Track Begins Outdoor Season In Puerto Rico
ALBANY, N.Y. – Though the indoor season just ended last week, with seniors Matthew Campbell and Grace Claxton earning All-America Second Team honors at NCAA Indoor Championships, the University at Albany track & field program will compete in its first meet of the outdoor season on Saturday during the team’s annual spring break trip to Puerto Rico’s Spring Break Classic.
Most of the team has been training between seasons, having stopped competing after America East Indoor Championships or IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships. Campbell and Claxton, who were the last two Great Danes still competing for indoor, will not be members of the team for the upcoming outdoor season. Claxton has exhausted all of her eligibility and will now serve as an assistant coach on the team working with the long sprinters, and Campbell will not compete again for UAlbany until next March, having exhausted his indoor eligibility.
“It is a big adjustment not having Grace and Matthew compete this season,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “They have both contributed significantly to the program, and it is my hope that other student-athletes step up to the challenge of filling their absence. Grace graduates in May, and will actually serve as an undergraduate assistant coach and will begin to compete professionally. She will remain in Albany to prepare for this summer’s World Championships in London.”
The latest indoor season saw the Great Danes continue their storied success in the America East. The men won their 12th consecutive indoor title, while the women won their fifth straight. Contributing to the victory, the men won a program-best 10 of 20 events, and the women won seven. Claxton and weight thrower Chinwe Igwe broke their own America East championship meet records in their signature events, as did Matthew LeLiever in the 500m, a mark which held up as the best time in the country for the season.
“I feel like we developed well and accomplished some great things during the indoor season,” said Vives. “We accomplished all of our goals. We wanted the men and women to win both conference championships and IC4As/ECACs, which we did, and we had a men’s and women’s qualifier for NCAAs.”
After America East Indoor Championships, the team turned its focus to IC4A and ECAC Indoor Championships, where both the men and women finished second last year in the team standings. The goal for each season as laid down by the coaching staff is to have the men and women each finish within the top three in the team standings at IC4A and ECAC Championships. The goal remained the same this year, though there were aspirations of pulling out the team titles after having been so close a year ago. The teams’ hard work paid off, with both the men and women claiming team victories. It was the men’s third IC4A indoor title, and the women’s first ECAC indoor title.
At last year’s America East Outdoor Championships, the men scored 219 points to earn their 12th consecutive title, and the women scored 173 points to earn their eighth consecutive. From those teams, the men need to replace 56 points and the women need to replace 44.
“We’re redshirting both Matthew and Kingsley for outdoor,” said Todd Wolin, who coaches the high jump and multis. “This will give them the opportunity to get stronger for a push at NCAA championships next year. Also, this year’s IC4A and ECAC outdoor meet will not feature the multis events, so most will only have the America East meet to compile a good score. Mary will be our first-ever student-athlete to compete in the heptathlon at the Penn Relays.”
“Outdoors we get to add the javelin, which is great for those student-athletes who have been working really hard since September without having the chance to compete,” said throws coach Deshaya Williams. “We also add the discus, so there are more areas for the throwers to cover from the indoor season.”
“The first thing about outdoor is I hope the times are faster because there are fewer turns,” said distance coach Matt Jones. “I also think when we get to a certain point during the outdoor season we can do more quality work. For example, the guys who just ran 1:53/1:54 in the 4x800m relay should be able to do 1:52 outside with the same effort.”
“Perhaps the biggest difference indoors to outdoors for a sprinter is the 60m becomes a 100m,” said Junior Burnett, who coaches the short sprinters. “But I personally don’t see a big difference in the events. The mechanics should pretty much stay the same. I always tell them to run the 60m like you’re running a 100m, because in the 100m you’re supposed to reach top speed between the 40m and 60m mark, and if you can do that in the 60m you’re really running fast. The mechanical execution follows the same principles in both races, and I teach the sprinters to have the same mindset across both events.”
Internally, the indoor season saw school records set in the women’s 60m, the women’s 200m, the men’s and women’s 300m, the women’s 400m, the men’s 5,000m, the men’s 4x400m relay, the women’s high jump, the men’s triple jump, the men’s shot put, the women’s weight throw, and the women’s pentathlon.
“The goal for my group was to qualify at least one to nationals, which we did with Matthew,” said Wolin. “We also wanted to qualify as many as possible to postseason meets. Eight of 10 qualified for IC4As and ECACs, and five earned scoring places. We swept both high jump titles at conference championships and IC4A/ECACs, and saw a conference champion in the men’s heptathlon and a school record in the women’s pentathlon. These were all great achievements that the group earned with their hard work and dedication.”
“I felt the throwers did a great job during the indoor season, setting new personal-bests and breaking school records,” said Williams.
“Indoors, I think the distance group started slow but finished strong,” said Jones. “I think we’re ready to continue our improvement. I actually thought our IC4A was one of the best track meets we’ve had in a while. I don’t know if anyone that ran didn’t hit a personal-best.”
“The sprinters did very well,” said Burnett. “We saw school records in the women’s 60m and 200m, which was one of the goals for the season. We accomplished just about everything we wanted to as a group, except for a 60m champion at ECACs.”
The outdoor schedule features a return to the Florida Relays on March 30, two weeks after the season-opener this weekend. The lone home meet on the schedule, the Spring Classic, is scheduled for April 22. The week after is the Penn Relays Carnival. Last year, Claxton became UAlbany’s first-ever Penn Relays champion, winning the 400m hurdles. Her teammate, Alexander Bowen Jr., followed suit a day later, winning the men’s high jump, becoming the first UAlbany men’s Penn Relays champion.
America East Outdoor Championships are scheduled for May 6 and 7 at New Hampshire. Two years ago the Wildcats swapped places with UAlbany in the host rotation because their outdoor facility was undergoing renovations. IC4A and ECAC Outdoor Championships begin five days after conference championships end, leading into a two-week break before NCAA East Prelims starting on May 25. NCAA Outdoor Championships are scheduled to begin on June 7.
“Outdoors, we are looking to defend our America East titles,” said Vives. “We also want to win IC4A and ECAC championships, which would be the first time for the men since 2009 and the first time ever for the women. Finally, we hope to have 20 or so qualifiers for East Prelims.”
“Anika is looking to defend her outdoor high jump title,” said Wolin. “If she wins it will be her third consecutive, indoors and outdoors. Victoria has come into her own in the high jump as well. Stefan and Mary will take a run at the outdoor multis records. Letti is getting stronger and should improve on her sixth place finish from conference championships last year. Najee and Jake will jump more outdoors, and Nailah has looked better and better in the last few weeks. I think we can do really well at conference championships, IC4A/ECAC championships, and hopefully at East Prelims. I always tell the group, ‘do better today than you did yesterday, but not as well as you will tomorrow’.”
“I expect my crew to continue to push themselves and execute their hard work to earn regional qualifying marks, break more school records, and give everything they have,” said Williams. “I have a large group of seniors this year, and I want to see them leave it all out there this season.”
“I already told the sprinters we want to qualify both 4x100m relays to East Prelims,” said Burnett. “That is our main goal. And if all four just execute their individual 100m race, we should be ready to do that.”
There will be one difference at this weekend’s Spring Break Classic. While the Great Danes traditionally attend this meet in an effort to capitalize on the remaining sharpness within the student-athletes from the end of their indoor season by offering them an opportunity to compete away from the inclement Northeast weather, the stakes at the Classic have usually been low. This year, the meet will serve as a qualifier for the Puerto Rico schools for their national championships, meaning the event fields should be more competitive. Additionally, the meet has drawn Olympians and national-level competitors in some events.
“I think even though we train in the elements, our schedule searches for places that will minimize racing in the elements,” said Jones. “So just like everybody does indoors, we’re always going somewhere to find the right track, to get the right time, to qualify for the next level.”