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North Central’s top-ranked men’s track team spins into homestretch

BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI

Coming off an easy victory in the Chicagoland Indoor Championship, and with its Cardinal Classic coming up Friday in Naperville, North Central’s men’s track team holds the No. 1 spot in the NCAA Division III rankings.

But the Cardinals’ main focus isn’t on the indoor nationals. The top priority, said coach Frank Gramarosso, is the CCIW indoor championships, a meet North Central has never lost.

“We have conference coming up [Feb. 27-28 in Kenosha, Wisconsin], and that’s our No. 1 team goal,” Gramarosso said. “But we have to be sensitive to the fact that two weeks later, some guys are going to be in the national championship.”

The task for Gramarosso and his staff is finding the right balance between team goals and giving athletes opportunities to qualify for nationals, March 13-14 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Cardinal Classic and a last-chance qualifier March 7 at Wisconsin-Stevens Point could find some athletes running different events than in the CCIW meet, where the team comes first.

The top 15 performances in each event qualify for the D-III meet. The NCAA Division III cross-country champions last fall, the Cardinals are strong in the distance races. Aron Sebhat ranks second nationally with a 4:11.98 mile, and Travis Morrison is second with 14:26.70 at 5,000 meters. Ben Dickshinski, Tim Vazquez and Ken Hoffman rank seventh, eighth and ninth at 5,000; Sebhat is seventh and Morrison ninth at 3,000; and Matt Muth 10th in the mile.

The Cardinals rank sixth in the 4-by-400-meter relay and the distance medley relay.

Freshman Luke Winder is following a family tradition as the national leader in the pole vault with a best of 17 feet, 7 inches. His brother Jake was a three-time pole vault national champion, brother Josh a six-time all-American — including both indoors and outdoors — and father Tim coaches the North Central vaulters.

“He’s been around pole vaulting his whole life,” Gramarosso said. “Luke started at a much younger age than other vaulters, and he’s doing tremendous for a freshman.”

Athletes throughout the U.S. will be taking aim at the times and distances in the top 15, so the Cardinals know they will have to improve to keep their national spots. Still, the CCIW meet takes top priority.

“[The conference meet] brings in the most participants as a team,” Gramarosso said. “There’s that fine line between track being an individual sport and a team sport, and it really is. We concentrate just like cross country; it’s a team sport, with team scoring and team dynamics.”

Krieger red-hot

St. Xavier’s Jack Krieger was named NAIA Divison II men’s basketball player of the week after scoring 35 points in a 118-117 triple overtime victory against Robert Morris and 43 in a 90-80 victory against Trinity International.

Krieger, a 6-3 senior guard, averages 22.1 points per game, eighth in NAIA Division II. His 43 against Trinity International were the most by a St. Xavier player since Mike Walaszek scored 46 against McKendree on Feb. 8, 1978.