Track and Field Season Preview: High hopes abound as track kicks off season

By Kathryn Stewart

With a competition schedule that can stretch into early June, a lot can happen between toeing the starting line at the first meet of the indoor season and breaking the tape at outdoor NCAAs. Men’s and women’s track and field are hoping to make 2007 their year with a strong start out of the blocks.

Taking on UW–Oshkosh in dual meet action at Henry Crown, Chicago is set to ring in the 2007 indoor track and field term at noon Saturday as they look to build upon the successes of the past few seasons. On paper, at least, Maroons fans have plenty to look forward to this winter.

Coming off of last year’s stellar indoor and outdoor track season and, most recently, with one of the most successful cross-country terms in program history, the women are hoping to tear it up for five more months starting Saturday. The Maroons have the added benefit of three returning All-Americans, fourth-year Vidthya Abraham (Cross Country), Jackie Kropp (Distance Medley), and Al Robertson (Distance Medley). Both o the track and in the field, the women can boast impressive strength, depth, and potential. Their counterparts on the men’s team are gearing up for what they believe could be their best season yet.

One particular reason for excitement is the arrival of an imposing group of first-year throwers and a brand new assistant coach with her own notable career in the ring. Anna Swisher, who graduated from Williams in 2005, holds her alma mater’s record in the discus and was a three-time New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) discus champion and three-time NESCAC All-Academic Team selection. Swisher arrived just in time to guide this year’s slew of freshman throwers.

“This has been the nicest addition,” head coach Chris Hall said. “The throws have been an area where we’ve needed some depth, and I think this group will be doing a lot for us this season, in terms of Conferences and in the future at Nationals. Coach Swisher came at just the right time. She’s a great specialist and has an incredible DIII background. I think she’s going to be a huge asset to our program.”

Depth has been an area where the women’s team has excelled in the recent past. The indoor season will see the return of an excellent group of jumpers, led by third-year Appie Hirve, and a formidable distance contingent of Abraham, Kropp, and Robertson. Adding to this mix is an extremely able crop of team leaders including fourth-years Kropp, Dilshanie Perera, Trina Ruhland, Amanda Slagel, and Nellie Movtchan.

“I think we’re in position to do some great things this season,” Hall said. “We have a great group of leaders for whom track is really important and who are really supportive of their teammates. We also have an excellent group of athletes who, I think, have a lot of Conference and NCAA potential.”

On the men’s side, a pack of promising first-year sprinters may bolster performances in events where the Maroons have underperformed in seasons past. If the men’s squad meets expectations in this area, Chicago will gain an extra advantage at UAAs, where the distance races tend to see the stiffest competition and the points are available for the taking in the sprints.

Adding to the team’s optimism is the arrival of David Svoboda, a Nebraska Wesleyan University graduate who brings three years of college-level coaching experience to his position as one of Hall’s assistants. Svoboda has been working with the Maroons during the offseason and, so far, has garnered rave reviews.

“We have a new coach this year, and our small-season training has been somewhat different,” third-year Zach Rodgers said. “I feel that overall, we are better prepared going into the season. Our 4×400 meter relay has had excellent workouts in recent weeks and feels confident that they will break the school record this indoor season.”

In the longer events, Hall and members of the distance squads are hoping to shake off the relative disappointment of the 2006 cross-country season and to use indoor and outdoor track to push younger team members up to their potential.

“We had a little adversity during the cross country season, but hopefully those were just growing pains,” Hall explained. “A lot of our younger runners had to push themselves outside of their comfort zone and take on certain roles within the squad for the first time. Track is a really good time to work on stuff like that and make those kinds of adjustments, if only because you just get lots of feedback all the time.”

While trading in hilly, swampy courses for flat turf and splits every 200 meters is a guaranteed performance booster, the track season is also time for middle-distance runners to shine, showing off the stamina they built in the fall and the speed they’ve honed in the interim. Fourth-year Emil Bojanov, who placed 11th in the nation in the 1,500 at last year’s outdoor NCAAs, will begin his final indoor season this Saturday joined by fellow middle-distance specialists, fourth-year Brian Hague and third-year Ryan McCarl.

In the meantime, the Maroons are training hard and focusing on the task at hand, whether that’s breaking a PR, moving up in the Conference rankings, or even meeting an NCAA standard. With a solid core of veterans returning and an exciting influx of first-year talent, track has a lot to look forward to as the season kicks off.