The 4x400 team of Chanell Smith, Ana Groff, Trisha-Ann Hawthorne and Phylicia George placed third in the indoor track & field conference championship. Photo © by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
NEW YORK CITY – The UConn men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams, both two-time Big East defending champions, each struck out in a bid to make three straight conference titles.
The Villanova women, displaying a great finishing kick, streaked past front-running Louisville in the next-to-last event of the two-day meet (Feb. 20-21), to win their first league title in 10 years.
The Notre Dame men traveled a different path to their fourth crown in eight years, building what proved to be an insurmountable lead early and maintaining that status quo throughout the meet.
The Irish had come close the past two years, yet could never quite overcome the depth of UConn Head Coach Greg Roy’s squad.
But that wasn’t the case this past weekend as the Huskies struggled to finish fifth.
Although relinquishing their crown, the Connecticut women did finish on the podium in third place.
Tynisha McMillian took third in the shot put and Victoria Flowers came in third in the weight throw. Photo © by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
Head coach Bill Morgan said a growing injury list meant that those members of the team who did participate in the meet would have had to have performed at peak level to give the Huskies a shot at their third straight title.
“We felt that everyone we brought [to the meet] had to PR [turn in a personal record] for us to win the championship,” he said. “And practically everyone did PR; we certainly did maximize our efforts, today. This was a true team effort.”
But it wasn’t enough to hold off the Wildcats, who tallied 115 points, followed by Louisville with 107 and Connecticut with 84 points.
Despite slipping into third place, Morgan said he was quite satisfied with the competitive balance on the team and even more pleased with the way the athletes respond to his staff’s instructions.
UConn women's head coach Bill Morgan, far left, huddles with other coaches to choose the outstanding performers. Photo © by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
“I love the attitude on this team,” he said. “The culture we’ve created here is right where I’d like it to be. After coming in third, after winning it two times and placing in third four years ago, I think we’ve made ourselves a championship team,” Morgan said.
On the men’s side, Notre Dame vaulted out to a quick lead early Sunday morning that they never relinquished.
After finishing tantalizingly close to first-place in the past two Big East championships, they finally got over the Husky hurdle, as it were, and won the Irish’s fourth league title in the past eight seasons.
“The first event [Sunday morning] was the 1000-meter and we finished 1-2-6 and that set the tone that, ‘Hey, we’re here to compete,’” said Notre Dame Head Coach Joe Piane.
“Then the next event was the 800-meter and we finish 2-3-and-boom! Two events and we’ve got a 34-point lead and no one could really match that the rest of the day. It was exciting,” Piane said.
Notre Dame senior sprinter Jack Howard said his teammates performed “above and beyond what was expected. We fell just short of UConn the past two years, so I guess third time is the charm,” he said.
Notre Dame finished with a whopping 146.5 points, outdistancing second-place Georgetown’s 104. Louisville came in third with 93 points followed by Villanova at 76.5 and Connecticut placed fifth with 75.5 points.
Big effort by Scott Johnson
The Huskies might not have even finished fifth, if it hadn’t been for a valiant effort by runner Scott Johnson, a sophomore from Old Lyme.
Sophomore Scott Johnson ran a clutch anchor leg to help UConn take third in the 4x800-meter relay. Photo © by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
Johnson, running the anchor leg of the 4×800-meter relay, found himself in fourth place, a little behind a Georgetown runner, as they headed for the wire.
Digging deep into a reserve even he probably didn’t know he had, Scott nipped his opponent at the wire, and earned his team a third-place finish by 200ths of a second.
“We had talked about getting on the podium [winning a medal] in at least one event in the meet and that hadn’t happened. So, when I had that one last guy in front of me, I saw this as a way to get all of us on the podium today,” said Johnson, who attributed his strong finishing kick “to an extra incentive because of the other guys on my shoulders.”
Brothers on the podium
Johnson was one of eight UConn men who earned All-Big East honors, including two sets of brothers.
Alex and Tim Bennatan, along with Dan Holst, joined Johnson on the podium for their third-place finish in the 4×800 relay.
In the heptathlon, Jake Waruch recorded a personal-best combined point total of 5,094 which was good for second place and brother Ben placed third with a score of 4,968.
Happy hepthathloners Ben (center) and Jake (right) with their parents Claudia and David Waruch. Photo © by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
“Ben and Jake had lifetime performances today,” said UConn Assistant Coach Rich Miller, who oversees multi-event performers for Head Coach Greg Roy.
“They really stepped up for us and took over as leaders from start to finish” he said of the 10-event heptathlon.
Also winning third-place medals for the Huskies were Kevin Steinberg in the 200-meter dash, with a personal best of 21.72 seconds and Jamaal Smith, who also had a personal best, 15.15 meters in the triple jump.
“This was a good meet, the team is heading in a good direction,” said Jake Waruch.
Women coaches still rare
An interesting fact is that of the 16 schools in the Big East – 32 squads in all, counting men and women – there are only two female coaches: Gina Procaccio, who led Villanova to the 2010 title, and Cincinnati’s Susan Seaton.
The 4x800 meter relay team of Leah Andrianos, Brigitte Mania, Meghan Cunningham and Heather Wilson took second place. At right is distance coach Andrea Grove-McDonough. Photo © by Vito J. Leo for HTNP.com Sports
“I wish there were more, but it’s hard out there for women,” Procaccio said.
“I’m glad there are at least two of us, because it’s a good role model for female athletes,” Seaton said… female athletes who may someday perform at the world-class level where UConn junior Trisha-Ann Hawthorne continues to compete.
Hawthorne came away from the Big East Championships with a pair of gold medals, and set school records in both the 60-meter and 200-meter dash with times among the top 10 in the nation.
Three-time All-American Carin Knight placed first in the high jump, Tynisha McMillian took third in the shot put, Victoria Flowers came in third in the weight throw and Phylicia George placed third in the 60-meter hurdles.
The 4×800 meter relay – with Leah Andrianos, Brigitte Mania, Meghan Cunningham and Heather Wilson – took second place, while the 4×400 team of Chanell Smith, Ana Groff, Hawthorne and George placed third.
The conference championship was held at The Armory, a track and field center located in Manhattan’s upper west side.
Posted Feb. 24, 2010