Rutgers excited for second trip to Big Ten Championships
The Rutgers men’s track and field team has been performing well all season long, and now it faces its biggest challenge yet — the Big Ten Championships in Geneva, Ohio, this weekend.
The runners expect to perform well, although head coach Mike Mulqueen acknowledges the steep competition.
“Big Ten track is one of the top track and field conferences in the country,” he said. “We will compete as hard as we can against the best, and hopefully that will bring out our best. It’s always exciting to go to a big championship competition.”
Graduate senior Corey Crawford said he is looking forward to his first Big Ten Championship appearance. The Oakland, New Jersey, native sat out last season with an injury, but now is ready for his first shot at other Big Ten schools.
Two weeks after resetting the facility record in the long jump at the Valentine Invitational in Boston, he will go out again and give it his all against the competition.
“I had a good meet at Boston, but I’ve jumped a lot further before, so I know that there’s a lot left for me to accomplish,” Crawford, whose jump in Boston was the longest of any Big Ten competitor this season, said. “I just want to get better. Every meet, I just want to learn stuff about me … I want to find something I need to work on every week and just get better and better”
And while the Big Ten and NCAA Championships are big goals for collegiate-level athletes, Crawford has his sights on a bigger prize — the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
“(The Olympics) is obviously a goal for a lot of our athletes,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who can compete at the next level … the Olympic trials are something that I really want to go to and do well at and get my name out there. Rio is the ultimate goal, that’s the Mecca of our sport.”
The Scarlet Knights skipped the Milrose Games in New York last weekend to focus on the Big Ten Championship.
All runners are working hard with an emphasis on having quality workouts, getting necessary rest and remaining healthy, Mulqueen said.
“Most of us competed at Boston, which was just a long day,” Crawford said. “It was a long weekend, with the travel, and it was a crowded meet … We’ve had a good two weeks of practice. It was nice to get two weeks off from our last meet to now. For a championship meet, you want to be prepared a little more … we’re definitely ready to roll.”
The difference between regular meets and the conference championship is the intensity and pressure, the jumper said.
“This is what we’ve been working towards since August,” he said. “This is where guys step up and make a name for themselves. My coaches always emphasize, ‘This is championship season. This is when it counts’ … This is where people get remembered. This is what people are going to know about you. This is pretty much like the playoffs.”
Crawford is not the only one who hopes to make an impact in Geneva. Freshman Izaiah Brown, who won the 400-meter dash in Boston, will compete in the 200 and 400-meter dash, as well as the 4x400 relay.
Brown recorded the top Big Ten mark in the 400-meter dash, a time of 46.61 seconds, at the Rutgers Invitational in January.
Senior sprinter Rajee Dunbar, who came in third in the 60-meter dash in Boston, will compete in the 60 and 200-meter dashes, as well as the 4x400 relay. And senior Joseph Velez, who finished third in the weight throw in Boston and almost broke his own school record, hopes to better those results in Geneva.
In a sport like track, one doesn’t focus on individual athletes as rivals, Crawford said. But really, it’s you against everyone else.
“It’s just me against myself,” he said “You’re running against the clock, or jumping against the tape measure. I never really think about the competition too much … At the end of the day, it’s all about the process and just doing what we’ve been doing in practice.”
The Knights are gearing up for what poses to be the biggest stage they have competed on this season.
“Big Ten is Big Ten,” Crawford said. “It’s going to be big time.”
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