ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine continues to produce some of the top track and field athletes in the Northeast.
This weekend, many of the region’s best runners, jumpers and throwers will gather with the Black Bears on the UMaine campus.
Coach Mark Lech’s teams will serve as the hosts of the America East Outdoor Track and Field Championships, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at the Clarence B. Beckett Family Track and Field Complex.
UMaine has been part of a four-school rotation holding the outdoor meet. However, three other AE schools have added facilities and Albany is soon to do so, which means less frequent championship meets in Orono.
Albany and Boston University are the leading contenders to win team titles in both the men’s and women’s ranks. The Great Danes have claimed seven consecutive America East men’s outdoor crowns, and the Albany women have won three straight and five of the last six.
UMaine goes into the America East meet with several performers who could win or challenge in their events.
The Black Bear men are led by throwers Justin Gagne of Biddeford, Ethan Moore and Wilson Adams; decathlete Matthew Toothaker of Newburgh; sprinter Frank Del Duca of Bethel; distance men David Currier of Sidney and Spencer McElwain of Caribou; and pole vaulter James Berry of Orono.
Among the UMaine women, junior distance specialist Corey Conner and freshman thrower Robyn McFetters, along with hurdler Allison Fereshetian, pole vaulter Vasiliki Papakotsi and sprinter Jillian O’Brien, have championship aspirations.
Gagne has been on a tear outdoors. The junior is seeded first in the discus after throwing a school-record 53.3 meters (174 feet, 10 1/2 inches) two weeks ago at Holy Cross. He also is the No. 2 seed in the shot put (16.9m/55-8).
Toothaker, a senior from Newburgh, is the No. 1 seed in the grueling decathlon at 5,977 points while hammer throwers Moore (55.0m) and Adams (54.98m) rank second and third, respectively.
“They’ve been coming on and getting better and better, so we’ll see what can happen with them,” Lech said of the duo.
On the track, junior Del Duca is the fourth seed in the 100 meters (10.83 seconds) while seniors Currier (second seed, 30:59.84) and McElwain (sixth, 31:07.67), could contend in the 10,000. Berry, another senior, is the fifth seed in the pole vault at (4.70m).
Conner is the No. 1 seed in the 5,000 meters with a personal-best time of 16 minutes, 1.37 seconds, which she logged eight days ago with a victory in the college division at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia.
The effort also is a UMaine mark for Conner, who will not compete in any other events during the America East meet.
“If we had a chance at getting first or second team-wise, I might put her in more events,” said Lech, who pointed out standouts Jesse Labreck of Oakland and Katherine McGeoghan are redshirting this spring.
“I’m hoping that she can make it at least to the Olympic Trials [in the 5,000],” Lech said. “I’m pretty sure that she can make it to the NCAAs. I’m using her sparingly in that [effort].”
McFetters, from Barrington, R.I., is competing in her first collegiate outdoor season. She is the frontrunner in the hammer throw at eight pounds, where she is seeded first at a school-record 56.5 meters (185-10 1/4).
“She’s qualified for the Junior National Meet and has one of the better junior hammer marks in the country,” Lech said. “She’s just kind of coming into the season now, so to speak, figuring out that technique and being able to utilize it.”
Allison Fereshetian, a sophomore from Turner, is the No. 3 seed in the 100-meter hurdles at 14.36 seconds, which is 0.34 seconds behind top seeds Imani Colbert of the University of Maryland Baltimore County and Binghamton’s Kaitlin Sullivan.
Fereshetian is seeded seventh in the 400 hurdles, more than a second off the pace of No. 1 seed Brittany Eveleth of Albany.
“She hasn’t been doing [hurdles] a lot this year, but those are her forte, so I think she’s going to score well in either of those,” Lech said.
O’Brien, a senior from Buffalo, N.Y., has been dealing with a nagging injury, according to Lech, but will give it a go in the 100 meters, where she is seeded fourth at 12.02 seconds.
Caballero sets MDI mark
Miguel Caballero of Orono has established himself as the early favorite among Penobscot Valley Conference runners in the 200 meters.
The Red Riots senior won the event with a time of 23.21 seconds at last Saturday’s Mount Desert Island relays in Bar Harbor. The effort was the second-fastest run in Maine this spring behind the 22.73 turned in by Gary McKenzie of Mount Ararat High of Topsham in an April 16 meet at Auburn.
It was shy of Caballero’s personal record in the 200, which was a 22.94 turned in at last year’s Class C outdoor state championships.
Elsewhere in the PVC, Anna Bryan won three events Monday to power the John Bapst girls to victory in a nine-team meet at Bucksport. The event was a makeup for the scheduled April 21 meet.
Bryan took first place in the shot put (28 feet, 3 1/2 inches), the discus (81-3) and the javelin (78-2) as the Crusaders of Bangor dominated. The performances in the discus and javelin both represented PRs for the freshman.
Saint Joseph’s adds track team
Saint Joseph’s College in Standish announced Wednesday that it will elevate its track and field teams to varsity status during 2012-13.
The Monks, coached by Ray Putnam, competed in four indoor meets and four outdoor competitions during 2011-12. The teams will have at least five meets each next season.
Putnam also coaches Saint Joseph’s cross-country squads.
Saint Joseph’s, situated on the banks of Sebago Lake, becomes the third school in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference to sponsor a varsity track and field program. Elevating the program to varsity status enables athletes to qualify for competition in the NCAA Division III regionals and nationals.