Rachel Hilliard, Heather MacLean highlight solid performance from UMass women’s track and field

By Adam Aucoin

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts women’s track and field team came away with a successful weekend, finishing fourth out of nine teams in the Joe Donahue Indoor Games held in Roxbury.

The Minutewomen had solid performances all around, but it was the performances by senior Rachel Hilliard and sophomore Heather MacLean that stood out.

Hilliard took the gold medal in the 1-mile run and followed up with a nine minute, 40.12 second place performance in the 3,000-meter race. The time ran by the Hookstown, Pennsylvania native was the second best in school history and put her in the top spot ranking in the Atlantic 10 conference.

“I was so impressed with Rachel’s resiliency this weekend,” head coach Julie LaFreniere said. “She ran multiple races and had little time to recover. It takes a lot of speed and stamina to do what she did, so the fact that she was able to put up such a great performance was great to see.”

MacLean, of Peabody, also continued to prove herself as key contributor to the team and a future leader of the program. The sophomore ran a 2:10.80 in the 800-meter race, taking first by a wide margin. The performance gave her the top rank in the Atlantic 10.

The performances by Hilliard and MacLean gave them national recognition. Hilliard now ranks No. 22 nationally with her time in the 3,000-meter and MacLean ranks No. 16 in the 800-meter. Both runners qualified for the ECAC and New England championships.

LaFreniere knows what it takes to make it as a track runner at a collegiate level, having run for UMass in the mid-1970s on the track and field and cross country teams, setting multiple school records in the process.

This is her 28th year at the helm of the both teams. In her tenure, she won A-10 coach of the year honors six times in cross country. She played a big part in bringing both programs to prominence since their inception at the University.

As for the track and field team as a whole, LaFreniere seemed very hopeful.

“I think we are heading in the right direction,” LaFreniere said. “We’ve had a chance to race at some really nice tracks and have gotten good workouts in during our competitions, so as long as people continue to run at a high level, we should be successful.”

According to LaFreniere, injuries might be what hold the Minutewomen back from reaching their full potential.

“Not having some of our main contributors might hurt us during the season,” LaFreniere said. “The sooner we can get those guys back, the better our season will be.”

Despite being without some of their key performers, the coach said she still has high hopes for what the season will bring, saying the goal is to deliver a strong conference performance, a great outdoor season and a top-five finish within the conference.

Now, it’s time to turn on the jets.

“The meets up to this point have been workouts for us,” LaFreniere said. “From here on out, we need to get quality out of our performances.”

Adam Aucoin can be reached at [email protected]