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ND?Track &?Field: Vaulters qualify for nationals

Douglas Farmer | Monday, February 23, 2009

The Irish vaulted their way to promising results at the Big East Indoor Track and Field Championships Saturday in New York. The men’s team finished second in the conference and the women placed fifth, as Notre Dame pole vaulters led the way for both squads.

After recording two runner-up finishes in the pole vault within the past three Big East Indoor championships, senior Mary Saxer finally won the vaulting championship. Saxer did so in a commanding fashion, vaulting a height of 4.20 meters compared to the second place vaulter, who finished at 3.85 meters.

With such an impressive final height, Saxer also automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships, which will be held March 13-14 at Texas A&M University.

“Automatically qualifying for the NCAA’s is terrific,” Irish coach Joe Piane said. “She did great. She devastated the field.”

On the men’s side, the Irish vaulters treated their competition as a sibling rivalry. Junior Matt Schipper won the pole vault title by clearing 5.35 meters, while his younger brother, freshmen Kevin Schipper, placed second at 5.10 meters.

The elder Schipper joined Saxer in automatically qualifying for the NCAA Championships, and it is likely that Kevin Schipper’s showing on Saturday will allow him to join his brother in Texas.

But the Schipper brothers alone did not deliver a second-place finish for the Irish.

Sophomore Miklos Szebeny crossed the line third in the 200-meter dash. Freshmen Jordan Rincon took second in the 400-meter dash, with junior Balazs Molnar, less than half a second behind, finishing fifth.

“Rincon ran exceptionally well,” Piane said. “If things had broken just a little bit differently, he could have won it.”

In the mile, senior Dan Clark used a perfectly-timed lean at the finish line to earn second-place honors, while freshmen Jordan Carlson also won points for the Irish with a sixth-place finish.

Senior Patrick Smyth performed excellently in his final Big East Indoor Championships, placing second in the 5,000-meter run and sixth in the 3,000-meter run.

The Irish finished only four and a half points behind first place Connecticut.

“It was a great competition,” Piane said. “We felt it was going to be a bloodbath, and that is exactly what it was. My hat is off to Connecticut. They did a wonderful job. They competed just as hard as we did, and where we had a few things go wrong, they did not.”

The Irish women also put in several memorable performances. Junior Joanna Schultz placed second in the 400-meter dash, and freshmen Natalie Geiger came in seventh in the same race, while sophomore Natalie Johnson finished second in the 500-meter dash.

Freshmen Maddie Buttinger came through for the Irish, finishing third in the pentathlon as well as sixth in the high jump. Also in the field events, senior Anna Weber took third in the weight throw.

“We had a lot of good things happen,” Piane said. “We really did.”