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No. 1 women’s track and field dominates I-55 Triangular Meet while No. 22 men’s team finishes second

| Junior Sports Editor

The WashU women’s 4x400m relay team competes earlier in the season. (RHIT Athletics)

The Washington University men’s and women’s track & field teams competed at the I-55 Triangular meet, setting twelve new top 100 marks in Division III across 12 events on Jan. 20. Four of those marks, set by senior Ebun Opata in the triple jump, first-year Peter Lichtenberger and junior Yasmin Ruff in the pole vault, and the women’s 4×400-meter relay team, sit in the top three nationally. 

In a competitive field consisting of the Bears, who have dominated the University Athletic Association (UAA) for over three years, Elmhurst University, and Illinois Wesleyan University, the women’s team put in an impressive  performance. They tallied 112 points to win the meet by over 60 points. The men’s team placed second with 85.5 points, just shy of Illinois Wesleyan’s 88.

On Jan. 23, just three days after the meet, the women’s team clocked in as Division III’s best team in the first national rankings of the indoor season. The men’s team was also honored in their respective top 25, slotting in at No. 22.

Notching nationally ranked times and distances at early season meets is crucial for the Bears’ runners, jumpers, and throwers to be invited to the NCAA Championship in March. Only the 20 best athletes who declare to race in each event will be invited.

“Both sides have a lot to be excited about but it’s really early,” head coach Jeff Stiles said about the team’s result. “I mean it’s January 20, so we have a long time before conference and nationals. So, we’re just trying to get work in, but it was very encouraging for sure.”

These meets, according to Stiles, are also a great opportunity for athletes, like senior Emma Kelley, to hone their craft. Kelley, who won both the indoor and outdoor national titles in the 800-meter run last year and currently holds the fastest time in Division III in the event, worked on her top-end speed racing the 400-meter run. On Saturday, she won the shorter race, posting the sixth-fastest time in Division III this season at 57.37 seconds.

The Bears got off to a hot start with seniors Ally Sarussi, who raced the 800-meter leg in last year’s national runner-up distance medley relay, and Will Houser winning the 1200-meter run with respective times of 3:38.28 and 3:06.17.

From there, the Bears didn’t look back, winning 16 of the next 28 events.

On the track, the Bear’s dominance continued with sophomore Jasmine Wright winning the 60-meter dash and junior Nicole Stewart placing second in both the 60-meter and 200-meter races.

Graduate student Danielle Schultz, who holds the ninth fastest time in DIII, won the 800-meter run with a time of 2:17.48, while junior Izzy Horton placed second with a time of 2:17.92, the 11th fastest this season.

In the one-mile run, the distance squad showed their depth, with junior Matthew Hornung leading the Bears to clinch nine out of the top ten finishes with a time of 4:21.02, the 69th fastest time in DIII. 

The distance squad rounded out the meet in the 3000-meter run, with both the men’s and women’s teams sweeping the podium. All three women, sophomores Jillian Heth and Katie Rector and senior Avery McCammon, posted impressive times placing them within the top 100 nationally.

In the last running event, the women’s 4×400-meter relay team of sophomore Kylie Spytek, first-year Cate Christopher, Schultz, and Kelley, set the third fastest time in DIII, winning the event by almost eight seconds with a time of 3:56.62.

The Bears continued their stellar form in the field, highlighted by the performances of Opata, Lichtenberger, and Ruff.

The Bears’ pole vaulters were able to combine for five out of six spots on the men’s and women’s podiums. Lichtenberger’s vault of 4.95 meters and Ruff’s of 3.90 meters were both good enough to count as the second-best marks in DIII this season.

The fact that first-year Lichtenberger was able to compete right alongside his teammates was more important than his performance.

“It means significantly less to me that I got such a high bar than the fact that this was the first time I ever had teammates who were at these bars with me. So that was awesome,” the Massachusetts native said.

Senior Tommaso Maiocco, whose second-place finish in the event was also enough to propel him into the top ten in DIII, was one such teammate.

Like Lichtenberger and Ruff, Opata’s winning jump of 12.11 meters in the triple jump places her amongst the top three athletes in the nation.

In the long jump, Opata continued her winning form, with first-year Olivia Theisen and Maya Davis placing second and third respectively. On the men’s side, senior Solomon Kang came out victorious with a jump of 6.57 meters, and sophomore Carson Page placed third, only 0.31 meters behind.

The team takes to the track again on Jan. 26 in Terre Haute, Indiana at the Friday Night Spikes Series #2, one of five meets until the UAA Championship in late February.

Over these next five meets, Lichtenberger is looking to develop more consistency in his jumps.

“Even if you jump really well just one time, it doesn’t matter unless you can repeat that over and over and make small adjustments,” he said. “So on my best jumps I can jump much higher than I already have. But, I need to make those jumps, every jump.”

Stiles has two goals for the team during the meets leading up to the UAA and NCAA Championships: for each athlete to improve specific aspects of their events and grow closer as a team. One such way the team has achieved this is through what he called “speed dating” on the bus ride back from Illinois, where runners moved around the bus asking each other questions, getting to better know each other, and growing closer as a team.

“So, some of it’s very specific to their performance and then some of it is more community-based, or we’re just trying to grow where we know each other better,” Stiles said. “Because you’re going to be able to perform at a higher level, the more connected you feel [as a team].”

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