The Mariners have arrived. Two years removed from a dismal last place showing where USMMA scored a mere 6 points at the Landmark Conference Indoor Championships, Merchant Marine has proven itself to be a contender within the conference.
"A year ago we vaulted up to 3rd place in an extraordinary turnaround and scored 67 points. We were however, nowhere in sight of the conference leaders Moravian and Susquehanna. Susquehanna still had nearly doubled our point output and Moravian beat us by over 160 points," said Head Coach Greg Lott. "Our goal coming into the season was to close the gap a bit and establish ourselves as a peer to the programs that have dominated the Landmark Conference since it was established".
Well, close that gap they did. Susquehanna narrowly survived a scare to hold onto 2nd place as they edged out USMMA 98 to 95. In just one season the Mariners closed that 60-point gap on Susquehanna and gained over 90 points on Moravian, who once again claimed the team title. "The transformation of the program is very exciting," said Lott. "We are now at the point where a conference title within the next two years is reachable. It's hard to imagine with where we were just a short time ago but our guys are starting to see that as a reality".
On the way to their 95-point total, the day for the Mariners was filled with outstanding performances, personal best marks and records. By the end of the meet, USMMA had amassed four event titles, three runner-up finishes, had established a new Academy Record, a new Landmark Conference Record and even had an individual credited with the New Comer of the Year award.
The day started with the pole vault as the Mariners were well represented by their trio of Plebe vaulters. Bryan Tischler claimed fourth place with a season's best mark of 3.95m. Trevor Brant just missed out on scoring, placing 7th but also had a season's best mark of 3.65m. The long jumpers competed next and really got the momentum rolling with all three competitors scoring. FR Chris Cook won the event with a lifetime best jump of 6.72m, breaking the 22' barrier for the first time. Cook's mark was the fourth best jump in Academy history (just .09m off the record) and also surpassed the qualifying mark for the ECAC Championships. FR Ryan Faber and FR Luke Kolbeck also came up big for the Mariners placing 4th and 5th in the conference. Both jumpers had indoor personal best marks achieving distances of 6.44m and 6.35m respectively.
Things got started on the track with the Distance Medley Relay team of FR David McGowan, FR Logan Shatters, FR Tomas Sanchez and JR Daniel Baxter. McGowan's 1200m leg of 3:26 put the Mariners right in the race. Shatters' 400m split of 54.0 gave the baton to Sanchez who completed the 800m leg in 1:59 and gave the Mariners the lead heading into the anchor position. Daniel Baxter ran a great 1600 meters in 4:32 to give the Mariners a third place finish in 10:52.37 (the 5th fastest ever at the Academy and the fastest that USMMA has run since 2002). "Prior to the start of this indoor season Baxter was out at sea for eight months. Since his return his Mile time has already decreased 16 seconds. He is on campus for the next five trimesters for consistent training and will no doubt become a force in the conference," stated Coach Lott. In the trials 60m Hurdles FR Luke Kolbeck improved his personal best time and qualified for the finals (Top 6) running a mark of 9.54 (#14 All-time at the Academy). The speedsters then took to the track for the trials in the 60m dash. FR Chris Cook and Sophomores Mickel McGann and Tyler McDaniel all set new personal best marks and both McGann and Cook qualified for the finals. McGann's time of 7.27 was just .01 seconds off of his own Academy Record and Cook's time of 7.20 set a new Academy mark. Cook then equaled his new Academy Record in the finals, running 7.20 again to take 3rd place overall. The 4x200m relay team of SR Andrew Coatsworth, SR Hunter Karass, SO Tyler McDaniel and SO Mickel McGann had one of the memorable performances of the meet. The first three legs ran in dominating fashion gapping the rest of the field by 10 meters going into the anchor leg. A mid-race injury to the anchor gave way to a heroic performance by McGann limping through the line to hold onto 2nd place for valuable team points. It was even the fourth fastest time ever run at the Academy.
The Mariners picked up the event victory in the 400m as FR Tomas Sanchez beat the field by .6 seconds running a personal best of 51.16. SR Richard Shelest showed incredible improvement taking almost 2 full seconds off of his personal best run in the event finishing 5th overall in a time of 52.47. The 200m was more of the same for the Mariners as FR Chris Cook won his second event of the day in a time of 23.01 (#4 All-time at the Academy). SO Tyler McDaniel and SR Andrew Coatsworth also ran fantastic lifetime best efforts in the 200m to score for the Mariners in 5th and 6th place running 23.75 and 23.84 respectively. The timing of the 200m dash ended up hurting the Mariners as Cook, who was one of the conference's top triple jumpers had to run over to the pit immediately upon completion of the race, was not able to take and run-throughs and didn't have time to catch his breath to get off a proper jump. FR Ryan Faber then stepped up in his first triple jump competition of the year and placed 5th with a mark of 12.39m, which was the 17th best performance ever at the Academy.
Even amidst the overall great day for the team, the Mariner Shot Putters were one of the brightest spots. Seniors Ed Logan and Aaron Benson came up huge for USMMA with personal best marks. Benson's mark of 12.22m was good enough for 5th place. Logan's throw of 13.13m was an improvement of ¾ of a meter, an astronomical jump in just one meet. Logan beat out several throwers that had come into the meet seeded higher than him and placed 2nd overall. "Logan had been showing such great potential throughout the season. I am so happy for him that he started putting things together with his technique today. He really responded when it mattered most," said an elated Coach Lott.
The day ended with the 4x800m and 4x400m relays, strong points for the Mariners. FR Alex Megeff lead off for USMMA in the 4x800m and ran a great leg a full three seconds faster than he had all throughout the season. SR Logan Swan, who's best mark in the 800m had been a 2:09, ran a 2:04 split to firmly implant the Mariners in a race for the top spots. FR David McGowan and JR Daniel Baxter both ran great relay legs once again to help the team finish in 2nd place with a 19 second improvement over the team's best performance of the season in 8:22.77. The time was also the 6th fastest ever at the Academy and the fastest run since 2002. A lot was on the line when the 4x400m team of Seniors Hunter Karass, Richard Shelest, Kevin Young and FR Tomas Sanchez stepped on the track. The first two legs by Karass and Shelest gave the baton to Sanchez with the lead. Sanchez put a big gap in the field and handed the stick off to team Co-Captain Kevin Young. The ECAC qualifier and one of the top long sprinters in the conference had no trouble extending the lead to put an exclamation point on an outstanding day for the Mariners. For further emphasis on their three-second victory in the event, their time of 3:28.32 was a Landmark Conference Record.
FR Chris Cook was named Landmark Conference New-Comer of the Year for his meet victories in the Long Jump and 200m and his 3rd place finish in the 60m. The accolade could have just as easily gone to FR Tomas Sanchez who earned gold in the 400m and 4x400m record setting relay and ran a fantastic 800m leg for the 3rd place finishing Distance Medley Relay.
Three Mariners have made qualifying marks for the Easter Conference Athletic Championships (ECACs) and will be in action this weekend at the New Balance Armory. SR Kevin Young and FR Tomas Sanchez will represent the Academy in the 500m and FR Chris Cook will compete in the Long Jump.