Track & Field Visits Middlebury
ALBANY, N.Y. – The indoor season keeps rolling along for the University at Albany track & field program. Last weekend, the Great Danes hosted their first and only meet of the season, the 15th Annual Great Dane Classic. This weekend, UAlbany will return to Middlebury for the Winterfell Meet for the second consecutive season.
The trip to Middlebury was added for the first time last season, coinciding with the debut of the Panthers new $40 million facility. In previous years, the Great Danes would either travel to Penn State or Cornell during this weekend in January, but decided last season to try something new. The Winterfell meet features the fewest number of teams UAlbany will see all season and contests a handful of events, like the 600m, that are rarely included on meet schedules throughout the year. Middlebury’s track, like Cornell’s, is flat instead of banked, but the conversion factors put in place by the NCAA mean that competitors do not need to worry about the disadvantage in finishing time that accompanies a flat track.
At last weekend’s Great Dane Classic, 10 meet records were broken in nine events. The meet produced two world-leading performances and the first sub-four minute mile in meet history. Additionally, Dayleen Santana Rodriguez broke her own school record in the women’s 60m and Sidney Gibbons tied the school record in the men’s 60m hurdles. Despite these performances, for the second consecutive season opener the Great Danes collectively underperformed somewhat after the long holiday break.
“Even though we tried to minimize the intersession break, three weeks is just too much to be away," said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. "Everybody started behind where they left off, except in a few cases. Out of over 100, less than 10% of people were where they left off or a little better. So that’s something we definitely have to look at for next year. In the past we used to bring out students back on January 2. I think we have to go back to that. But there’s a lot of season left. There were some bright spots but others were flat. You always expect it a little in the first meet of the season. And I tell the team it’s the same for everybody so we should still be competitive.
“But it was an unbelievable meet,” Vives continued. “We had 1,260 student-athletes competing and over 1,700 entries. Todd did a great job running the meet. Many meet and facility records were set, and having people like Ajee Wilson compete was incredible. We had the first sub-four minute mile in meet history. All these meet records for a meet that’s existed for 15 years is tremendous. All of the events were competitive.”
For the first time in the meet’s existence, the coaching staff elected to remove the team scoring competition. The motivation was that where the meet falls on the calendar is too early to worry about team scoring and that the meet would benefit from a more relaxed atmosphere despite the high attendance.
“I think that it’s early and I think a lot of people looked at our meet as an opportunity to get work in and see where their teams are,” said Vives. “UConn would always want to run a 4x4 at the end and score points but they didn’t field a 4x4 this year. We got in what we wanted to, and I think other teams did too.”
Looking towards this weekend, the team will focus on righting the ship from the sluggish start they experienced at the Classic. With only five other schools in attendance, as opposed to the 80 teams present last weekend, the Winterfell Meet offers a unique opportunity to race in a lower-key environment.
“The team now knows that it’s about focus and training and getting back in the routine,” said Vives. “This meet we will continue the work we started. I wish that we started with this meet instead of the Classic, because it’s lower key with only five teams. But you can’t control the calendar. This weekend, in addition to Middlebury, we’ll see Vermont, McGill, Coast Guard, and Castleton.
“I think, and especially for our newcomers, we’re going to be excited to see a different type of meet, at a beautiful facility, where they do a nice job of running the meet,” Vives continued. “And that’s why we decided to keep this meet on the schedule after last year. The bulk of the 400m people will run the 600. It’s a rarely contested event but I think it’s good to do something different.”
Although Middlebury is the host and a familiar opponent, regularly competing in the UAlbany XC Invitational in the fall, the prime competitor is Vermont, one of the Great Danes’ America East rivals, who UAlbany will be seeing for the first time this season.
“I think it’s good to see other America East schools before conference championships,” said Vives. “It lets us see who they have, and who are the people to look out for, what surprises they may have. Every school has newcomers and transfers and seeing our competitors before championships, like we did with UMBC and Binghamton last weekend, gives us an opportunity to see where they will be strong.”
As always, the team continues to work towards its goal of defending its conference titles. After the slow start last year it took a few weeks for the Great Danes to right the ship. The coaching staff is hoping the turnaround happens more quickly this season.
“This week is a work week,” said Vives. “We’re just planning to get some work in, and continue to work on developing race rhythm. It’s like a pitcher; they need to pitch a few games before they really find their groove. That’s what we’re looking for this weekend.”
Field events at the Middlebury Winterfell Meet begin at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 20. Track events begin at 12:15 p.m.