Track Visits New Hampshire For Outdoor Championships
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany track & field program will visit New Hampshire this weekend to compete in the America East Outdoor Championships. The men are 12-time defending champions and the women have won each of the last eight.
“I think that the work is done,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “Really the whole year has been in preparation for championship season. There's nothing else we can do that will make a difference in a positive manner. Basically now it's about getting ready mentally. I think that we're ready to defend both titles. Like every program we have a few injuries, but this is the time we count on everybody, and need everybody to step up and contribute.”
Last weekend, a handful of Great Danes competed at the Penn Relays, while the bulk of the team visited RPI for their second-consecutive weekend remaining in the Capital District following the UAlbany Spring Classic the week before. Four new school records were set at the Penn Relays.
“I think we're ready to go,” said Vives. “We saw four school records last weekend, and we didn't even bring the men. But we're past that. It's over and we're just looking forward.”
“This weekend is a bit of a different animal,” said distance coach Matt Jones. “Traditionally in our sport we're chasing a time all year. This weekend we are looking to beat the opponent. Track is unique like that, where it's a team sport and an individual sport. I don't know that you get that anywhere else except swimming.”
At last year's outdoor championships, the men scored 219 points and saw individual titles in nine events. The women scored 173 points, defeating runner-up New Hampshire by just eight points. Seven women won individual events en route to the team title. Despite the streak of team titles, the coaching staff expects the upcoming outdoor championships to be one of the more competitive in recent memory.
“I like parity,” said high jump and multis coach Todd Wolin. “Yeah, it's nice to go in and cruise, but I like beating people at their best. You don't want to hear through the grapevine ‘oh, you only beat us because…'. We're banged up, but everybody is. But you have to step up nonetheless. If you're seeded seventh, get sixth. If you're seeded ninth, get eighth. Every point matters. The last time the men lost it was by a half a point.”
“I think on both sides there are a lot of teams that can score a lot of points,” said Vives. “New Hampshire, Binghamton, UMass Lowell, UMBC. It's going to be competitive. And we have to let our team know it's not we show up and we automatically win, we have to show up and execute. We've been real fortunate to win all these championships, and it's just something where some people think it's automatic. We try to do things the right way, and our kids step up when it counts. I think we have a good group of competitors and people who step up when they're counted on.”
“We're trying to maximize what we have,” said Wolin. “If we can score two in each event we'll rack up the points we need. Everyone has to pick up the slack for their teammates. We do everything for the team this weekend.”
“This year we have quite a bit more competition in our respective events,” said throws coach Deshaya Williams. “I'm just excited to see how our throwers step up and handle that kind of pressure, because it's in them to do, but at this point it's all mental. We have to put in the work and really execute and remain calm under pressure.”
The men and women also repeated as indoor champions this year, with the men winning their 12th-straight indoor title and the women winning their fifth-straight. To earn the most recent indoor titles, the men scored 205 points and saw a program-high 10 Great Danes win individual events. The women scored 212 points and were paced by seven individual champions.
“I thought we ended indoor well,” said Jones. “I wanted to take a step back, refresh, and reload, so we could move forward from where we ended. And we've done some of that with some of the runners, but not yet collectively as a group. I think that still has to do with rest and recovery, so I'm hoping for many of them, especially in the next few weeks, the best is still yet to come.”
“I looked at a change in attitude with the sprinters,” said sprints coach Junior Burnett. “I addressed some internal issues that were going on with them that I noticed. But coming off indoor they were in shape, so we just had to ride along the waves. I didn't change my training methods, we just had to make sure that everyone was giving their best effort with consistency.”
Leading up to the latest outdoor championships, the men hold the conference lead in 10 events and have a further 33 performers in scoring positions, ranking within the top eight on the conference leaderboard. The women lead the America East in eight events and have a total of 34 performers in scoring positions.
“We have student-athletes who are competitors,” said Vives. “The freshmen are a part of it for the first time, and they like the excitement. And our seniors want to go out undefeated. I think it will be a tough battle; the women's title could be decided within 20 points. All I'm asking from our team is give us your best, let's show up, let's do what you're capable of.”
From last year's outdoor championship, the men have to replace 90 of the 219 points they scored, while the women have to replace 43.5 of their 173 point. Both the men and women also need to make up for points lost from the indoor championship teams, with the men losing 18 of their 205 points and the women losing 10 of their 212.
“We have no men's high jumpers this year, so our streak of 11 in a row will be ended,” said Wolin. “Stefan is just going to vault, but I'm looking for both Jake and Najee to place in the decathlon. I'd put Mary up against anybody in the heptathlon, she did really well at Penn last week. There's a three-way tie for first and a five-way tie for fourth in the women's high jump.”
“Basically, the student-athletes need to understand that if you're on the top of the roster all the way through, that everybody matters and everybody has to do their part,” said Vives. “It's going to be one of those championships where the seventh and eighth place points are going to make the difference. We need to have everybody know that they count.”
“This weekend we are still in pursuit of the 4x100m regional spot for the women,” said Burnett. “That's the message that I preach, that we didn't achieve yet what we wanted to. They've been running well, they keep breaking the school record. But they need to run faster, which they are more than capable of. Individually, I'm expecting to see all four relay members on both teams in the finals of the 100m and the 200m. They just need to execute, which is something we worked a lot on this week.”
The points lost from the indoor teams come primarily from Grace Claxton seeing her eligibility expire, and Matthew Campbell and Kinglsey Ogbonna taking a redshirt season. All three have been significant individual point-scorers for the Great Danes over the last several years.
“Yes, we've had some big competitors in the program, and we miss them, there's no question, but we build our program in such a way that as people either graduate out, get injured, or run out of eligibility, that there are other people ready to step in. We lost Grace but I think Halie could be the conference champion in that event. We're going to be hurting in the men's high jump, for sure, but we could have four or five triple jumpers scoring, which helps make up for those points. The balance has changed.”
“They don't think about Matthew and Kingsley not competing,” said Wolin. “They do their own significant events at the same time. They're doing their thing, worried about themselves, which is where they should be.”
“We've had a great tradition of winning championships. This is something that you don't see very frequently. And we need to defend that tradition and put our best foot forward. If, at the end of the day, we gave our best, that's enough.”
“Do what you worked on all year, what you trained to do. Have that confidence. Internal swagger doesn't hurt. Just have that positive outlook. Who cares what the weather is like. You be the one that loves it. It's you against the bar, you against the hurdles. Don't worry about anyone else.”
“They have to be calm and trust the process, and not try to muscle something that needs to be finessed,” said Williams. “Be technically sound, let it flow. I just want to see them go out and have a good time. They're strong, they have great technique, and they're a cohesive group that is really ready to go out big in championship season.”
“Just execute what you're able to do,” said Jones. “Execute your fitness and ability as best as you are able. You adjust as best you can, everyone does their job, scores a point or two, and we'll be fine.”
Events start Saturday, May 6 at 10:00 a.m. with the first event of the men's decathlon, as well as the women's hammer throw. The women's heptathlon will follow suit with its first event at 10:30 a.m. Track events will begin at 1:00 p.m. with the preliminary round of the women's 1,500m.