Outdoor Track Visits Connecticut For Northeast Challenge
ALBANY, N.Y. – After a long layover in which the team refocused their efforts on a full training cycle, the University at Albany track and field program will renew its recently established rivalry with Connecticut when they make the trip to Storrs, Connecticut on Saturday for UConn’s Northeast Challenge. In addition to UAlbany and UConn, UMass-Boston, New Haven, and Southern Connecticut State will also compete.
For the past five years, this weekend was designated for a dual meet between UAlbany and UConn, dubbed the Dogfight. The meet, which focused in particular on the men’s teams, has been retired in favor of expansion to include additional teams, as the series moved back to UConn’s facility. Last year, the Great Danes hosted the Dogfight for the first time since 2011 due to the construction of UAlbany’s new outdoor facility. Last year’s meet debuted that new facility, with the Great Danes defeating the Huskies to improve to 2-3 for the Dogfight series between the two teams.
The biggest issue with the Dogfight, however, was the fact that it did focus primarily on the men’s teams. It meant that the UAlbany women often had to make other arrangements to find competition. With the new format, which includes both a men’s and women’s meet, the women’s team now has a more inclusive role, which should serve to enhance the rivalry between UAlbany and UConn despite the addition of other teams.
“The rivalry with UConn could become a natural track & field rivalry,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “UConn’s women won ECAC Indoor Championships for the third consecutive year, and our women were second this year. UConn’s men beat us at IC4A Indoor Championships last year and we placed higher than they did this year. The women have a new head coach this year, J.J. Clark from Tennessee, who has coached Olympians in the past. Hopefully we can continue to build this rivalry going forward.”
The Northeast Challenge will represent UAlbany’s final scoring meet before conference championships, and as such, will be the last exposure to the dynamics involved in a team-oriented meet, where final place takes priority over individual performance.
“We’re running a full team this weekend, and most of the student-athletes will double or triple to get a taste of what we will require of them at conference championships,” said Vives. “It’s also important for them to learn how to put their performance goals aside, to an extent, and instead focus on competing head to head and placing as highly in their individual races as possible. That dynamic will come into play at conference championships, where we will need to score as many points as we can if we want to win as a team.”
Added distance coach Matt Jones, “We want as many of our student-athletes to extend their seasons as much as possible, to prepare for America East Championships and beyond. So we’re hoping they can continue to hit qualifying marks and improve existing seeding marks for the postseason meets.”
In addition to rekindling the direct rivalry with UConn, this weekend’s meet kicks of a stretch of six consecutive weekends of competition for UAlbany, culminating in IC4A and ECAC Outdoor Championships in May. Three weeks from now, the Great Danes will host the America East Outdoor Championships at their home facility. Including conference championships, the team will have three home events in six weeks. Some, who do not compete at Penn Relays, will have a fourth meet in the Albany area, when instead they compete at RPI. So while the schedule doesn’t allow for a break, there are few away meets, reducing the overall stress on the team.
Most of the UAlbany student-athletes last competed over their spring break, in the first outdoor meets on the schedule in either South Carolina or Puerto Rico. A handful competed for a second time in North Carolina the following week, but for at least the last two weeks everyone on the team has focused on training.
“This was really the first time we could pull back and start actually training again since indoor postseason,” said Vives. “If you consider that indoor postseason begins about two weeks before conference championships, when we start to reduce training volume, and continues through the end of the indoor season for two weeks after indoor championships, and then continues through the first two weeks of outdoor where we try to use the sharpness from indoor when we travel south to hit qualifying marks, it has been about six weeks without any real training. So we used this time to get back into the weight room, and to do some more base work by increasing the volume during workouts.”
“I think we’re in a good place,” Vives continued. “I think we’re prepared. The kids have worked hard, and they’re ready to compete again. And this weekend will give us an idea of what their conditioning level is. I’m looking for them to compete at a high level, be it in one, two, or even three events.”
The Northeast Challenge is scheduled to begin Saturday, April 11 at 10:00 a.m. at UConn’s George J. Sherman Family Sports Complex in Storrs, Connecticut.