SOUTH HUNTINGTON, NY - Despite extraordinary individual performances on the track in the sprint events, the Firebirds could not overcome the team depth of new champion Roberts Wesleyan University and runner-up Georgian Court, as they finished 3rd overall in their quest to win the ECC Indoor Track & Field Championships a 3rd straight time.
"We had yet another day of big time performances from our small group at the ECC Indoor Track & Field Championships," head coach Alton McKenzie said. "Though we're small in numbers, we proved yet again that we have quality student-athletes willing to compete in multiple events and able to step up when it matters most."
University of the District of Columbia's dominance in the sprint events was evident as the Firebirds were very much in the running to defend their title. In the first track event, the Firebirds foursome of Brittany Okon, Christina Baker, Marlena Wright and Jerily Benjamin ran out convincing winners of Heat 1 with a time of 1:46.58. They were, however, just out-done by Queens College, who ran 1:46.48 in Heat 2 to take the win.
Meanwhile, junior Simone Grant was also in a battle in the Long Jump. With a great round of jumps as she competed in her very first Long Jump competition of the season, she steadily improved with every jump but was matched jump-for-jump by Octavia Booker from Georgian Court University. Grant had her best jump of the competition on her 5th attempt with a leap of 5.55M, only to see that topped by Booker with a leap of 5.56M - also on her 5th attempt.
Next on the track for the Firebirds was freshman Shayna Hodge who qualified for the 60M Hurdles final and ran her collegiate-best in the final with a time of 9.91s to finish 5th overall, contributing two points to the Firebirds total.
The action would stay on the straightaway as the Firebirds put two finalists in the 60M Finals. After a disappointing performance in the Long Jump, Okon showed her mental strength by winning her preliminary in a season-best 7.95s. Grant also won her heat in 8.00 to set up a showdown between the two Firebirds in the final. Grant and Okon battled it out with Roberts Wesleyan's Chelsea Hayward in one of the most hotly-contested events of the day, as these three all finished within three-tenths of a second apart. Grant was edged by two-tenths of a second by Hayward, as she ran 7.94 seconds (her season-best) to finish 3rd overall. Okon had a great start and never relented as she made it to the line first in her season-best time which equaled her winning time from last year, 7.91s. This marks the 2nd consecutive season she has won this event at the ECC Championships.
A string of wins continued for the Firebirds as Marlena Wright made it three straight years winning the 500M, as she ran out a comfortable winner of Heat 3 with a time of 1:20.95. Her teammate Kimoy Mais also won her heat comfortably, with a time of 1:21.39. This also marked the third straight year Wright and Mais went 1-2 in the 500M. Jerily Benjamin also defended her title in the 400M, running a new ECC Record time of 58.80s. Her teammate Christina Baker also scored points in the 400M, winning Heat 2 with a time of 62.46 to finish 5th overall.
The win streak continued for the Firebirds as Grant returned to the track to take her first individual victory after close finishes in two other events. She sped away to a comfortable win in the 200M, running 25.87s to take the win. Benjamin finished 2nd with a time of 26.23 seconds - her season-best, and Baker also scored in the event by finishing 5th overall with a season-best of 26.89s.
The Firebirds would close out their day on the track with another victory in the meet-closing 4x400M Relay. The quartet of Kimoy Mais, Jerily Benjamin, Marlena Wright and Simone Grant ran away from the field with a time of 4:02.37 seconds, the 5th overall victory for the Firebirds at the ECC Indoor Championships.
"Finishing 3rd by no means diminishes the effort they displayed today. Simone Grant, Jerily Benjamin and Marlena Wright scoring in four events highlighted what we are as a team – small, but very competitive and always having an impact on the meet," McKenzie said. "I couldn't be more proud of the effort today, and I know this will prepare us to continue improving through the remaining portion of the Indoor Season as we pursue NCAA qualifying marks."
The Firebirds will head to the George Mason Last Chance Meet on Sunday, March 1st with several athletes competing to try to extend their Indoor Track & Field Season with NCAA qualifying marks.