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Richards, Molinaro to compete at Camel City Elite Races

Senior runners Emily Richards (left) and Matt Molinaro (right) will compete at the Camel City Elite Races this weekend in Winston-Salem, NC. (photo/ ONU Sports Information)

Two of Ohio Northern’s most historically dominant runners, now seniors, will begin their final collegiate track seasons in North Carolina on Saturday.

Emily Richards, who owns the ninth-fastest time in the U.S. and 28th-fastest time in the world in the 800-meter dash, will headline that event at the Camel City Elite Races in Winston-Salem, NC. She will be joined by her 800-meter counterpart on the men’s track & field team, Matt Molinaro, who finished second and third in last year’s indoor and outdoor national championship 800-meter races, respectively.

This will be the first meet of the indoor season for both runners, and it will likely be one of their most competitive races this year. Both the men’s and women’s 800-meter races will feature a mix of professional and collegiate runners.

“I think one thing about coming back to a super fast race like this is that it kept us focused,” Molinaro said. “We have to be at a higher level of training early, so it was really cool to be able to have this experience. I’m really excited for it.”

Although Richards and Molinaro have competed in elite outdoor races over the past two years, such as the Raleigh Relays, Mt. Sac Relays and Beach Invitational, the Camel City Elite Races will be their first indoor race of that caliber.

“I don’t think either of us have had really fast indoor races that we’ve gone to,” Richards said. “This is kind of our first big, fast indoor meet that we’ve done. So it’ll be interesting to see how that works out.”

The meet will be held at JDL Fast Track, a premier indoor facility 15 minutes from downtown Winston-Salem. Both Richards and Molinaro said that they hope to break their own personal records this weekend, given the competitiveness of the race.

The main goal for both runners, however, is to qualify for the U.S. Track & Field Indoor Championships, which will be held in Albuquerque, NM the week before the OAC Championships. The qualifying mark for the women’s race is 2:03, which is nearly three seconds slower than Richards’ personal record of 2:00.62 (set last June in Nashville). The qualifying mark for the men’s race is 1:49.50, which is nearly two seconds slower than Molinaro’s personal record of 1:47.73.

While ONU track & field coach Jason Maus will not be traveling with Richards and Molinaro to North Carolina this weekend, as he will stay in Ada to run the Joe Banks Invitational, he didn’t hide his excitement for Camel City.

“That’s going to be really awesome, I’m excited. You might actually get to see Matt and Em lose a race,” Maus said with a chuckle.

Maus said that Camel City was one of many elite races that Richards and Molinaro were invited to this year, given the dominance of the duo over their time at Northern.

“Realistically, you could fly all over the country all spring with the two of them, and as fast as they are, we could probably get them into any meet we want,” Maus said. “But we’re going to try to pick and choose.”

For Molinaro and Richards, elite races like Camel City are critically important; not only because of their prestige, but also because the two have simply run out of competition at the Div. III level and need these races to spur their growth as runners.

“It’s great to get into those kind of races, because sometimes at our level, it’s hard to find races where we have people to run with,” Richards, who won the outdoor 800-meter national championship last year by nearly five seconds, said. “So, getting to races like that helps us be competitive and race in some of the bigger races down the road.”

The women’s 800-meter

Richards will be racing alongside four collegiate and four professional runners on Saturday. She comes into the race with the fastest personal record time of any collegiate runner. Her PR time of 2:00.62 is nearly two seconds faster than the other collegiate runners -- two from Virginia Tech and two from Middle Tennessee State -- who will be participating this weekend.

The senior will not only come into Saturday’s race with speed, but also experience. Having raced alongside professional runners at last summer’s U.S. Track & Field Outdoor Championships, she said that she looks forward to seeing some of those runners lining up in neighboring lanes again this weekend -- namely Hanna Green, the Virginia Tech All-American whom she met last summer, and who now runs professionally for Nike Oregon Track Club Elite.

RELATED: Summer Exclusive: Inside Emily Richards’ U.S. Championship experience

“Some of those runners were ones that I ran against last year at USA’s, so I’m excited to see them again,” Richards said. “I think most of them are in their first year running professionally, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ve adapted to that.”

Green has a PR time of 2:01.17 and just missed the final cut for last summer’s U.S. Championships, which Richards made. She was a three-time runner-up in the Div. I National Championship 800-meter race and will prove to be stiff competition for Richards this weekend.

Richards will also be opposed by Hanna Hermansson, who represented Sweden in the 800-meter at the 2017 World Championships. Her PR is 2:00.43. Nike runner Georganne Moline, a former Olympic hurdler, will also be competing, as well as Great Britain’s Hannah Segrave, who has a PR of 2:02.79.

The winner of this race for the past two years has been Melissa Bishop, a Canadian runner who competed in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and won Camel City with times just above 2:02 in 2016 and 2017.

While Richards says that she does feel pressure coming into this weekend’s race, it’s not because she has the fastest time of any collegiate runner participating; it’s because she knows that this will be one of her only chances to run in a meet of this caliber during the indoor season.

“In terms of pressure, honestly, it’s good because it’s our first opportunity -- and maybe one of our only opportunities -- to run fast this indoor season,” Richards said. “So [there may be] a little bit of pressure there, but honestly, it’s still early in the season for everyone so I think it’s just going to be a really good way of seeing where I’m at. And I’m excited to see that, no matter where it is.”

The men’s 800-meter

Molinaro will be racing alongside two collegiate and four professional runners on Saturday. He also comes into the race with the fastest PR time of any collegiate runner, topping Ryan Hastings of Appalachian State and Stefano Migliorati of East Carolina by less than half a second each.

He will be tested by professional runners like Ryan Martin (of Asics Furman Elite), who narrowly missed a trip to the 2012 Olympics and has a PR of 1:44.77. Drew Piazza, a 2017 graduate of Virginia Tech who was the NCAA runner-up in the 800-meter last year and holds a PR of 1:45.69, will also be racing. Ross Denman, a 2017 graduate of Div. III Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he won multiple national titles as a sprinter, will be competing as well.

Finally, Eliud Rutto of the U.S. Army, who finished runner-up to Clayton Murphy in the 2016 NCAA indoor 800-meter championship race during his time at Middle Tennessee State, will return with a PR of 1:45.37. Rutto won the 800-meter race last year and is the only collegiate athlete ever to win a Camel City event.

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“This is probably the most competitive field I’ve raced in,” Molinaro said. “All these guys are top finishers in the U.S. finals in their respective events, so I’m definitely a little nervous. But the competition is going to be good, to see where we’re at for this point in the season. I am nervous, but I am definitely looking forward to seeing where I’m at in training.”

Richards will race at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday and Molinaro will race at 2:40 p.m. For race coverage, click here to go to the Camel City Elite Races webpage.

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