After the Virginia Challenge last weekend, the Bradley’s track and field teams find themselves in a race against time as well as the two races scheduled for this Saturday.
Luckily, that’s what the team is good at.
Head coach Darren Gauson split up his team last weekend, as the top scoring runners participated in the Virginia Challenge while others went to Champaign to race in the Illinois Twilight.
Both combined squads at each meet featured only heat winners, while others closed in on NCAA Regional qualifying times.
“It looks like, right now, we’ve got three girls and four guys who qualify for NCAA [Regionals],” Gauson said. “We’re just hoping [junior] Rachel Sudbury at Drake can get a little bit closer to what would be an NCAA first round mark.”
Sudbury isn’t the only player vying for a Regional berth. Gauson pointed to sophomore Kathryn Adleman and junior Steffen Uhrich as runners who are also closing in on qualifying times for the Regional races.
With only two weekends left to qualify for the Regional races, the Braves don’t have many more chances to stake their NCAA Regional claim.
“The most we’ve ever had in school history is five individual qualifiers in the west [preliminary],” Gauson said. “Right now, we’re sitting at seven, so, the best we’ve ever had.”
Sophomore Michael Ward, seniors Kristen Busch, Caitlin Busch and Chase Coffey all qualify for spots in the NCAA Western Regional.
After this weekend at the Drake Relays, the Braves have a week off for finals before they head to the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) championships in Terre Haute, Indiana.
“It’s just our last meet before the conference championships,” Gauson said. “We’ll get a week off, and then the MVC championships.”
At the Virginia Challenge, Ward broke his own school record in the 1,500-meter. He also won his heat and clocked the top 1,500-meter time in the MVC for good measure.
The Busch twins also set new personal records in the 5,000-meter, each breaking their old records by nine seconds.
However, senior Emily Delvo, who has been fighting back from a toe infection that almost went septic, turned in the MVC’s women’s top 1,500-meter time in her best outing this season.
“I had a minor surgery on my big toe and it ended up getting really infected,” Delvo said. “The meet at Virginia was kind of like my break-out meet.”
Delvo struggled coming back from her toe injury, as it didn’t give her much time to recover in order to compete for the track season.
“It’s better, it’s just hard with running,” Delvo said. “Aerobically, I was probably in the worst shape of my life. [It’s] one of the hardest comebacks I’ve had to do at Bradley.”
While Delvo notched the top time in the MVC for the 1,500-meter in Virginia, junior Lauren Cunningham won her heat in the 3,000-meter at the Illinois Twilight. But Cunningham’s victorious race didn’t quite meet her expectations.
“Going into it, I was expecting the race to go out faster,” Cunningham said. “I was hoping to PR, run a 9:55. But, I ended up running a 10:05, so I was 10 seconds off where I wanted to be.”
Aldeman and fellow sophomore Hannah Witczak also set career-best times in Champaign.
While most of the runners who competed at Virginia were point-scoring seniors, they will also be graduating in two weeks. Cunningham said she knows she’ll be the one to replace those runners come next year.
“I was looking at the top list of athletes in the conference right now, and if you remove the seniors, there’s not a lot in the top group anymore,” Cunningham said. “Going into cross country next year, I’ll definitely be the leader, and I’m ready to take on that position.”
Gauson said runners like Cunningham need to step up in order for the team to stay successful.
“We talked a lot to our younger girls about them stepping up and developing,” Gauson said. “We’re going to need a lot of our younger girls, some of our juniors and sophomores, to develop pretty quickly here so we have a chance to retain our two [cross country] championships.”
However, with two weeks until the MVC championships, Gauson said the team still needs to focus and “be ready” for the championship races in Lawrence, Kansas.
“[We’re] just trying to use the momentum and peak towards the end of the season for us is what were trying to do,” he said.