Track & Field Returns To Florida Relays
ALBANY, N.Y. – Last year, the University at Albany track & field program made its first appearance at the Florida Relays in five seasons. The team will not go as long away from the meet, returning to Gainesville for the second consecutive season.
The Great Danes opened the season two weeks ago with their tradtioanl trip to Puerto Rico for the Spring Break Classic. There, Dayleen Santana Rodriguez set the school record in the women’s 100m and contributed to the women’s 4x100m school record with Chanel Smith, Stephanie Osuji, and Taahira Butterfield. Additionally, Robert Harris III ran the fastest men’s 100m in program history, discounting the wind, and freshman thrower Adrian Mitchell recorded the second best mark in program history in the javelin in his first collegiate meet.
“When we went to Puerto Rico last year it was a big disappointment,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “This year was the total opposite. It was probably the best start we’ve ever had. Already in the first meet we have two school records, an all-time best, a thrower with an all-time second-best; straight across the board kids showed up. We were in the hunt in just about everything.”
The Spring Break Classic this year lasted two days, unlike previous years where the meet was contested over a single day. Additionally, for the first time the meet served as a qualifier for the Puerto Rico institutions’ national championship meet, meaning the meet drew a higher level of competition.
“It was a great experience,” said Vives. “I think our student-athletes really enjoy being in an international atmosphere and competing with schools we’ve never seen before. And for a lot of our student-athletes who are from the Caribbean region it reminds them of home. And the people there really pull out the red carpet for us. They greet us at the airport, have busses waiting for us, carry all of our gear, and on the last day they took us to old San Juan, where all the cruise ships come in. So Sunday morning the kids had two hours to kind of walk around and go sightseeing. The kids had a great time.”
The Great Danes will compete this weekend for the first time in two weeks, after enjoying a rare weekend off after returning home from Puerto Rico.
“This weekend was huge to be off,” said Vives. “I just saw the whole week a lot of the team was dragging. For some people, especially coaches, we have been going for four straight weekends. So if the coaches feel tired you can only imagine what the kids feel because they’re the ones actually competing. So we needed the rest week, it came just in time. It was a perfect weekend to get caught up and breathe and get ready for this week.”
The trip to Florida is the second meet on the schedule where the team has intentionally visited a warmer-weather competition. It is also the first of three highly prestigious meets during the regular season, including the Mt. SAC Relays and the Penn Relays Carnival.
“I think the travel we do early in the season serves to prepare the team for what a regional championship will be like,” said Vives. “This year East Prelims are at Kentucky, and it could be in the mid-90s when we get there. We’ve been in Jacksonville the last few years and it was always blazing. Even if its cloudy the sunrays are hot. Everyone is learning to manage the weather and the heat, and we try to prepare them as much as possible.
“It’s good planning for later in the year,” Vives continued. “If we went through a normal Northeast season and showed up to the late meets in warmer weather for the first time it wouldn’t be good. So even though we will spend most of our season in the Northeast at least the team will have been exposed to these climates so it won’t be such a surprise for them down the road.”
Forty-three members of the men’s and women’s teams will make the trip to the Florida Relays. The program is continually growing its presence at bigger meets like the one this weekend, having usually sent at least a handful to the Florida Relays in the past, but also Penn Relays and the Texas Relays outdoors, and the Millrose Games and the Tyson Invitational indoors.
“At first our team was a little intimidated, but now they’re starting to see these trips more and more as an opportunity,” said Vives. “Florida is only number one in the country, so it’s good to match our team up with that kind of competition. Florida State will be there, Tennessee, Miami, and other SEC and ACC teams as well. It’s good for us because we’re elevating our mindset and our people are recognizing the advancements our program is making. There’s a different level of respect for our program as we become more competitive.”
Beyond providing an opportunity for the team to acclimate to the warmer weather in which some of them will have to compete in the postseason, the coaching staff uses meets like Puerto Rico and Florida to take advantage of any residual sharpness the student-athletes have from the indoor postseason, and warm-weather locales allow for the best opportunities to perform.
“Nine times out of 10 at the Florida Relays you get the great weather, the competition, the great facility,” said Vives. Another reason we provide these opportunities is to get the regional qualifying marks out of the way. Last year we kind of missed it. We didn’t have a third opportunity. Florida was it last year. This year we’re bringing a larger group to Mt. SAC so we hope to get these qualifying marks out of the way so we can then focus on training for the postseason.
“Florida has a beautiful facility,” Vives continued. “They update the track surface every few years with high-performance Mondo. The facility is track & field only, with the throws and jumps on the infield. It’s right near that huge football stadium which the kids really like. And even though this meet also draws hundreds of high schools, it’s a very well run meet. Everything runs on time. I think it’s an impressive facility and our student-athletes are going to be excited about it.”
The Florida Relays begin Thursday, March 30 at 2:00 p.m. The meet is available to stream through SEC Network+.