Men’s track shines at Open New Englands

On Friday and Saturday men’s track and field sent a select group of athletes to UMass Amherst to compete in the Div. I Open New England Championships. Every year, Open New England’s brings together the best athletes in New England from all divisions and is one of the last opportunities for athletes to qualify for their respective National Championships. This year’s competition saw multiple Ephs post strong qualifying marks for nationals en route to an 11th place team finish.

In the field events, Isaac Nicholson ’11 and Steve Rubin ’11 both jumped well to capture 11th in the long jump and 17th in the triple jump, respectively.

However, most of this week’s action took place on the track, beginning with an inspiring preliminary heat victory in the 400 meter dash for Taylor Fitzgerald ’11. Most impressive about Fitzgerald’s race was his time of 47.95 seconds – the sixth fastest time run in Div. III this year. This is not only a huge improvement over Fitzgerald’s previous lifetime best but is also fast enough to virtually assure him a spot at nationals. Fitzgerald would go on to finish fourth overall in Saturday’s final heat of the 400 before racing on the 4×400 meter relay team. Viktor Nagy ’12 and Rich Fusco ’12 also ran the 400, with Nagy running a provisional national qualifying time of 48.50 seconds.

Co-captain Deividas Seferis ’09 and Pierre Meloty-Kapella ’10 ran well in the short sprints, with Meloty-Kapella finishing 12th in the 100 in a time of 11.13 seconds. After recent struggles with injury, Seferis battled through the prelims and finals of the 200 to finish fifth overall.

Returning to Amherst, Stew Buck ’09 continued on his tear of great performances. Buck’s second place finish in Friday’s preliminary heat of the 400 meter hurdles was his first head-to-head loss all season, but came in a personal best time of 53.82 seconds. This is an improvement of .26 seconds on Buck’s national qualifying time from last weekend and currently ranks him 20th in the country. Buck again ran phenomenally in the finals to finish second, bringing the total number of athletes who have beaten him in the 400 hurdles this season to two.

Co-captain Macklin Chaffee ’09 moved down in distance to the 800 this week with familiar results – Chaffee finished sixth in a personal best time of 1:52.16, which ties him for fourth on Williams’ all-time list. Joining Chaffee in the 800 were Brian Cole ’11, J Koima ’12 and Geoff Rodriguez ’11 who finished 11th, 18th and 25th respectively. Cole’s time of 1:53.11, also a personal best, moves him up to 10th all-time for Williams.

Steve Van Wert ’09 continued his streak of great races by setting a personal best in the steeplechase for the fourth consecutive race to finish ninth in a time of 9:32. In the 5k, Brendan Christian ’09 finished eighth while All-American Jeff Perlis ’10 was forced to drop out due to injury.

Capping off the successful day for the Ephs was the third place finish by the 4×400 meter relay team of Seferis, Nagy, Fitzgerald and co-captain Alex Hoerman ’09. The team strung together four great legs to finish in a time of 3:13.42, only .14 seconds slower than the 13-year-old school record. “We have been waiting all year to prove to our teammates and to ourselves what we are truly capable of – we were finally able to show the true depth and talent this team has to offer,” Fitzgerald said.

Many athletes stood out this week, but perhaps none more so than Fitzgerald. “Taylor was awesome in all three of his 400 meter performances; more than that, he showed great leadership off the track all weekend,” Buck said. “I’m proud of the way he’s developed as an athlete and teammate.”

Assistant Coach Mitchell Baker was equally impressed by Fitzgerald’s and the whole team’s performance. “Despite the long seasons and the energy used in the more team-oriented championships of the previous weeks, the men continue to compete exceptionally well,” Baker said.

Next weekend, those athletes still chasing national qualifying marks will head to ECACs at Springfield College, while others will rest in preparation for the National Championships which takes place May 21-23 in Marietta, Ohio.