March 14, 2007

M. Track Aims for Fifth Straight Outdoor Heps

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After closing out the indoor track season in spectacular fashion by winning the ECAC championships for the first time in 77 years, the Cornell men’s track team will switch gears and kick off its outdoor season this weekend.

The defending outdoor conference champions, however, are playing with a chip on its’ shoulder. Coming off a second-place finish to Princeton in the indoor Heps, the Red’s top priority is to avenge its loss with a fifth straight conference title.

Sophomore Erik Roneker anchors the Red in the throw events and will get the chance to showcase his versatility by participating in three events this spring — the shot-put, discus, and hammer-throw. The sophomore — who emerged as a conference-level competitor only this indoor season — is expected to be a big addition to the throwing squad, which garnered zero points from the throw events last year.

“My goal is to score as many points as possible in the Heps and to qualify for Nationals,” Roneker said. “I learned a lot from last year, in terms of learning how to compete and dealing with the pressure.”

The Red will be favored to continue its dominance in the jump events this season. Junior Muhammad Halim, who finished second in the triple jump at the NCAA Indoor chapionships this past weekend, will be threatened by classmate Rayon Taylor, who finished fifth. Both will also participate in the long jump this spring, contending for the league title.

“We’ve always had very good jumpers, and Muhammad and Rayon should continue that this year,” said assistant coach Robert Johnson.

The Red will gain an advantage on league rival Princeton with the inclusion of the 400-meter hurdles, an event unique to the outdoor season. Senior Kolby Hoover juniors Adam Seabrook, and Aaron Merrill and freshman Mike Kippins are some of the conference’s top runners in the event.

“Princeton is still very strong in the distance events, including the 5K and the 10K, but we might have all of the top-4 finishers in the 400 hurdles,” Johnson said.

One of those distance events, the 3K, is replaced in the outdoor season with the steeplechase — an event won by senior Brad Baird in 2006. A repeat in 2007 could give the Red the advantage it needed in the indoor Heps to get past Princeton, where it suffered a three-point loss.

Junior Jimmy Wyner has made it his goal to win the 800-meter and 500-meter events this season after a disappointing 2006. Like several other Red players, Wyner’s ultimate goal is to reach Nationals in Sacramento this June.

“I’ve been doing a lot of high-mileage running recently to improve my fitness for the outdoor season,” Wyner said.

Other Red players in the hunt for an Ivy title this spring are sophomore Garrett Huyler and senior David Pell in the high jump and senior Evan Whitehall in the pole vault.

“I don’t think we’re worse in any event this year than we were last year,” Johnson said. “But we are stronger in some events, like the throws … overall, we are better-suited for the outdoor season, I think.”