“Anyone need to train for miles—you know who to get in touch with.”
Thus spoke the announcer at Saturday's Lions Invitational after the Light Blue men dominated the mile for the third heat in a row. Competitors would be wise to take up his advice, as the men's distance runners propelled the track and field team to a commanding performance at its host meet.
The men, as usual, shined in the long events, winning the 800- and 1,000-meter dashes and taking five of the top eight spots in the mile. The women continued to excel in the sprints, with first-place finishes in the 200- and 400-meter dashes and the 4x400 relay. Both the men and the women won the triple jump.
Without combined team rankings, there was no definitive winner at the end of the evening, but the Lions came out ahead against their two Ivy competitors, Penn and Princeton, in most events.
“Across the board we had so many kids compete at such a high level,” head coach Willy Wood said. “We just wanted to keep getting better each week, and we're doing that significantly so by the day.”
It was the first big meet of the season for a lot of the team's stars. Only two Light Blue men raced in the mile last week, but 17 ran it on Saturday, coming out near the top heat after heat. First place went to a familiar face—Kyle Merber, CC '12, who is running full-time with the New Jersey/New York Track Club.
“The seniors and their leaders now are the guys that we had taken under my wing so it's cool seeing them run so fast,” said Merber, who runs with the Lions about three times a week as a volunteer assistant coach.
Even Merber, who set an American collegiate record in the 1,500 meters his senior year, was impressed with the team's progress.
“My freshman year I ran 4:05 and that was a huge deal. Tonight we had multiple guys destroy 4:05,” he said. “It's cool to see the standard of excellence at Columbia has just completely been raised.”
Senior John Gregorek, coming in just behind Merber at 4:01.65, was pleased with the team's results in the mile.
“The race went a little differently than we expected, but I think we rolled with it nicely, in every heat,” he said.
Another bright spot of the evening was senior Trina Bills, setting a new school record in the 800 at 2:07.04. And in a 4x4 where Columbia and the University at Albany kept trading the lead, Bills, in the anchor position, took off in the final 100 meters to get the win.
Sophomore Jaycee Parker, who was part of the winning 4x4, was almost chased down in her solo 400-meter dash by a University of Maryland runner, but she held onto the lead to win in 55.65 seconds, an indoor personal best.
“I think we had good competition today, especially with some teams that we'll be competing against [in Heps],” Parker said.
Heps—the Ivy League championships—are just a month away. “I'm just trying to really get prepared, get in the mindset, and see what the other girls are looking like,” she said.
With a majority of the team turning out to run or assist with the meet, Heps is squarely on everyone's mind.
“Everyone's just very excited now,” Wood said. “We traditionally get better week by week—we start off a little bit slow but get better as the season progresses. Once they get a glimpse of it and realize it's coming, it usually snowballs pretty intensely from there. I think we're going to be good to go.”
The Lions are in action again next weekend for their third straight meet at the Armory, the prestigious New Balance Collegiate Invitational.