of the action, the leaping tandem of Stoyle and Kromko found the tops of the leaderboards again, with Kromko finishing third in the meet in the long jump (18 feet, eight inches) and is currently ranked second in the conference. She and Stoyle then secured the top two triple jump spots once again. Stoyle, who is still the top-ranked triple jumper in the Atlantic 10, had the longest jump out of the 46 competitors (40 feet, 8.25 inches) and Kromko, who currently ranks third in the A-10, leaped 39 feet, 7.25 inches, a personal best.

Minutemen in New Haven

The UMass men’s indoor track and field team also attended its last meet before the A-10 Championships, traveling to New Haven, Conn. on Saturday for the Yale-hosted Giegengack Invitational.

UMass coach Ken O’Brien was particularly pleased with the amount of progress exhibited over the weekend.

“We had 21 seasonal best performances this weekend at Yale,” he said. “As we’re moving along we’re obviously improving.”

Co-captains Zachary Hildenbrandt and Stephen Bigelow have been a solid backbone for the team this season.

“Both of those guys, since we’ve returned to school have been real beacons,” O’Brien said. “From the start of fall practice they’ve taken over and provided an example for the younger kids.”

Bigelow led a dominant hurdling squad over the weekend – four Minutemen finished in the top eight in the 60-meter hurdles – with a time of 8.25 seconds, the fastest at the meet. His teammate, sophomore Zachary Grube, finished right behind him in 8.67 seconds.

Not to be outdone, Hildenbrandt outran the competition in the 500-meter dash, winning the race in one minute, 5.33 seconds, a time that qualifies him for the New England Championships in late February.

Electric freshman Lamont Gooden, who O’Brien said “has really started to break out in the middle of the season,” had another outstanding performance in the triple jump, winning the event with a jump of 44 feet, 1.25 inches, a full foot further than the closest competitor.

Other notable field results included junior Gregory Copeland’s second place finish in the pole vault (14 feet, 3.25 inches) and freshman Brett Davies’ performance in the shot put (45 feet, 5.25 inches) good for fourth place on the day.

Competition for the A-10 Championships starts on Saturday, Feb. 22 in Kingston, R.I.

Arthur Hayden can be reached at [email protected]