Track and Field
Shoaf and women’s DMR team set school records at Alex Wilson Invitational
Nate Moller | Monday, February 20, 2023
The Irish track and field team returned to action this weekend at the Alex Wilson Invitational from the Loftus Sports Center.
Head coach Matt Sparks was pleased with the performances across the board as his athletes tried to hit conference-qualifying times and marks.
“For a lot of kids, the goal of the meet was getting them on the bus to go to the conference meet next week,” Sparks said. “We wanted them to either hit a conference-qualifying mark or nationals-qualifying mark. We had a few kids that achieved that.”
One of the best results on the day came in the women’s distance medley relay race, where the team of senior Katie Thronson, junior Eve Balseiro, graduate student Katie Ryan and junior Olivia Markezich set a school record time of 10:50.41 and won the event.
Sparks said that coming into the meet, he hoped his runners would achieve a national qualifying mark, and they didn’t set time goals beyond that.
“Coming into that event, the goal was to get a NCAA-qualifying mark, and we knew that we probably needed to run under 10:53 to do that. That was the ultimate goal — we didn’t want to set any big-time goals. We just wanted to make sure we were safely in,” Sparks said.
Sparks credited the success of the women’s DMR in large part to Thronson, who is a new boost to the 1200m leg of the race.
“We had some new pieces on there from previous years. The big thing that has really set us apart from previous years is our 1200m leg in Katie Thronson. She is another level from what we have traditionally had on that leg. That’s going to allow us, when we get to the national meet, to be one of the big players,” he said.
Sparks also credited Markezich, who is one of the best milers in the country.
“We have Olivia Markezich on the end, and she can close the gap on anybody in the country,” Sparks said.
The other big performance of the day came from junior Michael Shoaf, who took first place and set a school record with a throw of 20.05 meters in shot put. Shoaf also finished second in the weight throw with a throw of 19.85 meters.
Shoaf has continued to impress Sparks throughout the season, despite having a new throws coach this year.
“It was a huge day for him,” Sparks said. “He has gone through a coaching change in the last six months. It’s a very similar philosophy in the training, but there’s obviously still a new face there directing the training. He hasn’t missed a beat in this transition. He’s been a very stable young man for us for four years, and I hope to keep him around for a fifth year next year. He just keeps taking steps every season that goes by.”
Sparks hopes Shoaf can take a big step at the national meet in a couple of weeks.
“The next big step for him is that he has been to the national meet before, but now let’s go there and make an impact. That would be finishing top-eight, which is first team All-American and scoring points for your team,” Sparks said. “We will look for him to do that in three weeks.”
Sparks also noted that he has enjoyed watching the men’s distance medley team develop this year, despite having entirely new faces from a year ago.
“The other group that’s really coming into their own that we really didn’t have a lot of expectations for is the men’s distance medley relay,” Sparks said. “We had to replace the entire top-four from our NCAA runner-up team a year ago.”
Although Sparks acknowledged that Olympian and 2022 graduate Yared Nuguse can’t be replaced on the anchor leg, he has been impressed by the development of freshmen Daelen Ackley and C.J. Singleton.
“You can’t replace Yared Nuguse on the anchor leg, but we have had a couple of freshmen really step up and run really well. Daelen Ackley and C.J. Singleton have really risen to the occasion and are improving every week. Hopefully that relay can continue to improve for years to come,” Sparks said.
Other notable results from Saturday include sophomore Madison Schmidt taking first in the high jump with a mark of 1.72 meters. On the track, freshman Caroline Lehman and senior Shae Douglas won the 3000m race and 60m dash, respectively.
The Alex Wilson Invitational wraps up the indoor track regular season, and the Irish will begin the postseason this weekend when they travel to Louisville for the ACC Championships.