The men’s and women’s track and field teams opened its outdoor season with a full weekend. Athletes competed in the Vanderbilt Invitational in Nashville, Tenn. and the Washington University Invitational in St. Louis, Mo.
The teams picked up 11 top-five finishes between the teams on Friday, March 27, and six on Saturday, March 28.
Head Coach Eileen McAllister said she was impressed with the teams’ performances at both meets.
“It was a solid start. We definitely had some positive things happen; overall, some solid openers. I thought they performed well,” McAllister said.
McAllister said Friday night’s WashU Invite allowed athletes to compete in the 5-kilometer and 10-kilometer races, which are not held at many meets throughout the season.
“The 10K race is pretty rare, so when we plan out our schedule for the season, we have to make sure that we include at least one or two of those,” McAllister said.
This was a good decision for the Cougars, as it allowed senior Luke Padesky to record a personal best in the 10K. He finished second with a time of 31 minutes, 11 seconds.
“He was just outside the SIUE No. 3 all-time mark,” McAllister said.
Senior Braxton Klavins finished first in the 400-meter run with a time of 46.76 seconds. McAllister said she is excited to see Klavins, the Cougars’ top competitor in the 400m, succeeding.
“It’s great to see him competing,” McAllister said. “He’s had to deal with a lot this year, personally and athletically, and he’s persevered.”
A personal best was also set by senior Greg Block, earning his way to the SIUE No. 3 all-time mark in the hammer throw. His 187-foot toss beat his previous record by nine feet.
Juniors Jessica Oranika and LaDonna Caston both had top-five finishes in the 200-meter dash. The two women also excelled in their other events as well. Oranika ran the 400-meter in 54.31 seconds, opening this season with times near those of last year. Caston opened up the season in the 100-meter hurdles with a faster finish than the end of last season.
“Both of them were NCAA first-round qualifiers last year. I know they have high goals for themselves,” McAllister said.
Another notable performer was freshman Brittany Thomas, who competed in the 200-meter and made her collegiate debut in the 100-meter dash, finishing third.
“Thomas had a solid weekend,” McAllister said.
Transitioning from indoor to outdoor creates a different atmosphere for the track and field athletes. McAllister said the outdoor season is longer than the indoor, particularly this year since the conference meet was moved back a few weeks.
“You have different strategies, different techniques. And then with jumps, you’re going to have to factor in the wind. There are a lot of similarities, but there are a lot of nuances that are different,” McAllister said.
An opening weekend of this caliber follows McAllister’s optimism coming out of the indoor season. The men placed third in conference.
“I was pleased with our indoor season. That bodes well for outdoor — we’re a stronger outdoor team,” McAllister said.
McAllister said particularly in regards to the women’s team, the indoor season is a great precursor for the outdoor.
“We’re a really young team. The freshmen did a really great job indoors, and I think every little bit of experience helps for them. Having a whole season under their belts gives them that much more experience in outdoor,” McAllister said.
The Cougars’ next meet at 2 p.m., Friday, April 3 in Charleston at the Eastern Illinois University Big Blue Classic.