If you're looking to follow a team that has a legitimate shot at winning Columbia an Ivy title this year, you might be best off taking the 1 train to Washington Heights Friday afternoon.
It's the first local meet of the indoor season for men's and women's track and field, and while Athletics doesn't afford the team marquee status like football or basketball, these athletes have quietly been responsible for some of the biggest team and individual successes for the Lions in the last few years.
This season, the women are looking to reclaim the indoor championship title they won in 2012 from Harvard. The Crimson, as well as the Big Red, both have “really strong teams,” head coach Willy Wood said, “but on a good day, we have many, many good people. If we do it on the right day, we can beat them.”
It's difficult to point to one or two standouts on the women's team, which has shined across the board. “As far as the women go, we're more of a full team,” assistant coach Will Boylan-Pett, CC '05, said. “We have our sprinters, obviously our distance team,” and the field events, he added, are the team's “bread and butter.”
For senior Trina Bills, who holds the school record in the 800-meter run, the key to regaining the title is not necessarily winning every final but having enough top-three finishes to accumulate points.
“We can finish fourth in the final, but then we don't get the points,” she said. “I think that's the biggest thing, getting bodies in the final.”
A strong performance at Ivy championships, or Heps, not only leads to the league title but also qualifies runners for NCAAs. Unlike the spring season, there are no regionals in the winter—the top 16 in the country advance.
Junior Waverly Neer, who was a first-team All-American in cross country in her first year, will have to decide which event—the 3k or the 5k—gives her the best chance to qualify, Boylan-Pett said. “The goal is to make her an All-American in that.”
Junior jumper Nadia Eke is a strong contender to place at NCAAs, but she said she also wants “to actually really make my mark in the long jump and prove myself in the long jump,” which she is trying this season in addition to her signature triple jump.
A title for the men, however, probably isn't in the cards. “We're just a distance and middle-distance program. To win a team title is not feasible,” Wood said.
But that distance and middle-distance program is the same team that brought the cross country team an Ivy title in the fall.
“Our goal is to be the top distance and middle-distance program not only in the Ivy League, but in the country,” Wood said.
Senior John Gregorek and juniors Daniel Everett and Brendon Fish are all poised to break 4:00 in the mile. Senior Nico Composto, an All-American in cross country, will “mix things up in the 5k,” Boylan-Pett said.
There are just two names on the men's field roster, but one of them, senior Duncan Dickerson, won the outdoor Ivy title in hammer throw last year, the first in program history.
With no other Ivies competing in Washington Heights on Friday, the Lions will use the meet as a training opportunity.
For instance, senior sprinter Marvellous Iheukwumere—fresh off two wins in Hanover, N.H., last weekend—will run the 400-meter dash in competition for the first time in her career, with the hope that it will help her technique for her main events, the 60-meter and the 200-meter dashes.
“Almost everyone's running not their primary event,” Wood said. “We're either working on underdistances for speed, or, in Marvellous' situation, overdistances to work on strength.”
This meet also begins a three-week home stretch for the Light Blue. While there's not too much of a home-field advantage in track, the Lions typically practice three times a week at the Armory, so they are familiar with the banks at the corners of the track.
“Sometimes in the 8 and the 15, people fall in, and you don't want to fall into other people,” Bills said.
More than that, it's a familiar setting—around the corner from Columbia's medical center—that just happens to be a world-class facility.
“Today, there were some pros there, and seeing that inspired me to keep doing what I was doing,” Iheukwumere said.
The first gun goes off at 11:30 a.m. Friday.
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