February 23, 2007

Success a team effort for track

They’re the insults that makes the coaches and athletes cringe: “You’re not really a team sport.” “Track is about the individuals; you don’t do anything together.” Despite the variety of different events, track athletes form a team as much as soccer and football players. Now, with just over a week to go until the track and field teams face their ultimate test at the UAA Championships, the Maroons are realizing more than ever the importance of every individual on the team.

“I think there’s a high level of confidence on the team,” fourth-year Dilshanie Perera said. “We’ve really bonded as a team and come together, which really fosters a great environment and atmosphere so that everyone feels good about racing, hurdling, jumping, throwing. It’s been a huge strength of the team.”

The depth across the board in both teams, especially the women, is what will make the difference today at the Maroon Invitational and, more importantly, next week at UAAs.

“If we’re going to win this conference meet, it’s going to be because of that kid who gets sixth place,” head coach Chris Hall said. “Not these trump cards—we know what they’re going to do.”

Because the Maroon Invitational falls only a week before UAAs, the strategy is a bit different than it would be for the other weekend meets. Coaches will rest some of their long-distance runners with shorter-distance events and mix around some of the sprinters to challenge them.

The meet is also a chance for the athletes to lower their times so they can have better lane assignments at UAAs. And with only 25 Maroons from both the women’s and men’s sides making the trip to Boston next week, the athletes who are on the border will put all they’ve got into their races and events in one last effort to qualify.

“It’s our final home meet, and the team wants to better our performances so we can go into conferences with better results,” said fourth-year Jackie Kropp, who will be chasing a national standard in the mile today at Henry Crown.

The teams will see a variety of schools, many from Division II and the NAIA. Because of the dearth of indoor track meets this weekend, some teams will travel up to seven hours to compete at Henry Crown. A successful day would put the Maroons on the fast track to UAA glory.

With five out of seven men’s programs in contention for the championship at UAAs, the South Siders will need to be strong up and down the lineup instead of depending on a few standout individuals.

“It’s going to be a tight, tight meet on the men’s side,” Hall said.

Distinguishing this season from years past, the Maroons filled one of their main weaknesses with a strong recruiting class. A bevy of first-year sprinters has helped to fill out an event that has been a weakness in the past.

“We have a lot of depth in the sprinting, and that’s probably going to be our biggest strength this year. But overall, we’re really balanced. We have people who are going to score in probably every single event,” fourth-year hurdler Mike Doll said.

With the guidance of assistant coach Anna Swisher, the throwing squad is looking stronger than ever after several months of hard work in the weight room, and the athletes could tally a deal-breaking number of points for both the women and men.

“I think they’re going to surprise people at the conference championships,” Hall said. “I think they’re going to pop some big performances.”

Even with the strength that the men have shown all season, the women are going to be the hotter ticket at UAA Championships.

“I really think we’ve got a full package on the women’s team. I don’t think we have a weakness on the squad,” Hall said.

Leading the women is a triumvirate of fourth-year distance runners who have come off the cross country season to show their superiority in the 5k run: Vidthya Abraham, Perera, and Abby Sheldon. Thus far this season, the trio is using their close times to boost each other, rather than turning it into a cutthroat competition where every runner looks out only for herself.

“It’s definitely been a lot of support, and it’s been wonderful to train with them,” Perera said. “They’re fantastic people, and it’s been fun to run with and train with them. We’re all running the best times of our lives.”