By ALLISON MARTIN
The UMW men’s and women’s track and field teams competed last weekend in the Johns Hopkins/Loyola Invitational in Baltimore, Md. where the men took fifth place and the women took sixth place.
Junior Jeff Branson won the 3,000-meter steeplechase, finishing in 9:53.61, and sophomore Sam Montgomery took a first place finish in the women’s pole vault by clearing 11 feet and three-quarters of an inch.
Montgomery was very happy with her performance this past weekend. She began pole vaulting her freshman year at Riverbend High School, but had to stop her senior year due to an injury. This season she is back to competing pole vault for the first time in two years and is doing better than she expected, establishing several personal best performances. Montgomery’s personal best has been 11 feet 3 inches, though, in practice, she says she is able to clear greater heights.
“I can clear 12 feet consistently in practice,” Montgomery said. “We don’t practice with the bar. In practice, we use the bungee cord, which can feel a little less daunting than the bar.”
For everyday training purposes, using a bungee cord is easier and more practical in matters of time, but Montgomery indicated that the training has given her confidence. She knows what she is capable of achieving because she is able to do it repeatedly in training every day.
“My goal this season is to clear 12 feet, six inches,” Montgomery said. “I have done that before in practice as well. That is my goal for CACs. I also am working to make NCAAs.”
Montgomery believes that incorporating sprint work and weight lifting into her training has prepared her well for meets.
“I’ve gotten so much stronger this season,” she said. “My mark where I start running has been pushed back from 83 feet to 87 feet.”
Assistant Coach Charles Bates, who works with the pole-vaulters, sprinters and hurdlers, plays an important part in the training method.
Branson’s performance in the 3,000-meter steeplechase was equally impressive. It is one of the tougher races, with four barriers that runners must attempt to clear, and the course also includes a water pit.
Branson won this event in 9:53.61, a personal best time by six seconds. It was his first college win. Branson said he had a great feel for the race this past weekend.
“I go out more conservative in the first 1,600 meters, and then the last 1,200 really start to dig in,” Branson said. “But you have to remain focused because of the barriers.”
Branson said one of the biggest things he took advantage of was committing further when he was tired and accelerating before each barrier, so he would not lose any momentum.
Head Coach Stan Soper was pleased with the overall performance of the team this weekend at the Johns Hopkins/Loyola Invitational, but indicated that there were things the team had hoped to achieve that it did not quite accomplish. He explained, however, that this is all part of the process of the season.
“The vaulters had a great weekend with Sam [Montgomery] winning, and Claire Harrington getting second,” Soper said. “Will Green was third in steeplechase. Mike Atkinson was great in the 400 meters. It was a very competitive weekend, so it was impressive to have many members of our team placing in the top five.”
Although he is proud of his athletes’ performances, Soper does not want his team to be content with the successful outing at its most recent meet.
“There is a lot to be happy about, but there are still some situations that need work over the next several weeks leading up to CACs, which is a lot of time for change to occur in this sport,” said Soper.