UConn track took off for Birmingham, Alabama, on Wednesday, readying for their biggest meet so far this year: the American Athletic Conference Indoor Track Championships. The event will take place Friday and Saturday at the Birmingham Crossplex and will be streamed live on the American Digital Network.
UConn won the conference’s indoor championship in 2014, but the Huskies’ major rival Houston has taken home the trophy in all three years since. UConn came in second in the meet last year, but nobody even came close to Houston as they outscored UConn 174 points to 111.5.
The key to Houston’s dominance has been their sprinting and hurdles events. Last year, Houston took four out of the five top spots in the 60m dash. They look poised for a similar performance this year, holding six of the top nine qualifying spots.
“Their talent level in the (60m) dash and the 200, it’s monumental,” head coach Greg Roy said. “They’ve got the best sprint program in the country.”
Sprinter Elijah Hall is the ace of the Houston program, holding the top spot in the American qualifying in both the 60m and the 200m dash and ranking third and fourth in the country in those respective events. In fact, the Cougars hold two of the top-three qualifying times in the 60m hurdles and 60m dash and all three of the top spots in the 200m.
UConn will look to counteract the Cougars’ command of the short track events with their own specialty: the distance events, specifically the 3000m, the 5000m and the mile run.
Captain Mike O’Donnell holds the lowest qualifying time in the mile run with a run of 4:02.87 in the Valentine Invitational, which is almost 10 seconds lower than the winning time at last year’s AAC Indoor Championships. O’Donnell won the event as a freshman and will have a good chance to do it again now, two years later. Junior Kyle Barber is right on O’Donnell’s heels with the third-best qualifying time, joining him and three other Huskies competing in the event.
The top of the 3000m qualifying in the conference features plenty of Huskies as well. UConn athletes hold four of the best-eight qualifying times. O’Donnell holds the second-best qualifying time in the conference with an 8:12.97 run, ranking second only to Tulsa’s Benjamin Preisner, who came in third in the 3000m last year. Junior Patrick Begley holds the third best qualifying time in the event, running an 8:14.41 in the Great Dane Classic.
Begley has UConn’s best chance of winning the 5000m, as his qualifying time of 14:20.22 is good enough for second in the conference, again to Preisner. Sophomore Kyle Brackman and junior Michael McGonnigle also have top-10 qualifying times for the Huskies in the event.
The Huskies have a big freshman presence on the team this year with freshman making up 21 out of the 56 athletes qualified, and they’ll have to come up big if UConn wants to wrangle the conference title back from Houston.
“You can’t talk about winning this meet without freshmen really stepping up,” Roy said.
UConn has multiple freshmen qualified for the field events, specifically the high jump and the shot put. Freshmen Claxton Daniel and Safir Scott placed second and third in the high jump, qualifying with leaps of 2.09m and 2.08m, respectively. Freshmen Matthew Brady and Todd Stueber will represent the Huskies in the shot put.
“35-to-40 percent of our team is made up of freshman, and we still have a chance to win this thing, Roy said. “That’s a testament to the kids we have right here.”
Newcomer to the conference Wichita State might throw a wrench into UConn’s championship plans this year, as the Shockers’ strengths as a team practically mirror the Huskies’, Roy said.
Shockers athlete Hunter Veith holds the second best heptathlon score in the nation this year with a 6,023 mark and is by far the favorite in the event this weekend. UConn sophomore Jordan Torney holds the fifth place spot, qualifying with a score of 5174.
UConn jumper Malik Snead holds the top qualifying spot in both the long jump and the triple jump, but three Wichita State athletes are right on his heels in the latter event, all holding a qualifying jumps within a meter of the junior.
You can catch the live stream on the American Athletic Conference YouTube channel, and can see live results at www.xpresstiming.com/Live/2018/Indoor/American/.
Luke Swanson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.