By Carley Crain
March 12, 2020.
The day before the world was put into lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the date the NCAA indoor track and field championships were canceled.
A group of athletes and coaches boarded a plane to North Carolina on March 10, hopeful for their upcoming races and the chance to compete on the national stage. For some, it was the chance to defend their All-American status, and for others, it was their first National Championship appearance. However, after shortly arriving and getting settled in, the competition was canceled — and nobody was expecting the pandemic to last as long as it has.
It has been over a year since the track team has been able to compete, and after a devastating end to last year, athletes are hungry to lace up their spikes again. After watching other big Div. I and Div II schools compete this winter and not being able to run indoor track, it has heightened the athletes’ desire to compete again and wear THE jersey.
“We were so grateful just for practice and to do what we love with the people we love doing it with. Looking forward we have a lot of potential on the team, from what I can see there is a great environment every single time we are touching the track at practice,” said head coach Mike Miller. “We really have the opportunity to knock down the door at NEWMAC’s and become the championship team we have always wanted.”
“I think our team is really strong at supporting each other, being there for each other, and raising each other up. If someone is struggling or having a bad day, there are always people here for you that support you through everything. Through workouts and runs, we feed off of each other and we can just have a positive workout when we are together,” said first-year Kate Bonanno.
The time away from competition made the team focus on other aspects of the sport more, such as mental health and virtual team bonding.
“We dove into the development of people. We went into mental health, mental preparation, mental toughness, what it means to be on this team, developed standards, language, and what it means to work hard,” said Miller.
This spring, the Pride will finally have the chance to race again versus NEWMAC opponents in a shortened season. While the exact details are still being figured out for the upcoming season, the Pride will have three dual meets against numerous conference opponents as well as the NEWMAC Championships at the end of the season. NCAA DIII Nationals recently have been confirmed and the first meet of the season will be at home on April 10th.
“The second we were able to start practicing a lot of momentum started to build,” said Miller. “Just having practice you can see a lot more motivation, having the talks from intersession about taking care of yourself created a little more character development which created more development in motivation.”
All-Americans Caroline Hitchcock, Emily LaPlante, Chole Dewhurst, Tyler Hanson, and Josh Silvester are all returning this year and will continue to be huge assets for the Pride. For both men and women the sprint, distance, jumping, and throwing groups continue to improve due to long training cycles.
Despite being a smaller group of athletes, the throwing group (“Bomb Squad” as they are commonly referred to) has a versatile group of underclassman throwers that specialize in numerous events.
Sophomore Jamie Coca is coming off a strong indoor campaign, where he placed high at Div. III New Englands and at ECAC’s. Sophomore Christa Carr also had a solid indoor season, where she placed in the top five at both ECAC’s and at Div. III New Englands. Emily Racana, another sophomore who specializes in the pole vault, has been a consistent and strong asset to the jumps squad and has proven to be a contender in the New England region.
On the sprints side, Junior Sydney Fackrell is a strong competitor who has great range. Last year, Fackrell won the 60-meter dash at ECAC’s as well as placing second in the 200. On the men’s side, senior Cormac Tolan also has great range and can be seen doing sprinting events or distance. Last indoor season he broke the indoor school record for the 600 and is looking forward to closing off his time at Springfield with one last chance to compete for the Pride.
Distance (the “D-Squad”) has a strong group of first-years and upperclassmen that will help lead the Pride to a strong NEWMAC finish. First-year’s Kate Bonanno and Kailyn Belanki are coming into the season both as Connecticut first-team All-State runners, with great versatility in the longer and middle distance events.
“I think this long training block has given us time to really enjoy the process and work on ourselves mentally,” said Bonanno. “During pre-Covid sessions, it is sometimes hard to hold onto your purpose and stay strong through all the races. This long block has made me more grateful for every opportunity I get and to take each day we spend working hard together as an opportunity we are all so lucky to have.”
Senior’s Rachel Wentick and Abigail Murdock are other distance runners to look out for, as Wentnick specializes in the 10k and is looking to better her seventh place NEWMAC finish from 2019. Murdock is best at the 800, where she is looking to improve her sixth place NEWMAC 2019 finish.
On the men’s side for distance, for many, it will be their first-ever outdoor season competing for Springfield. With a mix of middle and longer distance specialists, the men’s distance team is excited for what they can do this year after months of hard training.
Sophomore Rece Gobbel and junior Russell Allen are two of the strongest middle-distance runners for the Pride. Senior Ryan Vermette is another runner to watch out for as he specializes in the longer events and is coming off a stellar junior indoor season.
The ability to compete this season after a whole year off has the track team more excited than ever to race and wear THE jersey again. Their first dual meet of the year will take place on April 10th at Blake Field, with no spectators allowed.
Photo: Jack Margaros