Track & Field Visits Jamaica, Connecticut
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany track & field program is preparing to embark on a stretch of the schedule that features competitions in five straight weeks starting Saturday when the team splits up to compete in Jamaica and at Connecticut, and culminating in the IC4A and ECAC Outdoor Championships at Princeton in May.
Two weeks ago, the Great Danes split up for three meets. Most of the competitors visited the University of Florida for the Pepsi Florida Relays. There, three school records were broken. Stephanie Osuji broke her own outdoor record in the 200m, the women’s shuttle hurdle relay broke a the school record, and Matthew Campbell broke his former teammate Alex Bowen’s record in the men’s high jump en route to setting the top mark in the country in the event, clearing 7-05.00. The mark is now tied for the best in the country after one of the jumpers from the University of Georgia matched it last weekend when the Great Danes were off.
“Our student-athletes went into Florida and they competed,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “Setting three school records at that meet was tremendous. The shuttle hurdle relay started it off. They put it together that day. Matthew was huge, with the leading mark in the high jump. And seeing other athletes like Myles coming back from injury to perform so well was nice. Walter Briggs showed he will be a force in the 400m hurdles. The women’s 4x100m ran just one tenth of a second off the school record in March, in the first time we put it together. Overall I thought it was a good trip, and probably the best performance we’ve ever had at the Florida Relays.”
Eight Great Danes distance runners traveled west last weekend to compete in either the Stanford Invitational or the San Francisco State Distance Carnival.
“We struggled somewhat out West,” said Vives, “but the positive that came from those meets was that two of our developing athletes came through. Tyler hadn’t run a steeple since 2015 and he’s now run two this season. He’s someone who’s competed for team USA and showed a lot of promise early and now he’s regaining that confidence. And Colleen, who had a big indoor season, now has shown she can be a regional-level performer in the steeple.”
Since that three-meet weekend, the Great Danes enjoyed a weekend off and a two-week training cycle in preparation for this five-week stretch leading into championship season.
“The training has been going well,” said Vives. “We wish we could be outside more, but most of the team is still working inside. One of the positives of Matthew doing so well is he’s training in the same facilities as the rest of the team, and it’s still possible to perform well. We’ve been spending a lot of time in the weight room, which is an aspect of training that is easy to lose as the season progresses. But you have to keep your athletes strong. We’re glad we were off last weekend so the athletes didn’t have to worry about performing in the cold and also had an opportunity to focus on their academics.”
About a dozen or so student-athletes will make the trip to Jamaica for the UTECH Classic. The meet traditionally arrives on UAlbany’s schedule every four years, ideally in the year immediately following the Olympic Games. UAlbany and UTECH usually alternate, visiting each other’s home meets once each in a four-year cycle.
The meet will serve as a homecoming of sorts for Campbell and Adrian Mitchell, who hail from Spanish Town and Kingston, Jamaica, respectively. Performances at the meet, however, will not count towards any NCAA qualifying standards because UAlbany will be the only American school in attendance.
“Performances from the meet in Jamaica will not count for NCAA qualification purposes so it’s going to be an exhibition for us,” said Vives. “I think it takes pressure off the kids so they can just go and compete. It becomes a fun experience for them. Matthew and Adrian are excited about going back home. Additionally for our program a meet like this offers visibility as one of the American schools that’s still connecting and showing up to one of their major invitationals. It also gives our student-athletes experience competing internationally, because a lot of them have international aspirations.
“The level of competition in Jamaica this year will be harder to predict because the Commonwealth Games are going on at the same time,” Vives continued. “The best teams are there, but the top college kids will be competing in our meet. We looked at results last year and the men’s results included 46’s in the 400m and 50’s in the 400m hurdles. Eighth place was 10.20-something in the 100m. So our kids are going to be tested, and you need to test your best athletes against the best competition you can find. A lot of the competition they will see will also attend Penn Relays in a few weeks.”
Those competing in Jamaica this weekend will do so at a world-class facility.
“The track was built by a German company, Regupol, and it’s the same surface as the track in Berlin where Usain Bolt set the world record in the 100m (9.58) and 200m (19.19) in the 2009 World Championships,” said Vives. “He wanted that same track in Jamaica. It’s fast.”
The remainder of the team will visit UConn for the fourth iteration of the Northeast Challenge, a meet that grew from the UAlbany/UConn dual meet dubbed “The Dogfight”. Three years ago, UConn added a home meet to its schedule during the same weekend that featured a small collection of some of the top teams in the Northeast. Since then, the meet has grown steadily to where it now serves as a pseudo meet of champions for the region. It will also be the first time this season that the entire team will be competing.
“People can have great performances in their first meet,” said Vives. “Having such a long stretch of training and preparation I wouldn’t be surprised to see some very good performances right off the bat. This is the longest period of time we’ve taken in between seasons with a lot of our student-athletes, but I think they’ve had a real opportunity to train and prepare themselves and get healthy. And they want to show us that they deserve a spot on the postseason roster.
“It will be the first competition for our jumpers,” Vives continued. “They’ve been patient, and they know that as jumpers it’s difficult to compete all the time. The jumps are very explosive events that can rip you up. So we’re trying something different with them and I think it’s going to be good.”
The first Northeast Challenge featured UAlbany and UConn, as well as Southern Connecticut State, UMass Boston, and New Haven, and grew to feature teams including Northeastern and Rhode Island, who traditionally compete for their conference titles each year.
“It looks like Northeastern will be competing,” said Vives. “They won the ECAC Indoor Championship. Connecticut won the IC4A Indoor Championship. Rhode Island will be there, and it looks like Stony Brook might be there as well.”
Though the one-on-one dual meet with Connecticut no longer exists, the rivalry between the schools is still significant to the program.
“Connecticut is one of the best programs in the Northeast, and it’s good for us to matchup our program against the best,’ said Vives. “Both the men and women have been very competitive, winning IC4A and ECAC titles. And now adding Northeastern and Rhode Island, teams which are normally at the top of their conferences, we get more of a meet of conference champions.”
This weekend will serve to kick off the true preparation phase of the calendar for the America East Outdoor Championships, which loom just three weeks away.
“We hope to see some solid performances right off the bat, and continue to see regional qualifying performances,” said Vives. “The next three weeks is to sharpen up for conference championships, which is the major push right now. Going the next five weekends in a row, we have to be careful how we manage our kids. So we’ll pick and choose our spots before we ask them to double at conference championships.”
The Northeast Challenge begins Saturday at 10:00 a.m. The UTECH Classic begins Saturday at 4:00 p.m.