CHICAGO – With the first meet of the season on the horizon, the University of Chicago track & field teams have lofty aspirations for 2020. The Maroons achieved high-water marks throughout 2019, with a national title and a bundle of All-American performances during the spring, followed by a pair of the most successful cross country campaigns in school history during the fall.
UChicago will look to extend that run of accolades, starting with its indoor season debut hosting the Phoenix Invitational on Saturday, Jan. 11 at Henry Crown Field House. The outdoor season kicks off on April 4 at the Wheaton College Invitational.
Head Coach Chris Hall enters his 19th year at the helm of the Maroons. When looking at his rosters, the veteran coach points to across-the-board depth as the biggest asset.
"We have a very well-balanced women's team," Hall said. "Perhaps the greatest strength from a week-to-week schedule is our ability to score in pretty much every event. We do have some events that at the NCAA level will perhaps really be highlighted by the jumps and distance events. We have three returners from the NCAAs in the jumping events (Isabel Maletich, Laura Darcey, Isabel Garon) and four returners in the distance events (Sophie Elgamal, Claire Brockway, Emma Dyer, Katilyn Van Baalen).
"Much like the women, I feel our men's week-to-week greatest strength is our team depth and ability to impact each of the events," he continued. "Our distance squad is perhaps the most established after a strong cross country season and returning two NCAA track qualifiers (Ryan Cutter and Henry Myers). I also feel our sprinters are beginning to show a lot as I look at our fall prep and how they performed in our intra-squad meet prior to break. Individually, I also feel that Alex Scott is someone we can lean on to do some really special things in the throwing events."
The 2019 track & field season featured 14 national qualifiers who earned 13 total All-American awards. Isabel Maletich produced historic results in her collegiate debut as she captured the national title in the women's indoor long jump. Despite coming in as the No. 18-seed, Maletich beat her old personal record by over 11 inches with a leap of 5.91 meters. She would also finish sixth in the indoor triple. Her fellow returning indoor All-Americans included Sophie Elgamal (3rd, 3,000 meters) and Laura Darcey (6th, High Jump). The Maroon women placed sixth at the NCAA Indoor Division III Championships – the second-highest indoor placing in program history.
The outdoor national meet nearly matched that success as the UChicago women claimed eighth place overall. Maletich and Darcey were national runner-ups in the long jump and high jump, respectively. Returning outdoor All-Americans also include Meg Fitzpatrick (3rd, 4x400-meter relay); Maletich (8th, Triple Jump) and Mary Martin (3rd, 4x400-meter relay).
The 2019 University Athletic Association (UAA) Championships saw the UChicago women take second in both seasons while the men were third at indoors and fourth at outdoors. The men bring back defending UAA titlists Ryan Cutter (indoor 3,000 meters) and Alexander Scott (indoor weight throw / outdoor hammer throw). On the women's side, UAA champions include Claire Brockway (indoor 5,000 meters), Darcey (indoor and outdoor high jump), Fitzpatrick and Martin (indoor 4x400 relay), Kaitlyn Van Baalen (indoor 800 meters) and Maletich (indoor and outdoor long jump).
UChicago will lean on a quartet of captains on each team for leadership – Brockway, Darcey, Isabel Garon and Martin for the women along with Cutter, Tim Koenning, Elliott Paintsil and Scott for the men.
Hall is also hoping for momentum to carry over from the cross country season that wrapped up in late November. UChicago was ranked among the top squads in the nation throughout the year and bore it out with stand-out postseason performances. The women matched their best team finish ever, taking home a trophy in fourth place at the NCAA Division III Championship race. The men submitted a 12th-place showing, which equaled their second-best placement in program history. Cutter (9th place) and Elgamal (16th place) both secured their second-straight cross country All-American honors.
"I expect our teams to build on those performances," Hall said. "Our cross country teams demonstrated really great depth on both sides and they did not seem tapped out physically or emotionally from the season. I feel they also set the table for our track season by setting a high bar for the rest of our team."
Along with the proven veterans, the Maroons will be looking for new up-and-comers to make strides and perform in their collegiate-debut campaigns as well.
"We have a really nice incoming class of sprinters on the women's side (Aleeza Hassan, Isabel Layne, Ankita Puri) that had a good fall of training, along with a number of distance runners like Leah Ulrich and Caitlin Jorgensen who were a part of our NCAA team in the fall," said Hall. "I also see Sydnie Rohme as someone that could make a strong impact.
"On the men's side, a couple of jumpers (Zach Glasser in the high jump and Christian Sodano in the pole vault) will be welcome additions that can contribute quickly at the UAA level," he continued. "We also had a number of first-years during the cross country season that showed they are going to be quick impacts (in particular Cy Chittenden, Xander Hastings and Charlie Nevins)."