Heather MacLean finishes fifth at Tyson Invitational

By Nick Souza

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Courtesy of UMass Athletics

Courtesy of UMass Athletics

Massachusetts track and field distance runner Heather MacLean raced the 800-meter run at the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Arkansas, finishing fifth in the star-studded event.

While professional runner and Arkansas alum Stephanie Brown won the race, MacLean finished with a time of 2:07.81. The race was held at the same venue as the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, which will take place March 13-14, and is considered one of the fastest indoor tracks in the country.

The Tyson Invitational was an opportunity for MacLean to compete with some of the best runners in the country. According to ustfccca.org, athletes competing this past weekend combined for 30 individual NCAA titles.

“These are the type of athletes she needs to go toe to toe with if she wants to compete at nationals,” UMass women’s track and field coach Julie LaFreniere said. “And I’ve done everything I could to make her realize that she has already competed against top notch competition like this.”

Not Quite Finished

In order to qualify for nationals, MacLean needs one of the best 16 times in the country. She entered the Tyson Invitational needing a strong time to qualify her and end the waiting game.

“We’re hoping to get it out of the way now in this meet, because Atlantic 10 and New England Championships won’t give a real chance to qualify,” LaFreniere said.

The Minutewomen will race in the Atlantic 10 championships on Feb. 21-22 and then the New England Championships are the following week. LaFreniere maintains that due to the structure of the races, MacLean won’t be able to put forth the kind of race needed to qualify for nationals because she, like many other top runners at the meet, will be doubling and tripling up in events.

“She will need to run at least a low 2:06, but we’re hoping for her to run a 2:05,” LaFreniere added.

LaFreniere said the time MacLean posted at the Tyson Invitational isn’t what she needed for nationals, and the Terrier Invitational time of 2:07.36 she posted at Boston University in January still stands as her best time. MacLean is ranked No. 40 in the country, but is just over a second away from cracking the top 16.

She will most likely not compete at the New England Championships, but instead run at a last-chance qualifier’s meet at BU.

“That meet will attract the best runners from all over New England, and she needs to go up against the best talent in order for her to produce her best possible time,” LaFreniere said.

Representing UMass

MacLean appeared at the Tyson Invitational on the same track as schools from the Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference, which meant a lot for the program.

“It has a very David vs. Goliath feeling,” LaFreniere said.

The majority of schools represented at the meet come from the southern states – therefore they can train outdoors year round and don’t have to contend with the brutal winters that teams like UMass face every year, making training without an indoor facility (which the Minutewomen have to do regularly) incredibly difficult.

UMass doesn’t carry the same pedigree as some of the schools in attendance either, but MacLean’s involvement on the national stage is a major boost for the program.

Nick Souza can be reached at [email protected]