Sports

Men’s track and field team competes at Nationals

Four-person relay team finishes ninth, named Second Team All-Americans in league

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, March 15, 2018

On Friday, members of the men’s track and field team competed at the NCAA Indoor National Championships for the first time in 16 years. Zac Lanigan ’20, co-captain Tosin Oyewole ’18, co-captain Zack Emrich ’18 and Martin Martinez ’18 competed in the distance medley relay, which consists of 1,200-, 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter legs, in that order.

Brown’s relay team qualified as the last seed of 12 but ultimately exceeded expectations to finish ninth overall in a time of 9:40.24. For their achievement, the team was named Second Team All-Americans, falling short of First Team honors by just one place. Virginia Tech claimed victory in 9:30.76.

Still, Brown’s relay members were not totally satisfied with their Second Team All-American status.

“If you … told us last year at this time that we would be the ninth best DMR in the nation, we would’ve been ecstatic — jumping up and down,” Martinez said. “But to be honest, I think everyone was pretty disappointed. … But I think we’re pretty happy with the way we competed, the way we executed what we had to do. It just wasn’t in the cards.”

Bruno’s DMR ambitions fell into doubt just two weeks before Nationals, when Lanigan suffered a serious respiratory injury en route to a runner-up finish in the 1,000 meters at the Ivy League Indoor Heptagonal Championships on Feb. 25.

“It was an absolute washing machine for the first four laps. Everyone was just throwing elbows, cutting each other off,” Lanigan said. “It was a really rough race. I tried to go with the move, but due to all the roughness in the race and my preparation beforehand, I just didn’t have it there on the last lap.” Gritting his teeth, Lanigan arrived at the exchange zone in 11th position overall; his 1,200-meter time was 2:59.14.

After receiving the stick from Lanigan, Oyewole — Brown’s 400-meter man — had to negotiate a human traffic jam before he could reach open space. “It was definitely hectic. A lot of pushing going on at the handoff line,” Oyewole said.

The senior engaged in a pitched duel for 10th place with Alvin Westbrook of the University of Mississippi. The two sprinted neck-and-neck for 300 meters, but Oyewole shifted into high gear around the final curve.

“The last 100 I was able to pass him,” Oyewole said. “That felt pretty good — to improve a spot and be able to pass someone on the national level.”

Oyewole had covered his leg in 48.67 seconds and handed off to Emrich just 0.75 seconds behind ninth-place Wisconsin. But that seemingly insignificant time differential translated into a 10-meter gap on the track, leaving Emrich to run solo behind.

“In the 800, you really don’t want to be out in no-man’s land running alone — that’s pretty much a recipe for disaster,” Emrich said. “I definitely overcooked it in the first 200 (meters). I think I went out in 24.4 (seconds) or something like that, which is way, way, way too fast.” Ultimately, the pack eluded Emrich, who recorded a time of 1:49.99 as he brought the baton around in tenth position.

And so it came to pass that Brown’s anchor, Martinez, began his 1,600-meter leg two seconds and two places outside of the top eight. If he could pass two rivals and hang on for the rest of the race, the Bears would return to Providence with First Team All-American trophies. Given the quality of the field, however, it would be extremely difficult to make up so much ground and then defend it.

“Tactically, it was tough,” Martinez said. “You’re presented with a lot of choices: whether to catch right away or whether to slowly try to catch and not blow your load too soon. That was challenging.”

Martinez opted for an aggressive approach, covering his first lap in roughly 28 seconds.

“I was proud that he was able to keep his poise and chip away at that lead,” said Head Coach Tim Springfield. “It’s not easy to chase down some of the best milers in the country when you have a little bit of a deficit.”

Martinez hopped on the train just as the University of New Mexico’s Josh Kerr, the reigning NCAA indoor mile champ, fell off. “He wasn’t feeling very good,” Martinez recalled. “I could hear him laboring in the race. It was cool to beat a guy like that.”

In the end, Brown crossed the line roughly five seconds behind eighth-place finisher Villanova University. “I know I could have run a lot faster if we were presented with a different racing situation, where I didn’t have to chase and I didn’t have to go out as hard,” Martinez said. “But (my time) was 4:02 — a good effort. I’m not disappointed with it.”

Springfield was pleased with his athletes’ individual performances. “I was extremely proud,” he said. “Some of the guys got the baton in a little bit of a tough spot, but they ran tactically savvy, and when it got hard at the end, they ran really, really tough.”

It is unclear where and when the Bears will begin the spring outdoor track season, as the team’s performance could open opportunities to compete at some of the country’s top meets.

“I would never have thought at this time last year we would be at Indoor Nationals. So hopefully we’re at Outdoor Nationals,” Lanigan said.