Spartans Return from NCAA Indoor Championships

A little altitude never hurt anybody, right?

When it comes to running and competing altitude can definitely be a factor and something that six MSU track and field athletes had to face this past weekend at the NCAA Indoor Championship in Albuquerque, N.M.

By looking at their times and marks you would think that the athletes had an off weekend, but track and field is not about winning and losing. Rather this weekend was about handling adversities and spotlighting some things to work towards in the upcoming outdoor season.

The NCAA Championship is the type of event that highlights the differences track and field has compared to other sports. Teams like Oregon, Florida and Texas A&M are not only looking for individual wins, but they have enough athletes at the competition to earn team wins.

Then you have teams like MSU who do not send enough athletes to be factors in the team rankings and just want to come out with some performances to be proud of.

With both types of teams there, it can create an interesting competition environment.

“Going to the National Championship, it’s the 16 elite people in your event,” MSU head coach Walt Drenth said. “That’s a thin margin with a small amount of people. So unless you’re miserable you have to go away saying I did something that all but 16 people didn’t qualify for. And for me I think about what did we learn and how can we get better?”

The team saw three top-ten finishes, which is something to be proud of in the high intensity and skilled environment that makes up the Championship.

Tori Franklin started off well in the triple jump, but had to work through a jammed knee after her fourth jump. She finished with a mark of 13.17m which is about .40m shy of her PR.

While a fifth place finish is nothing short of impressive, her knee problems are signs of the diversity in events she has contributed to the team this season. Adding sprinting to her resume, there is no doubt her body is tired.

“She has a lot on her plate so being able to manage the season with all those events is something we are going to have to work on,” Drenth said.

Kurt Schneider also came back from some problems after hitting his trail leg on the last hurdle in the 60m hurdles heptathlon event. He finished in 12th rather than his expected top-five finish.

Schneider earned a 10th place finish overall with 5,686 points.

On the first day of competition in the weight throw, Antonio James finished in fourth with a mark of 22.42m. He struggled on the second day in the shot put, placing 16th with a mark of 17.90m.

Last year, James was second in the weight and did not even make it in the shot put. His performance this year is not only an indication of a growing competition in the weight throw, but also his growing skillset as he looks towards the outdoor season.

“I think it’s one of those things going into outdoor, we think he has a chance to score well in possible three events in the NCAA; the hammer, discus and the shot put,” Drenth said. “So him and coach Mac will go back to the drawing board and talk about what he needs to do to be successful in three straight events.”

In the distance events, Leah O’Connor, Rachele Schulist and Caleb Rhynard all had their own battle with the higher altitude of the meet.

Schulist found herself as the only freshman in the competitive 3,000-meter women’s race. Coupled with her already impressive season, Schulist may have simply been running out of steam.

Yet, her qualification is an accomplishment in itself and her 15th place finish with a time of 9:42.70 should not be a discouragement.

“For us, we talk about every experience as an opportunity to learn something and if you do, you improve, and if you don’t you kinda stay who you are,” Drenth said. “I thought it was a very valuable experience for a freshman, the only freshman in the field.”

As a talented athlete with three more seasons to go, Schulist’s experience in Albuquerque can be seen as a building block for what is to come.

In the women’s mile, O’Connor finished seventh overall with a time of 4:40.86. With 200 meters left in the race she was leading the pack but simply could not hold on.

“We knew it was a risk, we didn’t know at what point the altitude would have an effect on her,” said Drenth said. “She really pressed to run with 600 meters to go. And she just came off the run.”

There were about two seconds and six girls between her and the winner, which is a clear indication of how close the race was.

“I mean, we went in knowing we didn’t have a factor in the team title, so we’re just like lets take a chance, see if you can win and she almost pulled it off,” Drenth said. “I think she did some things well that she hasn’t in the past. And it was her first indoor nationals. In my mind I thought it went really well.”

Rhynard entered the men’s 3,000-meter race as the last qualifier. With this in mind he knew that simply beating anybody would lead to accomplishment. Posting a time of 8:19.80 and coming in 13th place overall, Rhynard should be feeling good about his performance.

Overall, MSU saw some highs and lows at their time in New Mexico, but the coaching staff saw the weekend as nothing but a good experience to use in the upcoming outdoor season.

“I can’t be disappointed in our attention, I can’t be disappointed in our effort. I thought we were fully engaged in the competition the whole time,” Drenth said.

Men’s Results                                  Women’s Results

Alexa McCarthy is the host of Last Leg for Impact Sports.

Photo: NCAA