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Leap of Faith

Move to Washburn brings two high-flying Ichabods closer to international goals

Track and field athletes posing in the Indoor Athletic Facility

(Virgi Scardanzan [left], bs ’21, and Romain Henry in Washburn’s Indoor Athletic Facility. Photo by Michael Snell)

From The Ichabod - Winter 2022
By Chris Marshall

Proving they were among the country’s best wasn’t enough to satisfy two members of Washburn University’s track and field team. After earning All-America status at last year’s NCAA Division II outdoor championships, the two student-athletes followed up the 2020-21 collegiate season by returning to their native countries to compete on an international stage.

Fresh off her second-place finish in the pole vault at the NCAA national championships, Virgi Scardanzan, bs ’21, made the podium once again at the Italian national championships. The current master of business administration student from Preganziol, Italy, cleared 4.30 meters – 14 feet – on her first attempt before bowing out at 4.35 meters to finish as runner-up in the June competition.

“I’m extremely excited to get second,” Scardanzan said. “That was a huge accomplishment for me, ‘the cherry on the cake,’ as they say in Italy. It was a great ending to an amazing season I started in America and continued back in Italy.”

The same weekend, Romain Henry finished 11th in the 400-meter hurdle preliminaries of the French national championships with a time of 53.56 seconds, missing the event’s finals by one second. The MBA student from Aix en Provence, France, also competed in the 110-meter hurdle event but was disqualified. Henry holds the Washburn record in the 400-meter hurdles (51.97 seconds) and 110-meter hurdles (13.86 seconds), both of which would have been fast enough to make the event finals in France.

Scardanzan and Henry both hope to compete in the European and world outdoor track championships in summer 2022, with the ultimate goal of earning a spot in the 2024 Olympics.

“My short-term goal is to make the French national team,” Henry said. “That’s my biggest motivation for doing track. I want to try to reach the team this summer, with the final goal to do the Olympics in 2024. Since it’s in France, it’s even more exciting. I really think I can do it.”

Scardanzan said Italy can only send three pole vaulters to the Olympics, which will make qualification difficult. Finishing among the top three at the country’s national championships was a good start, but unlike the United States, she said Italy’s selections aren’t made based on one meet. In the years leading up to 2024, vaults at any official meet can count toward Olympic qualification, including NCAA competition. That brings some added excitement to the upcoming indoor track and field season.

“Let’s say the road has begun,” Scardanzan said. “Definitely, the goal is 2024 Paris, and there are a few more great opportunities and great competitions in the next three years.”

For both international leapers, the University’s state-of-the-art Indoor Athletic Facility was a major reason why they decided to become Ichabods. Now, it provides advantages that could help them accomplish dreams in their home countries.

“When I left France, they were building a facility next to my place that was one of the biggest in Europe,” Henry said. “When I compare it to Washburn’s, we have everything we need here. We can walk across campus and be in one of best facilities in the U.S. The team has improved so much because of the indoor facility. It’s the best tool ever.”

Scardanzan believes the venue’s engineering and other outside factors could help her surpass the personal- and school-best 4.35-meter vault she recorded in the 2021 NCAA outdoor season.

“It’s one of the nicest indoor facilities in the nation,” she said. “It has great runways, a great pit and a great atmosphere to jump really high. And I’m hoping this year we can bring in spectators for the first time, which would help even more to have people cheering us on.”

Washburn’s coaches, who developed the track and field team into a conference and national contender in just five years’ time, have also provided Henry and Scardanzan the one-on-one guidance the University is so often lauded for.

Henry, who was on the verge of quitting hurdling before a long-distance recruitment call with Cameron Babb, credits the head coach for renewing his excitement in the sport. With the addition of assistant coach Marshall O’Brien this season, Henry said it’s the best coached team he’s ever been a part of thus far.

Another assistant coach, Rick Attig, recruited Scardanzan from Division I program Cal State Northridge three years ago, and is now carefully planning her competitions in Topeka and abroad to maximize her chances of Olympic qualification.

“I’m extremely happy with Coach Attig and the leap of faith he had when he started recruiting me here,” Scardanzan said. “It’s a smaller school, and there are a lot of people you know because it’s smaller, like a little family. It’s been great, and it’s given me many opportunities I wouldn’t have had if I was in Italy.”

The Ichabod Magazine Winter 2022 cover - Memorial Union with snow, pine needles in the foreground

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