Outdoor Track Opens In Puerto Rico
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany track & field program will kick off the 2019 outdoor season this weekend with their annual trip to Puerto Rico for the Spring Break Classic. The indoor season officially ended for the Great Danes just two weeks ago when the last remnants of the indoor roster competed in Boston at the IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships, where UAlbany came away with two new school records in the men’s and women’s 3,000m.
The 2019 outdoor season will feature a new meet on the schedule in the UCF Invitational next week before falling into a stretch of meets the Great Danes traditionally attend. Highlighting the outdoor season this year is the America East Outdoor Championships which will be held on UAlbany’s own facility for the second time since 2015.
“Our young people are highly motivated,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “They’re working hard. Most of the team has transitioned a little earlier than in the past to the outdoor season. They’ve bought in to our philosophy, they’re excited about the championships being here at home, and the women have a chance for a triple-crown. And the men still have a streak outdoors that they want to defend. We’re planning for it to be a special weekend with our wall of fame, with a lot of alums back, and parents and friends.”
Originally, the UAlbany coaches planned to forego entirely this year’s IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships to address the physical and mental toll two championship meets in two weeks can take on the team. Most of the team, to that end, started preparing for the outdoor season immediately following the conclusion of the America East Indoor Championships. For a handful of competitors, however, the decision was made to use IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships as an opportunity to lay down a good performance.
“Especially for distance runners, there are not a lot of opportunities to run flat out at the peak time of the year,” said Vives. “At conference they’re doubling and they know their responsibility is more towards the team. They will start their outdoor season a little later, so their preparation will be about four weeks. Everyone has that transition and reloading period to go. We felt that it would be an opportunity for them to race fresh and compete.
“For jumpers it’s hard on the body, and for sprinters who have doubled and tripled the day before is tough to ask them to do it again five days later,” Vives continued. “Distance runners are a lot fitter this time of year than others because they had the cross country season. You have to take advantage of when people are ready to go. And it’s a good confidence builder. It’s one thing to think you can run a good time, but to actually go and do it is huge. Outdoors, the big meets for the distance runners will be Stanford and Virginia. They know those are their big opportunities and they won’t have to go to the well every week.”
For the distance runners who did compete, they will start their outdoor season later than usual, to allow them the same recovery, rebuilding, and training afforded to their teammate who began transitioning following indoor conference championships. Both methods are new to the program this season.
“Everyone seemed to like it,” said Vives. “Right after the championships they were mentally and physically spent. They needed a few days to recover and then we started this process to get ready for outdoor. The other thing, for the sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers, throwers, its good to get started with outdoor events earlier when we have good weather at the early season meets to try to get those regional marks out of the way. In the past we would go to those meets and we weren’t ready because we still have lingering fatigue from indoor. Now, we’ve been going at it for about three weeks to prepare for outdoor.
“It’s a change in philosophy for us, and we’ll see how it goes,” Vives continued. “Our conference meet used to be two weeks before IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships, but now one week before. Last year’s results suffered, especially for the spinners, hurdlers, and jumpers, because it was just too close. You see at bigger schools, their conference championships were the same week as ours, but then they didn’t compete the following weekend and instead geared up for NCAA Championships. For us, we’re hoping to keep out students engaged all the way through so regionals and nationals is the big peak for them. If we get early standards we can train and get sharp and get ready for the championship season.”
Indoors, the men’s team regained their footing in winning the team title one year after stumbling at the hands of UMass Lowell. The Riverhawks’ victory last season snapped UAlbany’s 12-year winning streak.
“It was a tremendous team effort,” said Vives. “This was the first time in a long time that we weren’t the favorites going in. We figured on paper that the men were 30-point underdogs. UMass Lowell is very deep in the middle distance and distance events where our depth isn’t as good, and we didn’t have an entry in the high jump, for example. We couldn’t even fill the maximum allotment of competitors, but our kids stepped up and competed really well. Sweeping the hurdles in particular changed the landscape in particular, because all of a sudden our team was inspired. There were incredible performances across the board. I told them to leave their best out there and the results will take care of themselves. That’s what they did, and I think champions have a way of rising to the top.”
The women’s team, meanwhile, won their seventh-straight indoor title, and continued their dominating performance over their conference rivals. The Great Danes outscored runner-up UMass Lowell 213-135.5, headlined by two victories each from Chidinma Matthew and Hannah Reinhardt.
“We looked straight across the board and we had potential scorers in just about every event,” said Vives. We told the women that if we execute we will be champions. Execution is the key. Looking at Chidinma, that’s a credit to her and to Junior. She’s a former walk-on who has bought into what Junior is teaching her. She’s a true sprinter who can go from 60m to 400m. We didn’t think we were going to have sprinters putting up the times that Chidinma did after Dayleen left. But she stepped up.
“Hannah has made herself the person to beat in this conference,” Vives continued. “She’s head and shoulders above everyone else. We still feel she is just scratching the surface. We see her as the first person under 16:00 in the 5K. She’s super conscientious, works hard, and doesn’t cut corners.”
With the season change comes a change in the event lineup. Most notably, there are four throwing events instead of two, and two hurdles events instead of one. Additionally, the 10,000m run comes into play, replacing the 3,000m at championships. Coach Vives feels the outdoor events rundown works to the benefit of the men’s and women’s teams.
“I think the teams to beat outdoors will still be UMass Lowell men and women,” said Vives. “Binghamton is up-and-coming. Looking at it, I think outdoor helps us. There are four throwing events, and we have two women’s throwers outdoors who didn’t compete at indoor championships. And others who did compete indoors were competing in their off events. We have 11 women’s throwers to spread across four events. We have an All-American in the intermediate hurdles. And where indoors we have two distance-oriented relays, outdoors we switch to have two sprint-oriented relays, and we’re more of a sprinter team. Outdoors plays more to our strengths.”
The outdoor season officially kicks off this week in Puerto Rico. The Great Danes have traditionally attended this meet, in full or in part, to open the season. This year, a smaller group than usual will make the trip, featuring student-athletes like Tara Belinsky who did not compete indoors, or like the hurdlers who need to acclimate from the 60m indoors to the 100m, 110m, or 400m hurdles for the outdoor season.
“We’re going with a small group to Puerto Rico,” said Vives. “We like to stay visible there, because it helps us with our recruiting. Plus, its pretty much guaranteed weather, and it’s a homecoming for our student-athletes who are from there. The following week we’re going to Orlando for the UCF Invitational, which is new on our schedule. And the group that goes to Puerto Rico will not be the group that goes to UCF. Mainly the hurdlers, the 400m group, and two throwers will go to Puerto Rico. They’re anxious to get their season going. And then the best out of both meets will go to the Florida Relays and the Stanford Invitational the following week.
“The goal this week is to get out there and get our feet wet,” Vives continued. “If qualifying standards come, great, but we’re more looking for them to get the first meet out of the way and then get into our two-week training cycle for Florida Relays, which is where we’ll look to have our big performances.
The Spring Break Classic begins Friday, March 15 and runs through Saturday, March 16.