The Collegian
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Benford seeks track and field NCAA berth

After a disappointing weekend at the Atlantic 10 Indoor Track and Field Championships for the men's and women's teams, redshirt senior Andrew Benford is still working to earn a spot at Nationals.

The Notre Dame Last Chance Invitational in South Bend, Ind., is a meet for athletes who are on the bubble of competing for an NCAA title, but haven't qualified yet. The meet begins March 4.

Benford will be running the 5,000m at South Bend, an event he just won at the A-10 championships. Benford also won the 5k in 14:32:21 and the 3k in 8:18:27, which were his first indoor titles.

At South Bend, Benford will be running with other athletes, but will be competing against the clock more than anything, he said. If he runs the 5k in 13:46, a time called the auto-mark, he will automatically qualify for a spot at Nationals, he said.

"If I finish fifth in the race, but hit the mark, that's all that matters," he said. Benford said if he missed the auto-mark he still had a chance if he ran in the low 13:50s.

Although Benford was the clear highlight of the Atlantic 10 Indoor Championships for Richmond, he said it was almost impossible to compete against the bigger schools on a team level because of the lack of athletes and scholarships given to the program.

"Without the resources, we can't compete for a team championship in track like we can in cross country, so that makes it difficult," he said.

The University of Dayton won the Atlantic 10 Tournment, scoring 161 points compared to Richmond's 23 points. Other teams have several athletes competing in each event that can earn points for the team, but Richmond struggles to have even a single athlete in every event, he said.

The track team is the only team at Richmond that has no scholarships available for male athletes, he said.

Men's head coach Steve Taylor said, "It is nearly impossible to be competitive with zero scholarships and an 18-person roster when there are 21 events."

Cross country, indoor track and outdoor track have three different seasons and have three different sports, Taylor said.

"Too often we get lumped as one sport," he said. "But basically it's like basketball, baseball and football. Cross country, indoor and outdoor are completely different."

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Taylor said athletes who excelled in one area didn't necessarily excel in the other areas, which made Benford a rarity.

"Andrew has an innate ability to put himself in a place that most people aren't willing to go in terms of pain tolerance," Taylor said.

He said Benford's best running was in mountains, and to be able to transfer that ability to a flat track surface was something that was above and beyond what most people could do.

The combination of Benford's work ethic and the track at South Bend could prove deadly for the other runners competing against Benford, Taylor said. The Notre Dame Last Chance Invitational track is 300m long, which means longer straight-aways and longer opportunities to hit top speeds, he said.

That's bad combination for Benford's competitors, Taylor said.

To put into perspective what Benford has ahead of him is wildly impressive, Taylor said. Benford will have to run 4:20 miles back-to-back-to-back.

"It's a game of inches when you are running that fast," he said.

Senior Monica Howard, a thrower for the women's team, said she had seen Benford grow tremendously during his time at Richmond.

"I know people that have come to run for Richmond because they want to run with Andrew," she said.

Seeing Benford competing with top-level scholarship athletes legitimizes Richmond as a program, Howard said.

To have such a high-caliber runner at Richmond running for free is special and humbling, said Taylor.

"There isn't a school in the country right now that wouldn't give full scholarships to [Tim Quinn, Matt Llano and Andrew Benford] to run for them," he said.

Taylor credited Benford's loyalty to his academics and love for the sport of running as an explanation for his success. He said during his time here he had seen Benford elevate himself to be one of the best distance runners in the country.

At South Bend, Benford said he was aiming for something he never would have dreamed of his freshman year: an All-American title. In order to attain this goal Benford must finish in the top eight American runners in the 5k.

"I really feel this is a realistic goal for me this year," he said. "It's something that I have been dreaming about."

After Benford graduates he will continue running, but on a professional level, he said. And his goals don't stop there.

"Being an NCAA champion and running professionally are the first steps to becoming an Olympian," he said. "And that's something both Matt Llano and I really want to do."

Contact reporter Rachael Bilney at

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