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Track & Field Hosts Great Dane Classic

UAlbany Sports Information   01-12-2018

ALBANY, N.Y. – Returning early from break, the University at Albany track & field program is ready to kick off the 2018 season for real this weekend when they host the 15th Annual Great Dane Classic at the Ocean Breeze Complex in Staten Island. This is the third year the Classic has been held at Ocean Breeze, after moving venues from the previous location at the Armory in New York City.

UAlbany has already competed twice this season, participating in two meets in early December before the winter recess. The move to start competing in December began last year, and this year the coaching staff brought more student-athletes to compete before they went home for break.

“I think that the first meet we got off to a great start with all the IC4A and ECAC qualifiers,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “The women winning the Multi Meet was a bonus, but the objective was to get an early one in. It’s still real early and they haven’t done a lot of the events. I think we’re going to be way ahead of where we were in the past.”

Last season, the Great Danes started off more sluggishly than the coaching staff anticipated. The team didn’t fully round into form until right before conference championships. In response to the slow start from a year ago, the coaching staff made some changes to the preseason training this season.

“We have them training until December 19 this year,” said Vives. “We want to ensure real quality training until then, and minimize the intersession as much as possible. I asked all of the student-athletes for their goals, and I’m responding to each of them individually. We want to make sure everyone gave us a written copy of their goals because that means that you commit to them. And I purposefully do that before intersession so they go home thinking about what they need to do. Our hope is they come back in the best shape they’ve ever been in so that we’re ready earlier and performing well early.”

Last season, the men’s team won their 12th consecutive America East title and the women won their fifth straight. The men scored 205 points, well ahead of runner-up UMass Lowell with 129.5 points, and the women scored 212 points, even further ahead of runner up Stony Brook with 114.5 points. The men won a program-best 10 events, and the women won seven events. From those teams, the men will need to replace 69 points and the women will need to replace 31.

“We lost a tremendous group last year,” said Vives. “They won the IC4A and ECAC Indoor title. But I think we have a great combination of returners and new students, and we have key people in each of the event areas. Our distance group is a lot stronger than it’s been. We lost people in the throws but we have some good development people that I think are going to jump right in. The sprinters are going to be real good, real solid, especially on the women’s side. We have some triple jumpers on the women’s side that we didn’t have last year. I’m excited about this year’s team. And looking at their goals, everyone is thinking the right way.

“With the newcomers I see a lot of enthusiasm and competitiveness,” Vives continued. “They’re buying in already and they know they’re part of a great team. They don’t want to just be on the team, they want to contribute. Straight across the board there are some good people. They add some depth in a lot of our weak areas and help strengthen areas where we’ve traditionally been strong.”

The Great Dane Classic represents the true opening to the season, despite having competed in early December. It is also the only meet UAlbany will host during the indoor season. But holding a “home” meet away from campus doesn’t bother the team.

“Our student-athletes feel at home, even though we’re on Staten Island,” said Vives. “They feel like it is really their meet. It creates a comfort level. Our meet has traditionally been a good meet. I think we can expect to see schools like Princeton and UConn. We’ve decided to take the emphasis off the team this year. Our meet is a little early for a team meet. It’s just going to be more of an opportunity to let people see where they are after the holidays and maybe get some qualifying marks. It will be a good starting point for us to see if people did their homework over break. Last year was disappointing for us, so I hope that we’ve gotten the message across that they need to protect their fitness.”

The competition field for Saturday is expected to include about 1,200 competitors from other institutions, as well as professional clubs and countries. Of the 1,200 competitors in attendance, about 20 have competed in the Olympic Games. This year, the meet director, Associate Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Todd Wolin, added a 4x800m relay to the end of the meet for the first time at Ocean Breeze.

Following the Great Dane Classic, the team will visit Middlebury for the Winterfell Meet for the second consecutive season. Last year, the Great Danes visited Middlebury for the first time as the Panthers debuted their new $46 million facility.

“What Middlebury does is it gives us a small meet experience, that you’re going and you will be working on some things,” said Vives. “It gives an opportunity to run a secondary event, something that they normally don’t do. The kids really liked the new facility when they saw it for the first time last year. We try to keep the schedule fresh, and this is a two-hour drive. Within that three-hour radius, we’re able to go to different places and different types of meets.”

One of the most notable changes to the schedule this season is the inclusion of the Columbia Invitational, marking a return to the Armory for the Great Danes after a two-year absence. Additionally, the Invitational be scored, offering the team a chance to compete for points before having to do so at conference championships. Finally, the Invitational will feature a small field of select entries.

“Before conference championships, it’s important to have a team competition,” said Vives. {Our meet, we decided, was too early to ask people to double like they would in a championship meet. They do score the meet at Middlebury but that won’t be our focus for that meet. We wanted to get our kids in environment where they know eighth place counts, where they’re leaning at the line to get that one point. And even with the schools we’ll see there, Oregon, UConn, Georgetown, Villanova, we hope we can be a top-three team finisher. We need everybody, our throwers, our jumpers, our sprinters, our middle distance, our distance, to give them the feel of what the team competition is like a month before conference championships.

“Our goal is to be a top-20 program, Vives continued.” “Obviously talent is a huge part, but after that, if you have pretty decent athletes then it becomes mental. Can we compete with these people? We go to these meets and we can compete with these teams we start to put ourselves at a different level. A lot of times people are intimidated, but we’re just trying to race to show that we belong, and develop that feeling that we belong.”

The Great Danes will return to Boston University for the Scarlet & White meet after the soft opening there on December 2. The meet will run concurrently with the Crimson Elite Invitational, which will feature a high-quality short sprint field as part of Scarlet & White. 

“We’re taking all 110 student-athletes to Scarlet & White to develop familiarity with the facility, which is where indoor championships will be held,” said Vives. “It creates that familiarity where the students begin to like the track and feel like it’s their best or favorite track. It’s a great facility and I think it will be good preparation for our team. Last year most of the team hadn’t competed at Boston University before indoor championships. This year everyone will have competed there at least once beforehand.”

Arkansas’ Tyson Invitational is on the schedule again, and once again the Great Danes will bring a small contingent of their top talent to compete.

“What we’re looking at for Tyson is to take people who we believe are national level competitors,” said Vives. “We’ll have to see how we’re performing in some of the early meets, because if we’re not competing as well as we need to it won’t necessarily be worth the trip. Or, for someone like Haley, whose focus will be the 400m hurdles, she may run in the 400m at Tyson to keep that national-level mentality.”

Boston University will host the America East Indoor Championships for the second consecutive season following a brief hiatus which saw the meet hosted at the Armory and Ocean Breeze following the Terrier’s departure from the conference. The men and women will seek to sweep the team titles for the sixth-straight season. 

“The target is on our back every year, and there are always teams that are developing that we can’t sleep on,” said Vives. “There are new programs that come and get better and we have to be mindful of that. The main thing is we have to show up, everybody counts, and the outcome will be favorable. Losing is always a possibility, but I always stress the mentality that we’re going to compete and defend our championship.

“UMass Lowell, for example, is slowly getting it done,” Vives continued. “In cross country they had their top runner just run away from the field. What I like about the America East is that there’s competition in every single event. It’s not like we’re competing against ourselves, but we’re competing against someone in every event, they just might not all be from the same school. There’s good quality in every event that keep pushing our kids. It’s not just a walk in the park.”

Championship season continues with yet another return to Boston University where the Great Danes will look to defend their men’s and women’s IC4A and ECAC Indoor titles from a year ago.

“We’re going to try to repeat in both IC4A and ECAC Championships,” said Vives. “That meet is more about quality scoring. If your top people score you’ll be in the running for the team title. We have talent in enough events that can contend for scoring spots. If our top scorers do their jobs and we get some periphery scoring we’ll have a shot.”

Finally, UAlbany will look to continue their trend of participation in the NCAA Championships. During the indoor season last year, both Grace Claxton and Matthew Campbell earned All-America Second Team accolades in the women’s 400m and the men’s high jump, respectively. This year, the team has a handful of contenders for the top-16 national marks required to earn a berth into Indoor Championships.

“I think realistically we have a few athletes this indoor season who have a chance to qualify for nationals,” said Vives. “Top-16 in each individual event and top-12 in each relay qualify for indoor championships. I think we can get some people there. We want to consistently have a presence at national championships, but it’s not easy to qualify.” 

Before any of that happens, the season needs to actually begin, which it will for real this weekend. The Great Dane Classic is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. with the women’s 60m hurdles, the women’s weight throw, the women’s pole vault, and the men’s and women’s long jump.

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