UAA royalty: Track claims indoor conference championship

| Junior Editor

The track teams pose with their conference tournament trophies after both teams took the UAA team titles. (Photos from the Athletic Department)

With a conference championship title on the line, junior distance runner Will Houser had his work cut out for him in the 1-mile race. It was anyone’s race, with people knocking and pushing each other from the line.  But then, the race turned tactical.

“Normally, the way that [1-mile races] play out is that everyone just sort of goes out hard and tries to run a personal best,” said Houser. “But this race was tactical. The first 800 meters of the mile was pretty slow. We ended up going out in 2:02, which [was] on pace to be 20 seconds behind my personal best.”

As a result of this slow start, Houser and his competitors had a much steeper hill to climb after the first laps of the race.

 “The second 800 [-meter] race was just totally different. It ended up being pretty intense. A lot of movement and a lot of people pushing and knocking each other.” 

But through the effort to try to get ahead of the pack, the junior, who considers himself an 800-meter specialist, stayed composed to take the Men’s UAA Indoor 1-mile title with a time of 4 minutes and 16.45 seconds.

“By the time we got to that last lap, I knew I had it in me, because I’m an 800-meter runner,” he said. “I knew I had the fastest speed going into that last lap.”

The WashU men’s and women’s track and field team took the 2023 UAA indoor titles home this past weekend. After a series of impressive performances, they earned the most points to cement their place as the Kings and Queens of UAA. 

The title was the men’s third-straight UAA indoor title after totaling 144 points across all events to deny Carnegie Mellon University a win. The women, ranked second in the country, claimed their fourth-straight UAA indoor win with 194 points. They cemented their dominance in the conference while also announcing themselves to the national stage as they prepare for the NCAA Indoor Nationals meet in two weeks. 

Men’s: A UAA Three-Peat 

In a contested race for the UAA Men’s Indoor title, the Bears denied second-place Carnegie a win.

Over the course of two competition days, the Bears’ impressive performances were led by the likes of Houser, who won the 1-mile race scoring 10 points for WashU. Senior Gio Alfred took home the 60-meter hurdles title, senior Jeff Candell came second in the 3000-meter race, and senior Abayomi Awoyomi claimed the triple jump crown title. Graduate student Matt Moore had a strong weekend as he finished with 20 points after coming second in both the men’s long jump and men’s 200-meter race. Together, the five athletes combined for 94 out of the 144 total points over the weekend, including relays.

“I walked in seated third for long jump and first for triple jump,” said Awoyomi. “But a conference is not one of those things where you can just come in at what you’re seated and just expect to [remain there].”

At the meet, Awoyomi recalled having had difficulty, especially in the preliminaries. He was inspired by teammate Matt Moore’s performance in the long jump .

“It was a bit difficult for me in prelims just to get my foot down and get off the board,” he said. “But then on our final attempt, my teammate Matt Moore had to go run the 200…but did his final attempt, and got him in second [place] with a really big attempt. And so, I also got the jump in and I set a personal record in the long jump.”

Beyond the impressive individual performances, the men’s track and field team were also propelled to a championship title by its strong performances in men’s relays. A strong showing in the men’s DMR saw the Bears score big. The four-man team was made of Candell, freshman Carson Page, junior Frankie Lynch, and Houser.

“The game plan was definitely to win it,” said Houser. “We won that race last year. We definitely were hoping for a win again this year.

But as the team anchor, Houser ultimately landed the job to bring the baton home.

“I think I had about a six second gap getting into the last line,” said Houser. “Luckily [head coach Jeff] Stiles…prepared me for the situation. He told me that you gotta catch up to the guy, but do it slowly. Don’t get too excited or anything. Don’t try to burn all your energy out to him. I tried to time it the best I could and just sort of catch up to the end of the laps… Luckily, all the calculations were done and by like the 400 I could feel it.”

The Bears head to Wartburg’s Last Chance meet this weekend prior to the NCAA Indoor National Championships.

Women’s: A Fourth Straight Title

In an all around performance, the Washington University women’s track and field put its name in the UAA history book as it recorded its fourth straight indoor conference title win. Led by junior Emma Kelley, who defended her 400-meter title and set a new UAA Indoor Championship meet record with a time of 56.27 seconds, and senior Aoife Dunne who took home the 800-meter title, the Bears put up 194 total points to see themselves past a competitive University of Chicago program.

“It feels great to be the 400-meter champion in the UAA meet and to go 1 and 2 with my teammate,” said Kelley. “Since the 400-meter is the shorter of my two races, it goes by super quickly for me and I don’t have much time to think or strategize during the race. My goal beforehand was to get out of the blocks fast and take the lead by the break line so that I could hold that spot through the second lap and to the finish.”

Dunne had a huge weekend, and she too felt great about taking home a title and scoring points for her team, especially having run the mile an hour before her 800.

 “I feel really proud to be the UAA champion of the 800,” she said. “The race was a bit intimidating to me…I knew I was going to be more fatigued than the other girls in the heat so the game plan was to sit on the girls first and then kick at the end. The main goal was to beat Chicago.”

In their road to victory, WashU was led by strong individual performances in the field events. Junior Ebun Opata took home the triple jump crown with an 11.99 jump, freshman Jenae Bothe came second in the women’s shot put, and sophomore Yasmin Ruff took second place in the women’s pole vault with a 3.58 meter score.

In the running events, strong performances cemented the team win. Senior Emily Konkus came second in the 3000-meter with a time of 9:37.24, junior Charis Riebe finished 3rd in the 60-meter hurdles, sophomore Lauren Gay came second in the 200-meter event.

“I think I’m really proud of how both of my races went,” Gay said. “I think hurdles for me this semester have been just a little bit more difficult. But I was definitely proud about the 200 and then the competition has just been great all year.”

Similar to men’s, the women’s team also drew a few of its points from the relay races. The Bears finished 1st in the 4 x 400 meter relay with a time of 3:52.74 and came second in the women’s distance medley with a time of 11:41.35. The first place finish in the 4 x 400 meter race was important because throughout the two days event, WashU was neck and neck with UChicago.

“Going into this conference meet, the women’s team knew that UChicago would be our main competition, as they have a lot of strong performers all around this year,” said Kelley who anchored the eight-lap relay. “The team score ended up coming down to the 4×4, so I knew we had to win it to secure the title…the rest of the 4×4 team put me in a good spot to be able to get the baton over the finish line first.”

Similar to the men’s team, the Bears head to Wartburg’s Last Chance meet this weekend for one more meet prior to the NCAA Indoor National Championships.

“To train for nationals in two weeks, we’ll get in a couple of good workouts this week,” said Kelley. “There is going to be much more competition from all the other D3 schools that are not in our conference, and we’re competing with all of them for a chance to team score.”

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