Highlighted by a sweep in the men’s heptathlon, UConn men’s and women’s track and field teams put on an impressive showing at the Dr. Sander Columbia Challenge over the weekend. The multi-event trio of Jordan Torney, Benjamin Grosse and Nicholas Pronovost highlighted the weekend’s performances after a dominant display over the two days. The trio held the top three positions at the conclusion of the first of a the two-day discipline, before returning on Saturday to complete the sweep. Trailing in third place at the beginning of day two, team captain Torney produced a meet record-equaling performance in the 60 meters for second, won the long jump and finished third behind Grosse and Pronovost in the shot put. The trio set new personal records for total points, tallying 5423, 5297 and 5258 points respectively.
“We saw a lot of good solid performances, highlighted by the 1-2-3 finish in the men’s heptathlon,” said head coach Greg Roy.
Senior and team captain Eric Van Der Els continued to show fine form, with another win in the men’s 3000 meters, obliterating his old 8:22.78 personal record to stop the clock at 8:04.36. Junior Wellington Ventura mirrored Van Der Els’ win despite being reassigned to the men’s invitational 400 meters, with a convincing 47.94 seconds victory. Classmate Markus Bagley finished 13th overall, clocking 49.11 seconds.
Following two consecutive personal record (PR) performances in his last two races, junior Joseph O’Brien continued with yet another PR in the men’s 60 meters as he finished third and clocked 6.80 seconds, just shy of the 6.73 seconds school record. “It felt good to get another PR in the 60 [meters], I feel like I’m progressing well in it, especially being so new to the event,” O’Brien explained. “I’m not thinking about the school record, I don’t even know what it is. I just run and if I happen to get it, then perfect,” he shared. Classmate Josiah Thompson finished eighth with a 8.96 seconds performance.
The men’s sprint hurdles saw freshman Terrel Williams equaling his 7.81 personal best set two weeks ago at the Battle in Beantown, but finishing third on this occasion.
The Huskies produced another impressive display in the men’s distance medley relay, with the quartet consisting of Marzio Mastroianni, Mahamed Sharif, Stephen Sutton and Kevin Cawley finishing fourth overall with a season’s best clocking of 9:55.06.
In the field, sophomore Richmond Kwaateng finished second in the long jump with a best leap of 7.36 meters for a new personal best. Another PR performance came in the men’s triple jump, with freshman Kasey Savage producing a best jump of 14.19 meters, though he finished ninth.
UConn came out on top of a 21-team field, scoring 75 points over 17 events, ahead of host Columbia Lions, who finished with 71 points. Penn State trailed for third with 69 points, while Cornell and South Carolina rounded out the top five with 64 and 62 points respectively.
The women’s team made a tremendous improvement on their placement at the last staging of the meet, where they were 15th in an 18-team field; this time they totaled 51 points behind winners Penn State and runners up South Carolina, who finished on 116 and 80 points respectively.
“I really feel like we’re starting to come together — I felt we had a lot of cohesion and synergy as a team,” said coach Roy.
The women’s 3000 meters was the lone PR-producing track event for the Huskies, as junior Randi Burr and freshman Rachel Woodruff took big chunks off their previous best times. Burr finished seventh in 9:29.57, smashing her old career-best 9:47.34. In similar fashion, Woodruff crossed the line in 9:56.36 seconds, bettering her old career-best time by nearly seven seconds. Captain Mia Nahom anchored the women’s distance medley relay team to third in 11:15.62. The quartet was completed by freshman Chloe Thomas, who ran the lead off leg, Raquel Rosa and Elise O’Leary.
Women’s competition in the field was highlighted by junior Patricia Mroczkowski’s PR-performance in the high jump. Earning her third win in four competitions this season, the Berlin, Connecticut native topped the field with a best clearance of 1.80 meters. Making her debut as a Husky, junior Emily Lavarnway finished second in the pentathlon, totaling 3971 points, winning the shot put and long jump in the process.
Team captain Taylor Woods went back to showing true form, taking second place in the long jump with a 6.19 meters effort. Leading the field throughout the competition, Woods fouled twice on her third and fifth attempts, and was edged out on countback.
“Throughout the competition, I was first, paying no mind to my place. All I was focusing on was bettering my mark on each attempt,” said Woods. “During my final jump of prelims, that’s really when everything clicked. My run was smooth, my take off from the board was powerful, but I fouled. I’m taking this week to put the last few pieces of the puzzle together and come back next weekend and get after it,” she added. Fellow captain Emma Chee was also second in her pet event, the pole vault, with a best clearance of 4.05 meters.
UConn splits the squad next weekend for competition at the Rutgers Open, as well as the BU David Hemery Valentine Invitational.