With split squads at both of last weekend’s races, the men and women of Cornell track and field showed strong performances. The Red managed to make significant advances as a team at the Sykes-Sabock Challenge Cup — hosted by Penn St. — the Ithaca College Bomber Invitational and the New York Armory Invitational.
Ranked No. 27 in the nation and first in the Northeast Region, the men sent athletes to all three races. Individually, the team members set personal bests and broke both school and league records. However, their competition still managed to pull ahead.
Senior Tobe Attah, a staff writer for The Sun, attributed the low placing in the race to the split squad strategy.
“We sent a small contingent of distance runners to the Sykes-Sabock Invitational. Instead of competing for a team title, our coaches knew the competitive level of distance events [at Sykes-Sabock] would be more intense than races at the Armory,” he explained.
At Sykes-Sabock, the men placed fifth out of the five teams competing, with competition including Penn St., Binghamton, Liberty and Maryland-Baltimore County. However, the distance runners and throwers that were sent to Sykes-Sabock made up for this with strides in their personal performances.
Standouts include senior Will Gibson and junior James Smith with personal bests in the 600 meter race, as well senior and 2016 Olympian Rudy Winkler breaking the weight throw records at Cornell, the Sykes-Sabock facility and the Ivy League as a whole.
Head coach Adrian Durant was not surprised with what the men — especially Winkler — accomplished.
“I was at the Olympics when Rudy was there, and I think at this point for me the expectation is that he’s going to win the national championship … I don’t want to downplay what he did, but … [i]t’s because his goals are so big that — for me at least — it was expected that he was going to do that.”
The women’s track and field team experienced a similar set of results at Sykes-Sabock, also without a full team in attendance at the races. Out of the six teams competing, the Red placed third.
“For the people that we brought to the competition it was very good,” said head coach Richard Bowman. “I think we would’ve done a little bit better, had we had a full squad. We were really pleased with the group that we took, we thought we did a great job.”
In throw, sophomore Leena Morris made a seasonal best and for the third week in a row, junior Taylor Baker achieved a personal best. All three of Cornell’s competitors in the event exceeded the ECAC standard. This strength in the throwing events was shown on both days of the Cup, and on Friday that success continued into the Distance Medley Relay with the two teams hitting the ECAC standard.
Back in New York, the men’s team sent its sprinters, jumpers and hurdlers to the Armory Invitational. Durant laid out a specific reasoning for his choices in how he split the men’s team between the multi-event weekend.
“Since the [Ivy League] conference meet is going to be at the New York Armory, it’s a banked track so it makes sense to send guys who’d be going around the bank — 200 meter runners and whatnot — to that meet, whereas other event groups where it’s not as important to see that track again,” he said.
Placing eighth out of the 31 teams competing, the men feel quite satisfied with their results at the Armory.
“Considering we only took about twelve guys or so, I would say placing eighth among 31 teams is pretty good!” Attah said. “Not all athletes had the performances they wanted, but we are at least staying on the right track to have even stronger performances moving forward.”
One of the more notable performances came from a tandem of four freshmen — Ben Fields, Vanzel Burnett, James Norris and Andy Snyder — in the 4×400 meter relay. Not only did they come in first at one of the most prestigious invitationals, but they broke the Cornell freshman record for that event.
The consensus about that win was simple. It shows a positive outlook for the team in the future.
“These boys are looking fast very early, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take down the all-time Cornell 4x400m record in years to come,” Attah said.
Now both teams are off to the Fastrack Invitational in Staten Island and the Robert J. Kane Invitational here on home turf. History has served the Red well in recent years for these specific races. Last year, the Kane Invitational was considered to be the strongest weekend of the season for the women and for the men, and led to 11 event victories, 23 IC4A qualifiers and five top-10 all-time performances in school history. Fastrack generally led to several broken school records for the Red overall.
Both teams are feeling strong and confident about this upcoming weekend’s races, focusing more of their strategic energy on HEPS.
The Red is taking the season one weekend at a time, with the majority of the emphasis placed at the end of this month. Bowman summarized these feelings as he described the rest of the season for the women.
“Sometimes you work really hard, and you have to kind of rest up a little bit and take your notes and then you get better a week or later,” he said. “We feel like we’re in a really good place; we’re happy with where we’re at. People have continued to improve, and we’re just taking it one week at a time as our goal and not getting too far ahead of ourselves.”