People thought it was impossible to run a sub-four-minute mile until Roger Bannister ran a 3:59:04 on May 6, 1954. In the 2021-22 NCAA indoor track season, 82 student-athletes ran one. On Jan. 27, four Hoyas—senior Matt Rizzo, junior Abel Teffra, senior Camden Gilmore, and sophomore Lucas Guerra—did the same.
The 2021-22 indoor track season saw many strong individual performances from the Hoyas, who have a tradition of excellence in running, and in the 2022-23 season, the team built on their momentum, especially on the women’s side.
The women’s team opened the season with a bang on Dec. 3, 2022, at the VMI Team Challenge. Graduate Eni Akinniyi broke a school record that stood for nearly three years in the triple jump, jumping 12.8 meters. Senior Maya Drayton and freshman Jadah Fitzgerald finished one-two in the 400m dash, and the 4x400m relay team took first place. In the Sharon Colyear-Danville season opener, senior Maggie Donahue broke her own school record in the 5K with a time of 15:43:98.
The men also had a strong showing at the season opener, winning the 60m, the 200m, and the 800m, and taking the top three spots in the 400m. According to the coaches, there was more to come.
Alton McKenzie, director of the cross-country and track and field program, explained the goal for the first meet was to use cross-country fitness as a baseline metric: “For example, Maggie Donahue breaking her school record in the 5K coming off of being an All-American in cross-country.” Similarly, it was senior Matthew Payamps, the 800m winner’s first time getting back into the action after an illness-riddled cross-country season.
At the Nittany Lion Challenge in January, the Hoyas faced much stiffer competition than they had in December. In spite of that, the men’s and women’s teams combined for eight top-three finishes, including Akinniyi winning the triple jump again, setting a strong tone for the rest of the season.
The rest of the January meets saw more personal bests from the Hoyas. At the Hokie Invitational a few weeks later, Payamps ran a 2:20:41 to win the 1000m, breaking a 44-year-old school record by just 28-hundredths of a second. Junior Christopher Pitt and sophomore Aaron Lindsey set personal records in the long jump and the 400m, respectively, as did both 4x400m relays.
Coaches were pleased with the momentum that both teams were building, and excited to see how much more it would grow.
In February, the Hoya men once again dominated the mile at the Navy Select, taking the top four spots, and the Hoya women swept the top four spots in the 3000m in Annapolis. The same weekend, Georgetown sent both distance medley relays (DMRs) to the Alex Wilson Invitational to give them the opportunity to qualify for the NCAA championship, which requires a top-16 time in the country for any given season for individual races and a top-12 time for relays. The women’s DMR of sophomore Melissa Riggins, Drayton, graduate Katy-Ann McDonald, and graduate Grace Jensen broke the school record set in 2016—by Hoyas that would eventually win the NCAA title.
“To break the school record to qualify for the meet speaks to the high quality that they showed, and how good the team is to even get an opportunity to get into the meet. Like I said, I might be biased, but I think it’s pretty much the toughest to get into,” McKenzie said.
The men’s DMR ran the fifth-fastest time in school history, but McKenzie acknowledged in a press release that it was unlikely their effort would be enough to qualify.
Heading into the BIG EAST Championships on Feb. 24-25, Georgetown seemed ready to go. It would be their first time, however, racing against many of their more competitive BIG EAST opponents. While the women took third place and the men sixth overall, there were several individual highlights.
On the women’s side, Riggins and McDonald finished first and second in the mile, Drayton won the 400m, and the Hoyas won the 4x800m. Riggins, who anchored the 4x800m, was given the honor of Women’s Most Outstanding Performer in Track Events.
The men won their 4x800m relay, and junior Joshua Paige won the 200m by breaking his own school record with a time of 20.99 seconds. He was also named Men’s Most Outstanding Performer in Track Events.
Despite their somewhat lackluster team placements at the BIG EAST championships, both teams still had a number of athletes named to the All-BIG EAST Team.
For the women, Drayton achieved All-BIG EAST honors in the 200m and 400m, Jensen in the 800m, Riggins and McDonald in the mile, junior Chloe Gonzalez and graduate Andrea Claeson in the 3000m, and Chloe Scrimgeour in the 5000m. Paige was named to the All-BIG EAST Team for the 200m, Teffra for the 800m, Rizzo for the mile, and Gilmore for the 3000m. Both 4x800m relays were also selected.
The Hoyas qualified five athletes for the NCAA Indoor Championships in the women’s DMR and Rizzo in the mile. The DMR placed fifth overall, and four runners were named first-team All-American. Rizzo placed 13th in the preliminaries and did not qualify for the final, but his performance was still good enough to earn him second-team All-American honors.
Looking ahead to the outdoor season, the Hoyas will be in good shape to make a run for a BIG EAST title, particularly on the women’s side. If Akinniyi can return in full force to repeat as BIG EAST champion in the triple jump, combined with the performances that the women put up in the indoor championships, the team will be a force to be reckoned with, a fact recognized by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association when they were ranked 15th in the nation in the mid-year programs update, the only BIG EAST team to make the rankings.
McKenzie knows it, too. “The goal is to have a good indoor season, but the mindset is still that we want to run well outdoors,” he said. “If you have an exceptional indoor season but outdoor doesn’t go as right, then you’ll still remember the outdoor season.”
For the Hoyas, the next three months will be their chance to do just that and make an outdoor season worth remembering.