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They were an image in flight, the field events members of the 1975-76 indoor track team. One year later, the mental picture that remains is one of their gravity-defying feats: Mel Embree floating almost weightlessly over the high jump bar; Hunt Block extending his legs in mid-air, stretching for every last inch in the long jump; massive Dan Jiggets whipping the 35-lb. weight in a high, long arc; Ahmedj Kayali grimacing and gyrating, on his way to another triple-jump victory.
The field events group carried the team to victory through most of the season, at one point outscoring all combined opponents by 20 points in the Greater Boston Championships. But the images are, of course, a year old--and if you don't think one year can witness much of a change, just ask Jimmy Carter.
Embree is gone (to Harvard Law School), and so are Jiggets (to the Chicago Bears) and the rest of the high flyers mentioned above. After Northeastern's field events crew outscored the Crimson's in Saturday's lostt, coach Bill McCurdy and assistant Ed Stowell knew that they face a tough job of rebuilding the depleted flying circus.
McCurdy winces at the mention of the graduation losses. "The last two years we were a field event team," he said yesterday. "Every once in a while they'd go absolutely out of their minds."
"This year," McCurdy said, "we're going to have to have a lot of things go right for us. We won't have the things to toy with that we did last year."
The most dramatic, and probably most serious, loss is at the high jump position. To paraphrase Erich Segal (a Briggs Cage regular in his day), what can you say about a 22-year old, record-breaking high jumper who graduates? Mel Embree broke every record in the book in his three years of jumping and only missed going to the Olympics when Jim Barrineau leaped 7 ft. 4 1/2 in. on his last attempt at the U.S. trials (Barrineau failed to place in Montreal).
Add to the loss of Embree that of John McCulloh, a seven-foot jumper in his own right, and the squad is left with a big gap. Dan Sullivan, a bonafide 6-8 leaper, will fill in some, but in McCurdy's words, "The big problem is to find some support behind him."
Ahmed Kayali's younger brother Hasan will pick up some of the slack in the triple jump, but he is the only leaper with proven ability. "Again," McCurdy said, "we're looking for some support behind him." Freshman Russell Brooks may provide some help.
With the loss of Block and Embree in the long jump, the only promising competitor in that even is freshman Cliff Lenz. "We're starting from scratch," McCurdy said.
In the pole vault, McCurdy has battled graduation to a standoff. Fifteen-foot vaulter Geoff stiles returns from a strong freshman year, but all the depth he had last season is gone.
The Crimson also has suffered heavy losses in the weight events, in the persons of shot putter Kevin McCafferty and shotputter/weight thrower Jiggetts. Chris Queen and Mitch Whitten may come on strong in the shotput, but no one knows for sure.
The outlook is better in the 35-lb. weight throw, with Ed Ajootian, one of the top throwers in the country, returning. Again, though, the problem is depthy--sophomore Tom McDevitt and Joe Pellegrini, and freshman Tom Lenz are strong in potential, but weak in experience. "You can't ask for much better than to have Ajootian back," McCurdy said. "You'd just like to have Jiggets with him."
The next test for the field events crew comes after exam period in the Greater Boston Championships--the event where they cleaned up everyone in sight last year.
"If we can put it all together, we have a chance to be effective this season," McCurdy said. "But it's a little too early to tell how it will turn out."
Beginning with the GBCs, then, look to see if McCurdy and Stowell can build a squad to match the flying field events circus of 1975-76. They face a tough challenge.
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