Track & Field Visits UConn For Northeast Challenge
ALBANY, N.Y. – For the first time this outdoor season, the University at Albany track & field program will compete as a full team this weekend when they visit the University of Connecticut for the Northeast Challenge.
Last weekend, the bulk of the remaining student-athletes who had not yet competed outdoors made their season debuts at one of two meets in New Jersey. The larger group competed at Princeton University’s Sam Howell Invitational, while a group of six throwers competed at the TCNJ Invitational at the College of New Jersey.
“I thought last weekend’s meets went well,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “The big objective was to get all of our kids an opportunity to compete and perform. And they were happy for the opportunity. We came away with a freshman record in the women’s hammer, some of our distance runners were able to get started, and it had been a long time since some of the sprinters had competed. I think it was a good opener.”
Highlighting the weekend was Ludith Campos, who set a freshman record in the women’s hammer with a mark of 161-01.00. Campos’ record comes one week after the Great Danes set five program records in a single weekend.
“We’re ready to go,” said Vives regarding the performances the Great Danes have mustered through the early part of the season. “The season is going to come quick. In three weeks we’ll be in championship season. This weekend is the first meet where we’ll be all together.”
The Northeast Challenge marks the beginning of the real leadup to championship season. The Great Danes will compete in each of the next three weekends ahead of the America East Outdoor Championships, including the Penn Relays in two weeks. Recognizing the structure of the schedule, the coaching staff needs to be mindful of how and how much they compete their athletes.
“Going forward, we have to look at what event our kids need,” said Vives. “Obviously we don’t want to overload anyone, so sometimes somebody may just do one event. Or we’ll put people in secondary events. We’re trying to be judicious and smart and keep people from getting stale. There is team scoring at this meet, and I think we’re deep enough where we can still do well but it will not be our primary focus.
One the ways that mindfulness manifests is by entering athletes in alternative events. For example, distance runner Kyle Gronostaj will project to run the 5,000m and the 10,000m at the America East Outdoor Championships. Instead of loading him up repeatedly in those events, Gronostaj will run the 1,500m this weekend, an event much shorter than he is used to.
“Number one, it’s fun for someone like Kyle to run in an off event like the 1,500m,” said Vives. “And he’s no slouch, he’s run 4:11 indoors. But from a training standpoint, dropping down works his speed and his tail end. We know when you get to regionals no one is running for time. The race is won in the last mile. People will just be hanging out and then take off. This will prepare him to run at a faster pace and be comfortable with that.”
Competing in alternative events give the student-athletes additional training and serves to prepare them for later in the season when they will be asked to and expect to perform at the highest levels in their primary events.
“Every weekend is important, and the off events build confidence for the student-athletes,” said Vives. “It also takes the staleness away, where someone might compete in the same event every week and not see the improvement they expect. This is all working for them to peak later on in the season.”
The Northeast Challenge will feature a selection of some of the top teams in the Northeast Region. In addition to host UConn, other regional powers like Northeastern and Rhode Island, who are traditionally top contenders in their respective conferences, will be in attendance.
“Some of the top schools in the region, UConn, Northeastern, and Rhode Island, will be at the meet this weekend, and it's good to compete against that level of competition,” said Vives. “We will also emphasize the team aspect of the meet. Besides our Spring Classic this is our one chance during the season where we’ll be together as a full team. We want to be engaged and cheering for one another. That’s a big emphasis this weekend because so far this season we’ve been focusing more individually. We want people to be there and see and support what their teammates are doing.”
The meet this weekend will be the first time the Great Danes will compete in a scoring meet. Each of the meets on the schedule so far has not featured team scoring, which inherently changes the mentality of a meet from team-focused to more individual-focused. A scoring meet instead switches the focus to competing head-to-head with an opponent for a place rather than just competing for a mark.
“This weekend is all about competing and that eight places score,” said Vives. “You may finish eighth but you still scored a point to the team and that means something. It’s good to have one scoring meet in the season before conference championships. This one is going to be good, with schools who are competitive, who are comparable or better than the schools we see in our conference. It prepares us for conference in three weeks. It’s about competing head-to-head, regardless of the teams in the meet.”
With the team finally coming together and competing in the same scoring meet, the Northeast Challenge will be the closest analogue to conference championships the Great Danes will have before championship season.
“We’ll finally be all together this weekend, and we’re excited to be out there as a team and push each other to do our best,” said Vives.
The Northeast Challenge begins Saturday, April 13 at 10:00 a.m.