Lions’ women capture 4 x 400 NCAA crown

Eric Mobley had quite a challenge ahead of him when he accepted the head coaching duties of the College’s track and field teams. He inherited an indoor track program that boasted seven straight men’s and women’s conference track championships and multiple All-Americans.

Apparently he was up to the challenge.

After dominating performances at both the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) and Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships, the Lions had a strong showing at the 2005 NCAA Division III Indoor Track & Field Championships, held at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill.

Ten Lions athletes participated in the meet and came away with eight All-American awards. Further sweetening the weekend for the College was an NCAA Division III Championship in the women’s 4 x 400-meter relay.

The relay team, consisting of juniors Brittny Boyd and Tiffany Clark, sophomore Angela Tecco and freshman Carolyn Gray, put up a time of 3:52.79, a new school record. They finished ahead of second-place Washington University by a miniscule seven hundredths of a second.

“It was awesome,” Gray said. “This is what we’ve been working for all season and we knew we could attain it.”

The relay team had the advantage of running in the final’s second heat, so the women were able to watch the first heat and know what kind of time they would have to put up. Gray explained that last year the team won its heat, but then could only watch as two other teams beat its time in the second heat.

Boyd ran the first leg of the race and gave the Lions an early lead. Clark, the College’s final runner in the relay, was neck-and-neck with an opposing runner when she received the baton but then pulled away in the final stretch to win both the heat and the championship.

The Lions’ women excelled individually as well. Clark’s time of 58.47 seconds was good enough for a sixth-place finish in the 400-meter dash, making her an 11-time All-American athlete. The 400 meters is Clark’s best event, as she was the runner-up in both the 2003 Outdoor Track and Field Championships and the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Boyd took home her first All-American award with a seventh-place finish in the 55-meter dash. After breaking a school record with a 7.18 second run in the trials, she put up a 7.22 second time in the finals.

Boyd, who participated in three events at the meet, came in ninth place in the long jump to finish just short of earning another All-American award. The top eight finishers in each event won All-American honors.

While the men’s team did not take home an NCAA Championship, there were a few standout individual performances, led by junior Jeff Zodda and senior Matt Molski.

Zodda finished third in the 800-meter run with a time of 1:54.13, good enough for the third All-America award of his career at the College.

“He wasn’t happy (with third place),” assistant coach Tim Collins said. “He wants to win it.”

Zodda’s career-best time in the event, as well as the school record, was 1:52.44, which he set earlier this season.

Molski’s 4:20.69 time in the finals of the one-mile run gave him an eighth-place finish and All-American honors. His strong performance was still well short of his personal-best time, an astounding 4:09.71 that he recorded earlier in the season.

Junior Jeff Schwerdtman and senior Ed Marion fell just short of All-American status in each of their respective events. Schwerdtman came in ninth in the shot put with a 16.26-meter throw, while Marion settled with 10th place in the high jump with a 1.97-meter leap.

Junior Kevin Jones failed to qualify for the long jump finals after finishing sixth in his heat with a 6.59-meter jump.

As a team, the College’s women finished in 11th place with 15 points, well short of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, which tallied 36. The men came in 26th place with seven points. The University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse took home the men’s team title with 43 points.

The men and women improved on last year’s performance, when they came in 28th and 12th place, respectively.

The Lions prepared themselves for the national meet with a dominating performance at the ECAC Championships on March 4 and 5 at St. Lawrence University.

The men’s team captured the ECAC Division III crown, their sixth in the last seven years, while the women finished in second place.

The men finished with 115 points, 27 points ahead of second-place New Jersey City University.

“It was a great victory for the team,” Collins said.

Molski won the 1,500-meter run with a time of 3:59.40, while Zodda took the 800-meter title in 1:55.07.

While the Lions’ women finished 37 points behind first-place SUNY Geneseo, the team did win three event championships.

Boyd won the 200-meter dash in 25.22 seconds and then teamed up with Tecco, junior Erika Huggler and freshman Jessica Bonelli to win the 4 x 400-meter relay. Individually, Bonelli won the 500-meter run in 78.22 seconds.

Collins said that while this was certainly a successful season, the athletes are looking forward to the upcoming outdoor season and next year’s indoor competitions.

“Too many people were injured this season,” he said. “We want to get those people back.”