June 24, 2014
STORRS, Conn. – Fresh off of an outdoor conference championship in the former Big East in 2013, UConn men’s track and field carried over its winning ways into the newly formed American Athletic Conference in the 2013-14 season. The Huskies graduated 18 seniors in 2013 but, through significant contributions from the entire team and solid senior leadership, posted a successful 2014 campaign.
A full team effort propelled a young UConn team to capture the inaugural American Athletic Conference Indoor Championship on Mar. 1 in New York City. The Huskies entered the final day of competition in third place but received points from 27 of the 32 competing athletes. Freshman Mike O’Donnell raced to a top finish in the mile run with a time of 4:13.21 and the 4x400m team concluded the meet with a win in 3:14.23. Connecticut finished with 158 points to top Louisville (123 points) and handily claim the first-ever conference championship in The American.
The Huskies would go on to finish third in The American’s Outdoor Championship, led again by O’Donnell in the 1,500m and senior captain Eric Masington in the discus. O’Donnell owned the top 1,500m time in the conference prior to the meet and finished the same way, clocking 3:53.66 to win gold. Masington collected his first-ever individual conference title with a 57.80m throw.
Masington went on to make history when he became the first UConn discus thrower and ninth Husky thrower to earn All-American honors at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Facing stiff competition that included the best throwers in the country, Masington shined on the biggest stage of his career in his first appearance at Nationals. The senior dug deep and delivered a career-best throw of 59.19m (194-2.00) to capture seventh place and earn First Team All-American laurels. The Pennsylvania native will also conclude his career at Connecticut with the program record in the event, as his distance topped former Husky Ray Wilks’ throw of 55.76m from 2000.
Joining Masington as an All-American was Alvaro Chavez, who was the lone Husky that qualified to compete in the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championship. Chavez booked a trip to Albuquerque in the 900m run, finishing in ninth place and narrowly missing the finals by four one hundredeths of a second (.04) with a time of 1:50.83. The performance earned him Second Team All-American honors. On Feb. 11, Chavez was named The American’s Track Athlete of the Week after posting a personal-best time of 1:47.96 at the Sykes and Sabock Challenge Cup. His efforts were good for a silver medal and what was then the third-fastest time in the country.
Five Huskies qualified for NCAA East Regional in the outdoor season, led by Masington in the discus. Rookie pole vaulter Craig Hunter concluded his stellar freshman campaign at the East Regional after placing 23rd in an experienced field that included just seven freshmen. Though early in his career, Hunter has already established himself as one of the top pole vaulters in UConn history. He twice cleared a height of 5.30m (17-04.50) to establish a new school record win gold at both the New England Championship and the IC4A Championship this spring.
Along with Hunter, three other Huskies made their debuts at the NCAA East Regional. Junior javelin thrower Brian Eilers earned a trip to his first-ever NCAA Regional, along with teammates Robert Rhodes and Chinedu Amonu in the 800m and 400m runs, respectively.
UConn posted a pair of second place finishes at both the indoor and outdoor IC4A Championship. Jesse Chapman captured the decathlon and Craig Hunter won the pole vault to pace the team to a runner-up finish in the outdoor championship while Robert Rhodes earned gold in the 500m to pace UConn’s second place finish at the indoor championship. Rhodes was recognized as the American Athletic Conference Track Athlete of the Week on Jan. 21 after winning the 500m dash at the Great Dane Classic to help the Huskies win their fourth consecutive Great Dane Classic.
Other season highlights included dominant wins at both the Great Dane Classic and the URI Coaches Tribute Invitational, but a victory over nationally-ranked No. 7 Penn State on its home track at the Sykes & Sabock Challenge Cup marks one of the best accomplishments of the indoor season.
Top finishes from Darnell Cummings in the 60m dash and the Connecticut distance medley relay team had the Huskies poised and ready in third place entering the final day of competition. A dominant UConn effort in the 400m saw the Huskies sweep the top three finishes, led by Chinedu Amonu in first, Kyle Twombly in second and Robert Hovanec in third. A win by Robert Rhodes in the 600m and an impressive effort by Alvaro Chavez in the 800m helped the Huskies defeat the Nittany Lions in what head coach Greg Roy called “a huge team win over a great Penn State team.”
Commenting on the Sykes & Sabock Challenge Cup, Coach Roy pointed out the importance of individual contributions to team success, which fittingly captures UConn’s 2014 season.