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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Track and field set to head to Albuquerque for national meet

Several members of the Irish track and field team will head to Albuquerque, New Mexico, this weekend to compete at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

On the women’s side, sophomore Jadin O’Brien will compete in the pentathlon, junior Olivia Markezich will compete in the 3000m run, and the distance medley relay team will compete.

Head coach Matt Sparks hopes the women can finish top-15 in the country, and he expects an all-around performance.

“If we could score 15-20 points, that would place us really well as a team,” Sparks said. “I really expect all three of them to score.”

O’Brien is the No. 1 seed in the multi-event, an event the Irish have never had a champion in.

“We have never had a national champion in that event,” Sparks said. “It’s going to be exciting to see what she can do. She has a couple of years to go in that event as well. Obviously it would be nice to win one when you are younger, but she has a couple of years to go if it doesn’t go well.”

O’Brien made an instant impact for the Irish in her freshman year, but Sparks credited O’Brien for continuing to improve and become more confident over the last couple of years.

“The fitness has always been there. The thing Jadin has improved in the last 12 months is her confidence and her resilience to struggles,” Sparks said. “Part of being a multi-event athlete is you are not always going to PR and be at your best in every event. She has started to recognize that. She is a perfectionist, but she has realized that a one-off event does not ruin the competition. That’s just her being a more confident person.”

In the DMR, graduate student transfer Katie Thronson will lead the relay off with the 1200m leg. She will be followed by junior Eve Balseiro running the 400m. Balseiro will then hand the baton off to sixth-year graduate student Katie Ryan to run the 800m leg. Finally, Markezich will anchor the 1600m leg of the relay.

Sparks is excited to see this veteran group compete. He believes Markezich could be the difference as the relay’s anchor.

“I challenge anybody to have a more veteran group at the national meet,” Sparks said. “The veteran of national championships for us is Olivia Markezich. She had a great cross-country season for us. She will do a great job of finishing off for us there.”

The relay is No. 8 seed, but there is not much of a gap between most of the teams in the race. Markezich will finish the mile on fresh legs as well, which should be a huge boost for the Irish.

“In this event, it really comes down to who decided to save their mile leg for that relay,” Sparks said.

The elevation in Albuquerque is roughly a mile above sea level, and Sparks believes this could impact distance races across the board in the meet.

“In the distance races, it affects everybody a little bit differently,” Sparks said. “We don’t want to overload people and put them in a lot of different events because they might not recover as quickly. We aren’t going to overdo it with anybody by having them do too many events.”

In the 3000m race, Sparks expects Markezich to be towards the front, although she will have run the mile leg of the DMR the day before.

“She can be in the top five,” Sparks said. “She will be coming off the double because she will have raced the day before, and she will be racing some girls who aren’t racing anything but the 3000.”

On the men’s side, junior Michael Shoaf and sophomore Carter Solomon will get their first indoor nationals experience.

“There are a couple of guys that snuck in on the backend that will be first-time competitors for each of them at the national meet,” Sparks said. “Michael Shoaf has been to the outdoor national meet, but it’s his first time indoor. And for Carter Solomon, it will be his first time on the track in a championship. It will be a new experience for both those guys, and they’re both young. They have a couple of years to go at the national meet as well.”

Sparks is excited for Solomon to get a chance to race a national meet on the track and learn from the experience.

“Carter has a couple of years to go, and he’s never been there. It will be a new experience for him. He was one of the last guys to make it in his event, so it could be a steep learning curve for him,” Sparks said.

Solomon raced very well in last fall’s championship cross-country races, and Sparks believes that Solomon is in a great place right now ahead of his first track national meet.

“The exciting thing for him is he has always raced really well at championship time for us. He won the conference title for us in cross country and ran really well at the national meet. He is really trending in the right direction the last couple of weeks,” Sparks said. “Carter is in a really good place right now fitness wise and he’s really confident. We expect to see him fare really well.”

This national meet is a full-circle moment for the team. The 2020 indoor championships were supposed to be held in Albuquerque. The 2020 Irish team had already traveled to the meet before the meet was canceled suddenly because of the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Former Irish thrower Rachel Tanczos was seeded first in the weight throw that year, and the men’s DMR team was one of the favorites to win that event.

Although none of the athletes that made the trip in 2020 are competing this weekend, Sparks hopes that the athletes competing this year can compete for those athletes that didn’t get a chance to compete in 2020.

“The men’s [DMR] team was one of the favorites going into [the 2020 meet], so we would like to go into [the women’s DMR] and perform well for those athletes that didn’t get a chance to,” Sparks said. “We would like to go back there and finish what never was able to get started last time.”