Dusty Lopez’s men’s and women’s track and field teams hadn’t participated in a meet in 36 days, and hadn’t competed in an outdoor meet all season. Which is why the Webster University coach was justified in thinking his athletes might struggle to post solid performances at the Rhodes College Invitational on March 24 in Memphis, Tenn.
Though Lopez said his teams were “a little raggedy early” in the meet, when the Rhodes Invitational concluded, Lopez was pleased with the results. Lopez said the transition from indoor to outdoor wasn’t the biggest challenge for his athletes; the near five-week gap between meets was.
“It’s such a long layoff that it almost feels like indoor was last year or something, like it almost never happened in some ways,” Lopez said. “Of course it did, and it benefited us because we got some training under our belts for most of the kids. But the time off — it’s like the BCS championship game. It’s always ragged because nobody’s played a game in like, forever. We’re kind of shaking off the rust.”
Senior Gretchen Rieger, who began practicing with the track team only three weeks ago, shook off any rust she had rather easily. Rieger won the javelin throw event with a toss of 33.93 meters in her first meet of 2012. Rieger beat out the field of 17, which included competitors from the Division II and III levels.
“I was really excited because obviously I didn’t know what I was going to throw — I hadn’t done my full throws that many times,” Rieger said. “I had a number in my head that I wanted, and I was like, ‘I’ll be happy with that.’ After I figured out I had won, I was like, ‘Alright, well, that’s great. I like that.’”
Rieger, who was an All-Conference honorable mention for Webster’s 2011 volleyball team, said her “life’s crazy” as she tries to juggle classes, student teaching and throwing the javelin for the track team. Lopez said Rieger’s teammates respect her dedication.
“She loves track and that’s what keeps her going for us,” Lopez said. “Her schedule is so busy as a student teacher that if she didn’t really love it, there would be no point to it for her. In reality, she doesn’t have the time for it. But she makes time somehow, and that’s important. It’s a nice example for the rest of the group.
“Not only that, but when it’s somebody with some talent, then obviously it pays off for the team from a competitive standpoint. We wish she was around more, but we’ll take what she can give us — it’s one of those kind of situations.”
Other notable performers on the women’s side included freshman Jenny Howard, sophomore Heather Heisse and senior Tyeila Gant. Howard broke school records for an outdoor meet in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. She finished ninth of 36 competitors in the 100 with a time of 12.53 seconds and sixth of 31 runners in the 200 with a time of 26.04.
Heisse placed 10th in the 5,000-meter run. It was the first time Heisse ran the event at the collegiate level. According to Lopez, the Rhodes Invitational was the first track meet Gant competed in since high school. She finished 26th in the 100-meter dash, 12th in the long jump and seventh in the high jump.
For the men, junior Aaron Oberneufemann and freshman Zachary Zurfluh-Cunningham set the pace. Oberneufemann shattered his own school record in the 400-meter dash with a time of 50.9 seconds. He finished sixth in the 27-person field.
“I was pumped,” Oberneufemann said. “I didn’t have intentions that I would be going that fast. But I had a goal pace, which was right around the old record or my old PR (personal record). Just coming out and running faster than that really gets me excited for the season and what I can accomplish this year.”
Zurfluh-Cunningham broke Oberneufemann’s school records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Zurfluh-Cunningham finished 34th out of 53 runners in the 100 with a time of 11.59 and 16th out of 41 runners in the 200 with a time of 23.09.
Freshman Jason Hickson placed 29th in the 5,000-meter run with a time of 16 minutes, 43.55 seconds. Hickson missed breaking the Webster record in the 5,000 by less than 6 seconds.
Sophomore Austin Duncan also ran in the 5,000 and finished 36th. It was Duncan’s first race for Webster after being injured for the indoor portion of the Gorloks’ schedule.
Next up for the men’s and women’s track and field teams is the Washington University Invitational on March 30-31. The Gorloks then travel to Greencastle, Ind., on April 7 to participate in the DePauw Invitational.