Don’t get in Jamie Ruginski’s way this weekend. The University of Southern Maine jumper must replace a year-old disappointment with the personal satisfaction of being named an All-American at this weekend’s NCAA Division III track and field championships.
He failed last March, missing the All-American designation by 2 inches in the triple jump, where performances are measured in dozens of feet.
Friday, Ruginski, of Buxton, will walk into the Devaney Center at the University of Nebraska ranked No. 1 in the country in the triple jump.
He is a member of the No. 1-ranked 1,600-meter relay team. He is the ninth-ranked long jumper at the Division III meet.
He has a chance to return to Maine as a three-time All-American thanks to the motivating chip on his shoulder.
Ruginski isn’t alone among Maine-connected competitors to beat. Coby Horowitz, a senior at Bowdoin College from Stow, Mass., is the top-ranked miler.
His time of 4 minutes, 41-hundreths of a second at the New England open meet in late February broke a 17-year-old NCAA Division III record. He’s ranked seventh in the 3,000 meters.
Mitch Black of Brunswick, a sophomore at Tufts, is the top-ranked runner in the 800 meters.Emilia Scheemaker of Scarborough, a junior at Ithaca College, is No. 1 in the women’s triple jump.
That’s five No. 1 rankings among the 34 individual and relay events in the men’s and women’s championship meets.
“It’s probably a first,” said George Towle, the veteran USM women’s coach. “The success of Maine cross country and track athletes at the collegiate level (all divisions) is one of the best-kept secrets in the state, but not to the coaches and athletes involved in the sport.”
Peyton Dostie of Standish, another Bonny Eagle graduate, and Hannah Damron of Windham run for Towle and both qualified for the national meet for the first time. Dostie, a junior, is in the 400 meters; Damron, a sophomore, is in the 800 meters.
Jeremy Collins of Standish, a sophomore and yet another Bonny Eagle graduate, will run the second leg of the relay and is ranked 12th in the 400 meters.
USM sophomore Dan Webb of Acton and Sanford High will run the lead leg. Junior Kevin Desmond of Monmouth gets the baton last.
“It’s a team event,” said Ruginski, who runs the third leg. “It’s more stressful to me than the triple jump because I don’t want to let them down. No one really pays attention to the jumps but the relay is one of the more exciting events of the whole meet. I’ve seen some elbows thrown in that last leg.”
Competitors finishing eighth or better in their events are awarded the All-American designation. Competing in the triple jump last March, Ruginski missed eighth place by 2 inches.
“Can you believe that? Two inches. It was devastating,” said Ruginski. “It was the difference between a great season and a decent season. Two inches.
“I was rusty last year, but getting All-American last year was my goal and I didn’t do it. This year I’ve trained harder, worked harder (with USM jumps coach Sarah Burkhardt and first-year coach Steve Virgilio), and been more careful about my nutrition. I drink a quart of Smiling Hill chocolate milk every day. I can say that, right?” Meaning the local dairy doesn’t pay him in product or money.
Ruginski went to the University of Maine after high school. He set the UMaine outdoor record in the triple jump with a distance of 49 feet, 5.75 inches. He left school and spent about a year snowboarding and working in the Lake Tahoe area between Nevada and California.
When he decided to resume college, he chose USM. He is a business management major.
Ruginski and Desmond are at the national meet for the second time. They’ve talked a little with teammates on what to expect. “I heard we get treated like gods,” said Collins. “We each have an escort from the locker room to the track. We get our own basket to put our stuff in. Things like that.”
Dostie has listened, a little. “So much of track is a mind game. You don’t want to over-think. You tell yourself it’s just another race, but it is the national championship.”
Horowitz knows the expectations, and sights and sounds of national meets. Between cross country, and indoor and outdoor track, he is a 10-time All-American. He’ll be joined by Bowdoin sophomore Addison Carvajal of Seattle, a qualifier in the women’s pentathlon; Erin Silva, a junior pole vaulter from Westborough, Mass.; and Katherine Harmon, a senior weight thrower from Auburn.
Sean Enos of Bates College, a junior from Lynnfield, Mass., is ranked second in the shot put and fourth in the weight throw, following his school’s tradition of producing competitive throwers at the national level. Senior teammate John Wisener of Ridgewood, N.J., qualified in the pole vault and junior Eric Wainman of Glastonbury, Conn., qualified in the heptathlon.
Bates senior Kallie Nixon of Medford, Mass., qualified in the 3,000 meters and on the school’s distance relay team. Colby College qualified its women’s 1,600-meter relay team.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or:firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: SteveSolloway