Warm-Weather Meets Open Outdoor Track Season

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ALBANY, N.Y. – The 2015 indoor season concluded just two weeks ago, but the University at Albany track & field program is already about to begin its 2015 outdoor campaign. The men’s and women’s teams have split up to compete in two meets to kick off the season. Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives will travel with his group to Puerto Rico to participate in the Carolina Spring Break Classic, while the remainder of the team will participate in the Shamrock Invitational in South Carolina. Both groups will spend an extended amount of time at each location, taking advantage of the student-athletes’ spring break.

The primary purpose of traveling to meets in warmer weather at the beginning of the outdoor season is try to hit qualifying standards for late-season championship meets, like America East Championships, IC4A and ECAC Championships, and East Regional Championships. The hope is that the student-athletes will be able to take advantage of the fitness they still have from the indoor championship season to hit those qualifying marks early, before returning home to focus on training once again. With the weather in the Northeast traditionally less conducive to high-quality performances, the trips to warmer climates offer the student-athletes the best opportunity to succeed in hitting qualifying marks.

Some marks for meets like Penn Relays and IC4A and ECAC Outdoor championships have already been hit. Late-season indoor performances are eligible for Penn Relays qualifying, and IC4A and ECAC eligible marks from indoor may also count for their outdoor counterparts in like events. So, for example, if a student-athlete has run the outdoor IC4A standard during an indoor meet, they would not have to hit the same time again on an outdoor track. Finally, outdoor regional championships invite the top 48 student-athletes in each event to compete for a chance to qualify for national championships.

“One of our goals for outdoor is to qualify 20 student-athletes to the regional meet,” said Vives. “Doing so would indicate we’re taking the next step in our progression as a program.”

Unsurprisingly, outdoor features a handful of different considerations than does indoor. Besides the obvious weather concerns that accompany an outdoor season, particularly in the Northeast, there are additional events contested in the outdoor season. The sprint events gain an additional relay in the 4x100, there is an additional hurdle event with the 400 hurdles, and there are two additional distance events in the 10,000 and the 3,000 steeplechase. Additionally, there are two additional throwing events in the discus and the javelin. Finally, the 60 hurdles increase to 100 and 110 hurdles for the women and men respectively, the women’s pentathlon becomes the heptathlon, the men’s heptathlon becomes the decathlon, and the weight throw is replaced by the hammer throw.

“This weekend’s meets are important for the outdoor-only athletes,” said Vives. “We want to give them a good opportunity to perform well early. During indoor, their non-priority season, they work on their strengths. And they buy into it as real training for outdoor. So, for the 400 hurdlers for example, we hurdle once a week indoors, to keep them focused on their primary event, even though they’ll usually do other events during the indoor season.”

“For the high-hurdles outdoors, the biggest difference isn’t so much the length of the race as it is there are twice as many hurdles on the track,” said Todd Wolin, who works with the hurdlers, high jumpers, pole vaulters, and multis athletes. “The hurdles are a rhythm races, and you need strength work to adjust to 10 hurdles as opposed to five. Maintaining form for the duration of the race is important.”

“The multis events increase in scope during outdoor,” Wolin continued. “The men move from the heptathlon to the decathlon, which is significantly more demanding. The women jump from the pentathlon to the heptathlon, which is still more demanding, but isn’t the same leap as the men take. And for the pole vault, besides having to deal with wind conditions, it’s much easier to train in the warmer weather. The bubble, where they train indoors, is too cold for the vaulters to get onto their bigger poles. They can during outdoor, however. So they’ll finally have a chance to train on the poles they will use in competition.”

“The biggest difference for the throwers is that the weather conditions can affect the speed of the circle,” said Deshaya Williams, who works with the throwers. “Also, the throwers who have been used to competing in only one event indoors may find themselves in two events outdoors, so they need to adjust to managing their time and energy more efficiently.”

“Racing is more consistent indoors,” said Matt Jones, who works with the distance runners. “Outdoors you need to travel a bit more to achieve your goals. And a lot of the goals are driven by the regional performances. Distance was banged up a bit indoors, and we dealt with a pretty sloppy winter and fewer races due to injury and illness so we didn’t gain the necessary information regarding their baselines, so this weekend will be a little bit about figuring out where we are.”

The upcoming outdoor season features four events at UAlbany’s outdoor facility. The first event is the UAlbany Quad Meet, which is scheduled for Saturday, March 28. The Spring Classic will be held Friday and Saturday April 17 and 18, moving to two days for the first time. Also moving to two days is the Purple & Gold Last Chance Meet, which will run Friday and Saturday May 8 and 9.

“We’ll open with a small meet with the Albany College of Pharmacy, Saint Rose, and Cobleskill,” said Wolin. “And we’ll decide by the 23rd whether or not we’ll go ahead with running it, depending on the weather and the conditions on the track. Out home invitational has expanded, increasing in size and adding multis events. And the same is true for our Last Chance Meet.”

The most notable home event, however, is the America East Outdoor Championships, which UAlbany will host for the first time in school history. Originally, hosting duties fell to New Hampshire, and UAlbany would host in 2017. But construction of New Hampshire’s new facility impeded their ability to host, so the two schools swapped hosting years, with UAlbany taking 2015 and New Hampshire taking 2017. The championships will run from Saturday, May 2 through Sunday, May 3.

“We will be able to do awards at conference during the meet,” said Wolin, “where in the past the awards have been consolidated in envelops and distributed to each team. And our facility allows for a huge amount of flexibility. We have a huge high jump apron, multiple pits and circles, and we can run the straightaway events in either direction.”

Hosting four home meets acts in part as an extension of the new approach the coaching staff has taken through the indoor season. The schedule was cut back by one meet, the season started one week later, and there were built-in rest weeks all in an effort to keep the student-athletes fresh and sharp for championship season. Outdoors, due to the increased home events, there will be significantly less travel for the student-athletes, meaning that a single meet won’t take up a full day or more.

“I think the indoor plan worked,” said Vives, “as indicated by the larger number of personal-bests we saw at IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships. We continued to improve, where usually those meets are somewhat anticlimactic. Outdoors, the decreased travel is less taxing on the student-athletes. They’re more comfortable staying home, and it keeps them mentally, and physically into the season and into competing well.”

“The reduced travel is nice,” said Jones, “but you still need to be in the right race.”

“For outdoor, we would obviously like to repeat as conference champions, especially competing at our home facility,” Vives continued. “And in addition to the regional qualifiers, we hope to achieve a team grade point average of 3.0 for both the men and the women. The women were 3.2 for indoor, but the men were just a bit short at 2.79, so hopefully that will increase this season.”

As for the meets this weekend, the Shamrock Invitational is hosted by Costal Carolina in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The meet usually draws about 35 to 40 teams, many of whom are from the Northeast.

“I think Shamrock is a good early season meet,” said Wolin. “There are multiple divisions so you get to take more kids.”

“A lot of Northern schools attend Shamrock, so I think we’ll see some appropriate competition for our program,” said Jones.

The Shamrock Invitational is held in Myrtle Beach’s Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium. The facility has been open all week for practice sessions for teams competing in the meet. Events begin Thursday, March 19 at 11:00 a.m. with the men’s hammer throw. At 11:45 a.m., the men’s and women’s multis events will begin, taking up most of the remainder of the Thursday schedule. The men’s and women’s 10,000 will also compet Thursday, with the women’s section beginning at 7:00 p.m. followed by the men’s at 7:50 p.m. Friday’s schedule begins at 9:30 a.m. with the continuation of the multis events. Regular track events begin Friday at 10:30 a.m. and regular field events begin at 11:30 a.m. Saturday’s field events begin at 9:00 a.m. and the track events follow at 10:00 a.m.

The Spring Break Classic has become a traditional first stop on the outdoor schedule for the UAlbany program. In addition to serving as a valuable recruiting tool, the meet itself exposed the UAlbany student-athletes to some international competition. In addition to the three other American universities who will attend, Northeastern, St. John’s, and Bowdoin, 15 Puerto Rican universities will also take to the track with the Great Danes.

“The first few weeks of outdoor are almost treated as an extension of the indoor season,” Vives said. “We’re still sharp coming off of indoor championships, and we want to use that sharpness and that fitness to take care of postseason business early so we can get back to training without having to worry about the weather cooperating later in the season if we still need to hit qualifying marks.

The Spring Break Classic competes exclusively on Saturday. Field events are scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. with the hammer throw, and track events are scheduled to begin at 10:40 a.m. with the high school 4x100 relays.

 

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