Some of the University of Maine’s top track and field athletes — including Riley Masters, Corey Conner, Vicki Tolton and Jesse Labreck — have enjoyed tremendous success over the course of the spring season.
Those athletes, along with the rest of the Black Bears, will take to the road once again this weekend for the America East championships, set for Saturday and Sunday at Binghamton University in Vestal, N.Y.
Maine’s women, led by Tolton, Oakland’s Labreck, Caribou native Lindsay Burlock, Conner and Allyson Howatt, is young and talented, and coach Mark Lech feels the Black Bears have the top seeds to put together a top-three finish.
“The 4×400, I think we’ll have a good chance of winning that. We’ll definitely be up there in the top three anyway,” said Lech. “I think the 4×8 can be up there too.”
Burlock, Tolton, Labreck and Howatt comprise the Bears’ 1600-meter relay team, which qualified for the ECAC Championships with a time of 3 minutes, 47.66 seconds at the Penn Relays last weekend, while the 4×8 quartet of Vanessa Letourneau of Fairfield, Jennie Lucy of Bangor, Stephanie Jette of Lovell and Conner ran 9:07.96 in Philadelphia.
Conner, who is having an outstanding freshman campaign, is still developing the leg speed a mid-distance runner needs.
“Like Riley, we still haven’t seen the total of Corey Conner in any race either. She’s still learning as she goes along, getting comfortable with the [1,500],” Lech said.
Conner will run her signature event and the 4×800 this weekend.
Jette will also compete in the 1,500, and Lech feels she has a great chance of scoring, while Tolton is a heavy favorite in the 400, where Burlock should place high as well.
Labreck, a standout hurdler and long and triple jumper, is starting to develop nicely as well after missing the entire indoor campaign with mononucleosis.
“She’s just learning how to compete at this level. She’s still coming into her own,” Lech said.
Labreck will compete on the Bears’ 4×100 team this weekend, along with Burlock, Tolton and Jillian O’Brien.
Perennial power Boston University is the favorite to come home with the team championship.
Other key Maine athletes include Jordan Daniel in the 5K, Megan Burke in the shot put, Rebecca Even in the throwing events and Alli Krous and Jessica Bond in the javelin.
On the men’s side, Bangor native Masters, a freshman, is coming off yet another fast performance, having placed seventh out of 47 runners in the 5,000 meters at the Penn Relays, posting a time of 14:23.25, qualifying for the IC4A championships.
He’ll be one of the favorites in that race this weekend, and while his Penn Relays time broke the UMaine school record, Lech was thinking even bigger.
“I was hoping he was going to get an NCAA Regional [qualifying] time, because he’s not far off that,” said Lech.
Should Masters win the 5K this weekend, he’ll automatically qualify for the NCAA Regional meet.
He won the conference’s 3,000-meter title indoors.
Miles Bartlett of Casco will be another top performer for the Maine men this weekend, and he also ran well in Philadelphia last weekend, finishing ninth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 9:21.25.
The Black Bears should also get solid point production out of their distance and middle-distance athletes, such as Dan Bonner in the 800, along with their sprinting corps, led by Landis Williams and Jhamal Fluellen, who will run the 100-meter dash and head up Maine’s 4×100 relay.
Two local favorites, James Berry of Orono and Mark Liimakka of Old Town, have been soaring to competitive heights in the pole vault, something Lech hopes will continue.
“They’re progressing pretty well, the pole vaulters. It’s a little bit of a different event,” said Lech. “You’ve got to have real good conditions for it.”
Defending champion Albany is favored, and Lech said it’s the Great Danes’ meet to lose.
He’s hoping the Bears can have a top-five finish.
Don Clark of Winslow has an excellent shot at placing in the shot put, Lech feels, as does Trevor England in the triple jump.
“He’s real close, he just has to get that right position and it’ll go far,” Lech said of Clark.