Track Competes At Penn Relays, RPI
ALBANY, N.Y. – Last weekend the University at Albany track & field program hosted its 33rd annual Spring Classic, its lone home meet of the 2017 outdoor season. This week, the team will split up for the final time this season, with a small group visiting Philadelphia for the Penn Relays, and the majority of the team taking a crosstown trip to compete at RPI’s Capital District Classic.
Thirty-eight teams competed in the Spring Classic on Saturday, which was the first home event for the Great Danes since the Great Dane Classic during the indoor season. It was also the first true home event since the cross country invitational in October, as the indoor meet is held at the Ocean Breeze Facility in Staten Island.
“I think the meet went really well in terms of the organization and the set up. It was the biggest in this recent edition of the meet, since we’ve opened the new track. The running events finished on time, everything went smoothly, and we had a few facility records. I think the team showed up and competed, so it was good.”
With so many of the competitions for the track team taking place on the road, it was nice to not have to worry about travel for a weekend and compete in a familiar environment.
“People felt a lot more confident competing at home. They had their friends there, and their families and roommates. It was a nice crowd for a cooler day. The parents did a real nice tailgate for the team, cooking throughout the day. And then we honored our seniors and that turned out real well.”
The Spring Classic, as it has in years past, also drew a number of alumni of the program, including Grace Claxton, who won the women’s 400m hurdles.
“We had a lot of alumni in attendance on Saturday, and they feel a connection with the program, either coming back to watch the meet or compete in it. Grace won the 400m hurdles. We even had one who’s not an alum, Nathan Hiett, come back from Arizona to compete in the pole vault. So we think it’s a good meet. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it. We hope we can continue to keep growing.”
But a short homecoming leads into a return to the road with two meets. One of the meets on the schedule for this weekend is the Penn Relays, one of the most prestigious meets on the calendar.
“We’re excited about the group going to Penn Relays. It’s a small but quality group. We think they’ve earned it and we could see several school records. The weather is supposed to be good so that’s going to be good.”
Penn comes at an interesting time with conference championships taking place just one week after one of the biggest meets of the year. Still, as a relays-focused meet, Penn offers the opportunity to compete in events not usually contested, and measuring up to a high level of competition before championship season begins.
“As far as Penn Relays is concerned, we see it as a week before conference championships, so it’s a lot about preparation for that meet and for those people who have or are seeking regional marks it gives them another opportunity to take advantage of the competition that a meet like Penn Relays draws. But Penn is event more of an experience-type meet. Every day there are about 25,000 people in the stands, until Saturday when there are 50,000.”
Last year, UAlbany saw its first-ever Penn Relays champion when Claxton won the 400m hurdles. Not to be outdone, Alexander Bowen won the men’s high jump the following day, becoming the first men’s champion. The increased level of success the team experienced last year is something this year’s squad looks to embrace and replicate for themselves.
“We talked to Mary Adeyeye before, and we asked her what her goal is for Penn. And she said ‘I want to win.’ We haven’t had someone in the heptathlon for years and she definitely has the potential to win. Adrian Mitchell is just a freshman, but he got moved to the championship section of the javelin, so that’s tremendous. I think the school record is in jeopardy there, and in the discus, and both Ryan Udvadia and Kyle Gronostaj in the 5,000m are capable of breaking the school record. We think it’s the time of year, a week before championship seasons starts, that people get excited, and we just want to give them their final opportunity to compete.”
Though the competition at Penn Relays will feature more top-end talent than the team will see at conference championships next week, the meet does provide an additional opportunity for the student-athletes competing to match up against the best and gauge their readiness for the impending championship season.
“Even at a meet like Penn we can use the performance as a bit of a measuring stick for conference championships next week. The student-athletes will have about seven to nine days of recovery. And the work is pretty much done and now we’re moving into the championships season and hopefully we’ll be ready to go.”
Penn Relays will last for a total of five days, starting on Tuesday. The rest of the team competing at RPI however, will be in action only on Saturday.
“RPI represents another opportunity for those athletes who didn’t get to go to those first three meets. So it continues their development, gives them opportunities, and gives us a chance to see what their best events are so we know where we can put them in championship meets. Someone coming back from injury has an opportunity to run before championship season so their first race back isn’t conference championships. And again it’s another meet that close to home, so there’s not a lot of stress.”
This weekend represents the third straight week in which the team will compete, after competing three times in the first five weeks of the season, with a week off in between each of the first three meets. But while the extra time off in between meets allows for more full and quality training cycles, consecutive meets help the student-athletes generate a rhythm that allows them to compete at their best.
“I think this weekend we’ll see more of the rhythm come around in our third straight meet, and next weekend at conference championships is when it really counts. I think we’re getting there, we’re moving in the right direction. Saturday I saw everyone engaged, everyone competing, stepping up. I think we made some progress this week.”
When this weekend passes and the results come in, all attention will turn to conference championships and beyond.
“I think the work is done after this week, and basically now we’re working on the mental side and getting them ready to compete. And we say the cream always rises to the top and we’re looking for our champions to step up when it’s time. I think the team will be ready to do that.”
Adeyeye kicks off the Great Danes 2017 Penn Relays on Tuesday with the first event of the heptathlon at 11:30 a.m. She will conclude the heptathlon on Wednesday, and the rest of the Great Danes will not get started until Thursday. RPI’s Capital District Classic begins Saturday at 10:30 a.m.