Track & Field Hosts Spring Classic
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany track & field program will host its annual outdoor invitational, the Spring Classic, this week starting on Thursday, April 18. The first two days will feature the complete men’s decathlon and women’s heptathlon, while Saturday will see the contesting of the bulk of the events. Additionally, 10 Great Danes will visit the University of Virginia to compete in the Virginia Challenge.
Prior to the start of the track events on Saturday, the team will hold a brief ceremony recognizing the 22 seniors on the 2018-19 roster for their contributions to the program during their time at UAlbany.
Last weekend, the Great Danes finally came together and competed as a full team for the first time during the outdoor season. UAlbany competed at the Northeast Challenge at the University of Connecticut, coming away with two school records, Tara Belinsky in the women’s shot put and Garfield Napier in the men’s 100m, as well as six event victories. The meet was also the first the Great Danes have competed in this season to feature team scoring, and the women placed second overall among 10 scoring teams while the men finished fourth. The field included host UConn, as well as regional powers Rhode Island and Northeastern, and also conference rival Stony Brook.
For the third time this season, Belinsky broke the outdoor record in the shot put. Her mark of 53-06.50 exceeds her previous personal best, 50-00.00 indoors, by three-and-a-half feet, and breaks her previous outdoor record of 49-07.00.
“Tara was incredible,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “I haven't seen that type of improvement happen much, three feet in an event that you've been doing constantly for years. It’s not like it’s a new event for her. And she was motivated. When we arrived, she got up on the bus and said to the team, anybody who needs any extra motivation, this is the school I transferred from, and every year I have set my personal best here. And I'm ready to go.’ She's now 10th in the region, and 21st in the country. She's a great young person, she's a leader, she's a hard worker, and she's highly motivated. We’re happy to see good things happen to good people.”
Napier, who had already recorded a wind-aided time below the school record in the 100m, ran a wind-legal 10.54, breaking Robert Harris III’s record of 10.59 from 2016 in the sport’s most prestigious event.
“It's exciting because everybody starts out in the sport like, ‘how fast are you’ or ‘can you beat me from there to there’,” said Vives. “So the 100m is that type of event that everybody has at least tried. They may have found out they don’t have aptitude and moved on to other things, but it's something that just about everyone in the sport will have tried. The fastest person in the sport is measured by the 100m.”
Napier is only a sophomore and has already taken more than half a second of the times he was running in high school.
“He’s come a long way,” said Vives. “This is a guy that do was running 11 seconds in high school. So to improve by more than half a second is incredible. Again, it's a testament to Coach Burnett. Right now he's getting into a habit of building his sprinters up. They’re doing real well, so that’s exciting for him. I’d like Garfield make regionals. He probably needs about 10.40 for regionals, but I think he's on pace to do that.”
The 100m dash is the best-known event in track & field, and the event that commands the most attention. The success in the 100m can raise the profile of a program and draw more attention and more talent into not only the sprint events but tot the team as a whole.
“We think it's excellent,” said Vives. “One of the things that that we want young people to know is that we're a program where you're going to get better, we have big goals, and people are buying into that philosophy. We want to be a regional-level, a national-level team. So that sets new standards for us, which is tremendous. So we're excited about the future of the sprint program and of the program overall.”
The last group of Great Danes to make their long-awaited outdoor season debuts was the horizontal jumpers, who had been held back by their event coach for the second-straight year in an effort to keep them fresher for championship season. Delaying the start of their season allows them to stay healthy, particular in events where the stresses on the body are so high.
“The jumpers are a whole lot fresher,” said Vives. “Coach Nadir is still just working technical stuff. I think now we found the formula that kind of works. You can’t go every weekend in the long jump and triple jump. That just puts a lot of stress on the body. And so the jumpers are going to be fresh now, and then refreshed when championship time comes around. We’ve finally put formula together. Coach Nadir told me he thinks us not competing at IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships was probably the best thing for the program, and Coach Burnett agrees. So I think we're at a good place.”
Most of the other athletes competing this weekend saw action in a secondary event, to give their bodies and minds a break from competing yet again in their primary events in an effort to stave off any staleness that can come from continuously and repeatedly competing in the same event week after week. Despite the secondary event slate, the team came away with a number of personal bests, indicating that their training is going well.
“It's exciting because it keep them fresh, it helps them try a different event, and it gives them confidence,” said Vives. “When they get back to the normal event they're confident, they’re rested, and they’re ready to go. We're thinking of the bigger picture. We care about their ultimate success at the end of the season.”
The beginning of the season saw the team split up and compete at separate meets in each of the first four weekends. Some got their start in Puerto Rico, but then did not compete the following week on Orlando, before taking part in meets in Florida and California the week after. In week four, most everyone who had not yet made their season debuts did so at one of two meets in New Jersey, but it wasn’t until this weekend with just one meet on the schedule that the team was finally together as a collective.
“We wanted to see our team engaged that day and that was the goal of the meet, to see people cheering for each other, and not particularly people just in their event group,” said Vives. “The whole team at the end was out on the track cheering for the 4x400m and for all the events that were going on. Some people found that way to the throws area. We saw a lot of a lot of personal bests. So I think that we’re setting that environment and getting ready for a conference championship with the energy that we need from the whole team.”
For those competing at home this weekend, it will be the first time they have done so all season, save for members of the cross country team, whose home invitational takes place in October. The indoor home meet takes place at the Ocean Breeze Facility in Staten Island, far away from the confines of the UAlbany campus. And with a home meet comes other benefits like competing in front of friends and family, racing in the facility where the team practices, and eliminating any travel stresses that usually accompanies a competition weekend. This year in particular, the Spring Classic serves as a direct dry run for conference championships, which will take place at UAlbany in three weeks.
“This is the first time they’ll be able to roll out of bed and walk over to the meet,” said Vives. “They’ll be able to get used to their warm-up routine and learn how much time they need to get over to the facility. You don't want to think, ‘well, it's home, and it's right there’ and then still not have enough time to warm up and be ready to go. So I'm asking them all to be here before the start of the first running event.
“Having a home meet skips two-and-a-half hours or three hours of travel,” Vives continued. “This weekend we’ll be done around 5:00 p.m., so it’s not quite as much of a time commitment. It will also be kind of like a dress rehearsal for conference so that went conference comes around, they know where to be, what to do, and when to start warming up.”
Finally, the handful of athletes competing in the Virginia Challenge will experience their latest opportunity to run in a high-quality field. The Challenge has been on the schedule for two years now, and was added to address the concerns the coaching staff had about asking their student-athletes to compete in their primary events at another big meet, Penn Relays, which traditionally takes place just one week before conference championships.
“Virginia is really important for the program because before the meet where we tried to get a big result was Penn Relays, only a week to nine days before championships,” said Vives. “So now this is two weeks before and it's about the right time for them to have another shot to lay it all out in a good field. So I think it's a it's a great opportunity for those for those student athletes in an quality environment.”
The UAlbany Spring Classic begins Thursday, April 18 at 12:00 p.m. with the first round of the multis events. The multis conclude Friday, April 19 at 12:00 p.m., and the meet proper begins at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 20. The Virginia Challenge runs concurrently with the Spring Classic, from April 18 to April 20.