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UH athletics competitive despite facility difficulties

The throwers on the Hawaii track and field team operate in an auxiliary space that cannot fully accommodate the objects they throw.

Its sprinters, long-distance runners and jumpers warm up on a borrowed track and field field alongside elementary and middle school students enjoying physical education class.

Certainly not ideal, but such is the hard life of the Rainbow Wahine, who have found a way to maintain – or even improve – their standards despite the long wait for a new facility on campus.

Last week, UH placed third at the Big West Women's Championships at Cal Poly, winning four events and finishing in the top three for the third straight year.

“We’ve gotten to the point where this is no longer a surprise,” UH track and field head coach Madeleine Carleton said this week.

Following the meet, UH selected two athletes – Hallee Mohr (discus) and Tara Wyllie (triple jump) – for next Saturday's NCAA West Regional in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

And sprinter Isabella Kneeshaw, who won the 400-meter dash and helped UH win the Big West 4×100 and 4×400 relays, was named UH's first Big West Freshman of the Year on Thursday.

Carleton said the team made the best of a difficult situation throughout. Since the Clarence TC Ching Athletics Complex was renovated to accommodate UH football games starting in 2021, there is no longer a dedicated space.

Most of the team has trained on Saint Louis School's track and field field, which is sometimes shared by Crusaders students during their time there.

“It's certainly been a very difficult year for all of us,” Carleton said in a recent phone interview with Spectrum News.

She said it was her experienced athletes who refused to drop the team's standards and kept the group together.

“This team is made up of fourth and fifth graders on the team who have actually been here throughout the entire build of the program,” Carleton said. “You know, you remember when the team finished ninth and sixth in the conference. And they were the ones who made it to consistent podium finishes where we are now.”

UH is in the process of building a new track and field and soccer facility at the former Cooke Field as part of a $30 million project. But construction was delayed for months before it began last October. Frequent rains in Manoa further delayed the project.

Construction work at Cooke Field in February. (Spectrum News/Brian McInnis)

Carleton said she expects the section of track to be finished by October and used for training in the fall. Full functionality, including football, could be achieved in January 2025.

Communication with administration started poorly during the track team's expulsion, she said, but has improved over time.

A completed facility is an enticing prospect for a program that, in Carleton's estimation, has “the deepest team we've ever been.” She and cross country/track and field director Tim Boyce welcome the day when they can host track and field meets again.

The immediate focus, however, is on the NCAA regionals, where Mohr and Wyllie want to pick up where high jumper Lilian Turban left off last spring. (Turban suffered a foot injury that outdoor season and was unable to compete in the Big West Championships.)

Mohr, a 6-foot-1 senior and Raymond, Wash., native, set a UH record in the discus, winning the Big West event with a throw of 58.25 meters (191 feet, 1 inch). This placed her in 11th placeTh She travels to the West Region Meeting, where she will make her third consecutive appearance.

“She had an amazing, consistently high-quality season,” Carleton said. “She won most of the events she competed in this season in her special event, including a big PR at the Big West meet, which was really exciting. And it is approaching the qualifying standard for Olympic trials. I mean, that’s how good this performance was.”

Wyllie, a 5-foot-9 sophomore from Canberra, Australia, didn't have her best performance at the Big West Championships, but made it in based on her 12.77-meter performance at the Stanford Invitational on March 30 the regional championship. She won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation indoor triple jump title in February.

“It will be a great experience for (Wyllie) to build on,” Carleton said. “I think she’s definitely someone who could try and qualify for the finals in the coming years.”

Hawaiian triple jumper Tara Wyllie will get a chance to compete in the NCAA West Regional early in her college career. (Photo courtesy of UH Athletics)

Brian McInnis covers the state's sports scene for Spectrum News Hawaii. He can be reached at brian.mcinnis@charter.com.

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