This past Thursday and Friday the United States Merchant Marine Academy track and field teams competed in the Eastern Conference Athletic Championships (ECACs) in Troy, NY hosted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). 84 institutions ranging from as far north as Maine, as far south as Virginia and as far west as western Pennsylvania had athletes qualify for these championships; the largest regional track and field championship meet in the country.
The highlight of the competition for Kings Point came in the men's 4x400m relay. The team consisting of freshman Logan "SWAG" Shatters, senior Richard Shelest, freshman Tomas Sanchez and freshman Chris Cook were seeded 17th coming into the competition. The Mariners gave everyone a surprise winning their heat (3rd fastest), beating all of the teams out of the next fastest heat and placing 5th overall with a time of 3:18.83 garnering the designation of ALL-ECAC. Their time even broke the Landmark Conference record of 3:18.96 set by Moravian College in 2008.
Shatters started off the relay with a huge lifetime best run of 51.4 to put the team in the race in their heat. After that, the rest was just details as each subsequent leg moved up, took over the race and ran away from the competition winning the heat by an astounding 3.5 seconds. Shelest ran his best ever split (49.5) as did Sanchez (49.1) to give Cook a lead that there was no way he would relinquish as he ran to victory with a leg of 48.6. "It was the perfect end to the season for the relay that has just been dominating all year long," said Head Coach Gregory Lott. "With three of the legs being freshman, I expect this relay to just continue to improve and make some noise on the national stage in coming seasons. This group has given us a benchmark from which to work. This relay now has a standard."
Freshman Chris Cook also qualified individually for ALL-ECAC honors with his performance in the Long Jump where he placed 4th overall with a mark of 6.94m (22'9.25"). While not his best ever, his placing was still a strong improvement over his 8th place performance at the Indoor ECAC Championships. Earlier this outdoor season, Cook eclipsed the Academy record in the event, previously the longest standing record at the Academy with his victorious jump at the Landmark Conference Championships where he reached 7.06m (23'3"). Cook improved that mark on May 13th at the Georgian Court last chance meet with a new Academy Record of 7.09m (23'4"). The ECAC jump marked four consecutive competitions to end the season where Cook jumped over an Academy Record that had stood since 1965. His best jump was also the 32nd best jump in the nation this year.
The third ALL-ECAC performance of the meet came for the Mariners in the Javelin. Senior Kevin Stapf finished his season with a mark of 56.78m, good enough for 4th place overall. The Javelin was contested on a grass runway, precluding the athletes from gaining top speed on their approaches and therefore leading to weaker performances. Stapf's best mark of the year came at the New Jersey Invitational hosted by The College of New Jersey where he threw 59.08m (193'10"). This incredible throw was the 26th best mark of the year nationally. "Kevin made huge strides this year in completely re-working himself physically. He is a great physical specimen but had some major strength and flexibility imbalances," said Coach Lott. "His fantastic work ethic lead to an absolute transformation. In his first year throwing the Javelin he gained about 40 feet to his throw over the course of the season. You just don't see that; I was so proud of the way he worked and developed into such a great thrower in just one year. If we only had him for a couple more years..."
Freshman Tomas Sanchez also competed individually for the Mariners running to a 23rd place finish in the 800m in 1:57.55. It was a disappointing race for Sanchez after his electrifying 4x400m relay split the previous day of competition. He ran his personal best mark in the 800m on May 14th at the Swarthmore College last chance meet in a blistering time of 1:54.21. Coach Lott praised his overall body of work from this season, "It was such a great season for Tomas. He was our Landmark Conference 400m Champion in both the indoor and outdoor seasons, got another conference title and Landmark Conference Record in the indoor 4x400m relay, broke an individual Academy Record indoors in the 500m, was ALL-ECAC indoors in the 500m with a 6th place finish and was ALL-ECAC outdoors with the 4x400m relay with another Landmark Record. He was also just a 1:59 800m runner a year ago that is now running 1:54s and qualifying for ECACs. What a tremendous start to a fantastic career for Tomas at USMMA".
Kings Point finished in 22nd place with 14 points to their credit, their highest finish in years. The Mariners beat out their rival, The United States Coast Guard Academy who placed 58th scoring two points. Coach Lott praised the team's improvement over the past few years, "Two years ago we lacked qualifiers for the ECACs. Last year we had a few at the meet but no scorers. This indoor season we finally got on the board with a 6th and an 8th place individual finish giving us a team score of four. Now we are at 14 beating quality programs like Stevens Institute, SUNY Cortland, Middlebury, Colby and Vassar. We're climbing the ladder. This is just another measure of the progress our men are showing. I'm just so proud of our guys."
Photo: Landmark Conference record breaking relay team of (left to right) Logan Shatters, Tomas Sanchez, Richard Shelest, and Chris Cook