CHICAGO – After strong seasons from both University of Chicago men's and women's track and field teams a year ago, longtime Head Coach Chris Hall sees more success ahead for the Maroons as the squads get set to kick off their 2018 seasons.
The teams make their indoor season debut Saturday, as the Maroons host the Phoenix Invitational at Henry Crown Field House on Jan. 13. Other home meets include the indoor Windy City Invitational on Feb. 3 and the indoor Margaret Bradley Invitational on Feb. 17. Outdoor season begins at Augustana College on Mar. 31.
WOMEN'S TEAM PREVIEW
On the women's side, a return to championship form could be in store. The last indoor league title came in 2015 and the lone outdoor championship occurred in the same season.
"I believe this is one of the strongest teams we've had in my tenure at Chicago," said Hall, now in his 17th season for the Maroons. "We have a number of athletes returning this season with NCAA experience and a lot of point scorers from the UAA conference meetings coming back.
"Both in terms of out-front scoring ability and very good team depth, this team should match up well against the majority of the competition we see this season."
Back for the Maroon women – who finished runner-up to University Athletic Association rival Washington University – St. Louis in both the 2017 indoor and outdoor championships – are six league event champions and 14 national qualifiers. Four NCAA Division III All-Americans highlight that class of returners, including senior Khia Kurtenbach (fifth, indoor 5,000 meters and sixth, indoor 3,000 meters); sophomore Robin Peter (eighth, indoor 60-meter hurdles); sophomore Alisha Harris (eighth, 4x400 outdoor relay); and junior Emma Koether (eighth, 4x400 outdoor relay).
Kurtenbach is fresh off the school's second-ever NCAA Division III cross country national championship this past fall and captured both indoor and outdoor 5,000 meter UAA titles a year ago. She, along with seniors Olivia Cattau (4x400 indoor relay and outdoor heptathlon national qualifier), Megan Verner-Crist (indoor distance medley relay and outdoor 1,500 meter national qualifier) and Cassidy McPherson (indoor distance medley relay national qualifier) will be looked to for team leadership.
Others to watch include 2017 UAA Rookies of the Year in Laura Darcey (outdoor) and Harris (indoor), who captured their respective league titles in the long jump as first-years a season ago. Rounding out the returning UAA champs for the women are Alexandra Thompson (indoor high jump), Ade Ayoola (outdoor high jump) and Claire Costelloe (10,000 meters).
MEN'S TEAM PREVIEW
On the men's side, it's the team's skill across the board that has Hall looking to another strong season in University Athletic Association competition.
The Maroons took third and fourth, respectively, in the 2017 UAA indoor and outdoor championships, earning seven total event titles and 24 All-UAA student-athletes. Four of those champions are back, with senior Nathan Downey (indoor 200 meters), senior Patrick LeFevre (indoor 55-meter hurdles), senior Obinnaya Wamuo (outdoor 400 meter hurdles) and the 2017 Indoor Rookie of the Year, indoor shot put champion and now sophomore Alexander Scott.
"Our men's team is very complete," Hall said of the 2018 edition of the Maroons. "I don't think we have a weakness or an event that we won't be able to score in at the UAA level – in other words, our greatest strength may be the balance we have on our team."
The veteran coach will lean on team leaders Jacob Amiri (All-UAA in the 4x800 relay), Downey and Ben Chaimberg (All-UAA in indoor/outdoor 4x400 relay and indoor distance medley relay) – to name a few – to maintain UChicago's solid team culture, as well as help an emerging first-year group that could make waves in conference competition in their rookie campaigns.
"We have a very good first-year class, and we saw this a lot in cross country with people like Ryan Cutter and Jordan Olson performing at an All-UAA level," said Hall. "We have a good freshmen class of sprinters as well (Anthony Kies, Nike Reid, Turner Corbett and Jack Renton) who ran very competitive times in high school and would indicate they could really help us this year."