TRACK: Personal bests big boost for conference

Amber North

No home meets.

No indoor track.

No problem.

The Hilltopper track team competed all its meets at other sites — four at Middle Tennessee State — but still managed to maintain a strong program throughout the season.

The team ended its season last weekend at MTSU, and on March 1, the team hopes to start a stronger beginning in the Sun Belt championships in Jonesboro, Ark.

With just two weeks to prepare for the grand finale, the Hilltoppers are gearing for a highly-anticipated finish. And the key performers may already be on track to success.

After missing last week’s Indiana Invitational, senior Olga Cronin came back to the track strong. She improved her own conference-leading time in the 3,000-meter run with a time of 9:53.02, earning her a win in the event.

Sophomore Cara Nichols continues to excel as she ran a career-best in the mile (4:58.53).

For the men’s sprinters, the story of the meet was sophomore Brad Eickhoff, who recorded two new personal best times in the 55-meter dash (6.51) and the 200-meter dash (21.76).

“He ran the best race of his short collegiate career,” head coach Curtiss Long said, smiling.

The return of throwing giant Raigo Toompu from wrist and rib injuries also had Long grinning.

The sophomore took home both shot put and weight throw wins, followed by freshman Kristo Galeta in the shot.

Increasing her mark by two feet in the weight throw, freshman Angie Gardner thrust a career-best 42 foot, 9-inch throw to finish third. Junior Matt Moore tied his personal best jump of 14.6 meters in the pole vault.

The plethora of personal-best performances throughout the season should boost the team’s morale as one of the toughest competitors in the conference.

Although the team has only competed against MTSU and Arkansas State in Sun Belt contention, Long said he and the team have been keeping track of who to watch, just to have an idea.

“MTSU is the prohibited favorite on the men’s,” Long said. “Beyond that, Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, ASU and Western are teams that appear to have the best shot.”

Junior distance runner David Altmaier said the team needs to watch out for everyone because all teams will try to bring their “A-game” in the championships.

Sophomore distance teammate Joseph Van Zee agrees, and said as long as the team works hard, they’ll do a good job.

The women’s distance will be contested by Arkansas-Little Rock, who also consist of strong distance runners. But Western won’t take it easy on its opponents.

“We’re one of those teams that can stir the pot,” he said. “Olga, Bonita (Paul) and Cara will be carrying the team flag, but everyone will have to be contributors.”

Every team needs athletes who are willing to step up, and Long’s bunch is no exception. He said the key to succeeding in the championship is having the “bubble” people to surpass the preliminaries and make it to the finals.

“Prelims are hard and performers have to be ready to produce,” Long said. “If not, you will be a spectator at the meet.”

Reach Amber North at [email protected]

Slug: S.Track.2.20

hed:

edits:KGH, Jmike, ew

where can we reach you:

By Amber North

Herald reporter

No home meets.

No indoor track.

No problem.

The Hilltopper track team competed all its meets at other sites — four at Middle Tennessee State — but still managed to maintain a strong program throughout the season.

The team ended its season last weekend at MTSU, and on March 1, the team hopes to start a stronger beginning in the Sun Belt championships in Jonesboro, Ark.

With just two weeks to prepare for the grand finale, the Hilltoppers are gearing for a highly-anticipated finish. And the key performers may already be on track to success.

After missing last week’s Indiana Invitational, senior Olga Cronin came back to the track strong. She improved her own conference-leading time in the 3,000-meter run with a time of 9:53.02, earning her a win in the event.

Sophomore Cara Nichols continues to excel as she ran a career-best in the mile (4:58.53).

For the men’s sprinters, the story of the meet was sophomore Brad Eickhoff, who recorded two new personal best times in the 55-meter dash (6.51) and the 200-meter dash (21.76).

“He ran the best race of his short collegiate career,” head coach Curtiss Long said, smiling.

The return of throwing giant Raigo Toompu from wrist and rib injuries also had Long grinning.

The sophomore took home both shot put and weight throw wins, followed by freshman Kristo Galeta in the shot.

Increasing her mark by two feet in the weight throw, freshman Angie Gardner thrust a career-best 42 foot, 9-inch throw to finish third. Junior Matt Moore tied his personal best jump of 14.6 meters in the pole vault.

The plethora of personal-best performances throughout the season should boost the team’s morale as one of the toughest competitors in the conference.

Although the team has only competed against MTSU and Arkansas State in Sun Belt contention, Long said he and the team have been keeping track of who to watch, just to have an idea.

“MTSU is the prohibited favorite on the men’s,” Long said. “Beyond that, Louisiana-Lafayette, North Texas, ASU and Western are teams that appear to have the best shot.”

Junior distance runner David Altmaier said the team needs to watch out for everyone because all teams will try to bring their “A-game” in the championships.

Sophomore distance teammate Joseph Van Zee agrees, and said as long as the team works hard, they’ll do a good job.

The women’s distance will be contested by Arkansas-Little Rock, who also consist of strong distance runners. But Western won’t take it easy on its opponents.

“We’re one of those teams that can stir the pot,” he said. “Olga, Bonita (Paul) and Cara will be carrying the team flag, but everyone will have to be contributors.”

Every team needs athletes who are willing to step up, and Long’s bunch is no exception. He said the key to succeeding in the championship is having the “bubble” people to surpass the preliminaries and make it to the finals.

“Prelims are hard and performers have to be ready to produce,” Long said. “If not, you will be a spectator at the meet.”

BEGINTAL Reach Amber North at [email protected]