Track and field team prepares to compete at New Balance Nationals Outdoor

photo courtesy: Noah Chen

photo courtesy: Noah Chen

Several weeks after spring sports teams finish their seasons, some of Princeton High School’s track and field athletes continue to strive toward the pinnacle of their season as they prepare for New Balance Nationals Outdoor.

PHS will send 15 of its runners to compete on the national stage. From June 13 to 15, the qualifiers from PHS’s track and field program will travel to Greensboro, North Carolina to compete.

“Since I was a freshman, it’s always [been] something [I’ve] wanted to do,” said Brandon Yao ’14,  one of the track team captains, who will be competing in both the 800-meter sprint medley and 1600-meter sprint medley. Yao has done track for all four years of high school and, although he has competed at New Balance Nationals Indoor at the New York Armory, this will be his first time heading to Greensboro.

For athletes like Maia Hauschild ’16, this year’s nationals will bring a new experience compared to last year’s. “This is my first time going for relays—last year I only went for long jump, so I’m excited to be able to run in a race with the team,” she said.

“Even for a lot of the seniors and the more experienced runners, it’s also their first time [going to nationals], so for a lot of us it’s a new experience. We’re ready to go against the teams from the other states and try to show them we’re as good as they are,” said Jeremy Cohen ’16.

In addition to Yao and Cohen, four other members of the boys track team will compete in relays, and Conor Donahue ’14 and Alex Roth ’17 have qualified for individual events.

On the girls’ side, there are also nine qualifiers. Michelle Bazile ’14 has qualified for an individual event and all others will be competing in team relays.

Athletes wishing to qualify for nationals can target three different types of times; the freshman division gives younger athletes a slightly easier target to work for, while the Emerging Elite and Championship divisions are open to all high school athletes able to achieve the standards. The Championship division cut-offs are slightly more difficult than those for the Emerging Elite division.

One factor that motivated the team to achieve these national cuts was the New Balance backpacks provided to all those registered for the meet. “Everyone at big meets will be carrying a Nationals backpack. Not only do they look attractive, but they also show that we are accomplished athletes,” said Yao.

“It kind of shows whenever you walk into another meet that you’re an experienced runner and people should watch out for you, so it’s a bit of a status thing,” said Cohen.

Even though opinions on the design of the backpacks vary, they are a coveted trophy that display the achievements of each athlete upon reaching the national standards.

“It’s really exciting knowing that I will be competing against all the fastest athletes in the country, and I am most excited to compete at such a high level,” said Lou Mialhe ’16. Last year, nationals produced 34 U.S. leaders and one national record.

Nationals differs even from the larger meets the team competes in during their season. James Smirk, the head coach of the girls team, said, “The Mercer County meets are small in comparison, but there’s still a lot of that drive and cheering … The difference is you go to a track that has eight lanes and can fit 10,000 people in the stadium.”

“At other meets, we have double or triple events, but at nationals, for that day, [most athletes are] there to run one event, so everyone’s fresh and has their mind ready to run,” said Yao.

To prepare for the much-anticipated nationals races, the athletes are doing intensive work for their specific event. According to Smirk, training for nationals has been ongoing since the winter track season and includes easier days mixed with interval and speed training.

“Because recently we’ve been in postseason, we’ve been lifting a lot less so that we can always be ready to run harder meets, so the training has been scaled back quite a bit,” said Cohen.

“This is one of the few meets [where] we actually relax and let ourselves be good,” said Coach Smirk. “[This is possible] because we’ve already qualified in and, really, this is the last opportunity to showcase where we’re at.”