Track and field show strong start at indoor season opener

Senior Matt O'Connor (front) set a new personal record at track and field's indoor season opener dual meet against SEMO with a one-mile time of 4:19.34. He also took first for the event. 

Friday marked the SIUE track and field team’s first indoor meet of the season at Southeast Missouri State University. While the Cougars did not win the dual meet, the team started out strong with many personal records being broken and many top marks.

Men’s distance athletes impressed at the meet. Senior Ben Scamihorn won the 3K with a time of 8:48.12. Senior Matthew O’Connor finished the one mile with a time of 4:19.34, securing first place in this event even though he was recovering from an ankle injury.

“[Taking first] meant a lot,” O’Connor said. “It was definitely nerve-wracking coming back from an injury because you never know if you’ll be able to get back to where you were, so it was a good confidence booster for me to go out and perform like that.”

Both juniors Austin Lynch (60-05.0) and John Barnes (66-04.50) beat their PRs in the weight throw. Barnes’s throw landed him first place in this event and he currently ranks no. 5 in the NCAA.

“They’ve just been working hard all fall,” Head Coach Scott Block said. “We’ve really buckled down and narrowed our focus with their training and primarily with the weight throw. They’ve really shown results. To see both athletes throw so well was just really exciting.”   

The women’s team had many highlights of their own. Junior Jalea Paslay broke her PR time in the indoor 800m with a time of 2:23.40. On the throwing end, senior Catherine Jakich achieved two PRs: one in the shot put throw (44-11.75) and the weight throw (51-11.75).

The female jumpers didn’t disappoint as well. Senior Nichyra Byrd placed first in the long jump (18-00.25). In addition to the long jump and the triple jump, Byrd ran the 55 meter dash, an event that she usually doesn’t partake in.

“A lot of times the 55 meter dash will get me warmed up for my approach for the long jump or triple jump,” Byrd said. “Doing the 55 puts me in a sprinting mode and it helps me with my approach because my approach is long for the jumps.”

Even though senior Brittney Gibbs took the winning title in the triple jump (37-07.25) on Friday, she previously beat this in the OVC Indoor Championships when she jumped 39-1.

“It was nice being able to win, but I’m just very hard on myself so I know what I’m capable of, so it was kind of frustrating jumping the mark that I did,” Gibbs said. “But I can’t really complain with how the meet went in itself because I was still able to come out on top.

After the performances on Friday, Block is optimistic for the rest of the season and looks forward to the ultimate goal: the NCAA National Championships.

“I’m very hopeful [for the rest of the season],” Block said. “We have a lot of individuals that really are national caliber-type athletes and the ultimate goal is to send as many to the national championships as possible, so whatever it takes to get there is what we’re going to be doing.”

The Cougars return after break for the Eastern Illinois University John Craft Invite at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19 in Charleston, Illinois.

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