Spring track and field uses renovated facilities to develop new team identity

With improving weather and a renovated track, the boys and girls spring track and field teams hope to lengthen their training time because they no longer need to commute to different schools. The teams look to use this increased efficiency to improve overall team performance while holding up the record-breaking season they had last year.

Last year’s runners had been using whatever local tracks were available, traveling to the Hun School of Princeton and Princeton University tracks, which took up time that could have been otherwise used for practice.

“One of the biggest things last year [without the track] is that we lost a lot of developmental time on improving technique,” said girls and distance Head Coach James Smirk. “When you lose half your practice to travel, you are just not going to be as good.”

For the sprinters, jumpers, and throwers, having a track means fewer injuries. The most common of these injuries are shin splints, caused by continued stress to the shin bone and its surrounding muscles and exacerbated by repetition on varying hard surfaces, according to Healthline Networks.

“We’re going to do a lot more … workouts [involving running spikes], orientating around the race, getting ready for the last 50 meters of the race,” said sprinter and Captain Joe Gray ʼ15. “It will keep us injury-free, [because we won’t be] running on the concrete all of the time.”

Girls and distance Head Coach James Smirk consults Alexander Roth ’17 after the workout on April 9.  photo: Amy Wang

Girls and distance Head Coach James Smirk consults Alexander Roth ’17 after the workout on April 9.
photo: Amy Wang

In addition to preventing injuries, holding practice close to the office of athletic trainer, Shannon Koch, will help the team deal with the injuries that do occur. “[We now have] a place where we can come to and check in with athletes on a daily basis and not have to worry where they are at, like at the university … We have a place where we can see our athletes every day, and a spot to call our own,” Smirk said.

According to several members of the team, having a track will change the dynamic of competitions through not only promoting effective practices, but also by introducing a new mentality during home meets.

“[Having a track] is also better for our minds. This year, having a track will make it easier mentally and emotionally,” said distance runner Mary Sutton ʼ15. “We haven’t had a home meet since my freshman year, but it’s going to be a way for our friends to come out and support us.”

According to jumper Peter Choi ʼ15, the team’s first meet and eventual loss to Trenton Central High School was not an adequate representation of the team’s ability to compete—many runners were unable to participate because the meet was scheduled during spring break.

“We were competitive, even though we were missing a lot of our team and top athletes that were away on spring break,” Choi said. “[Also], historically, Trenton is a good team … [and] we did really well given the circumstances.”

The weather conditions in the early season had been less than favorable for runners, but provided a training opportunity for toughening up the team.

“What you do in April, the struggles in April, the challenges and how you deal with [them] determines how you run in May,” Smirk said. “The toughness of April and the weather pays off for championships.”

Despite the loss at the start of the season, both the boys and girls teams bounced back to win their next two meets making their record 2–1. The boys competed against Robbinsville High School and the girls against Robbinsville and Stuart Country Day School for the first meet. The second was against Hightstown High School and Steinert High School for both teams.

According to Smirk and Johnson, the teams are still in the early phases of defining themselves. “Every season, you have to redefine who you want to be as an individual. Then you have to define yourself as a team,” Smirk said. “That’s what we’re doing right now. We are trying to decide who we want to be, and create our identity. Our success at the end of the season will be based on decisions that we make now.”

In the process of defining itself, the boys team must address and respond to a variety of obstacles. For the boys distance runners, one change from last season is the lack of a team captain. “Our coach has made it very clear to us that we can’t wait [for a leader to emerge], and we need to take advantage of this moment,” said distance runner Alex Roth ʼ17. “We don’t need a team captain, and our coaches are perfectly capable of leading us.”

“Without [many] seniors, I lead myself … I tell myself what to do, I go hard on my workouts, and I take my goals,” said distance runner, Nick Delaney ʼ18. “We have a lot of developing runners that [in] two years … [will make up] a competitive team.”

As for now, the identity that has developed among the team is one of independence. The runners stress the importance of self-discipline and work to uphold this element while practicing and competing.

The girls team discusses goals for its upcoming meets at practice on April 9. photo: Amy Wang

The girls team discusses goals for its upcoming meets at practice on April 9.
photo: Amy Wang

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