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Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024
The Observer

Track and Field begins indoor season with stellar performance at Blue and Gold Invitational

The track and field squad kicked off its season at the Blue and Gold Invitational on Friday at the Loftus Sports Center. There were many solid performances in different event areas, but there were also some areas where the Irish will need to improve as the meets become more competitive.

The throwers were one of the most successful groups at the meet. The men put six in the top 10 of the weight throw and junior Rachel Tanczos shattered her previous personal record in the weight throw, as well. Matt Sparks, director of Track and Field, said he was very pleased with the performances of the throwers.

“It’s refreshing to see that they were all right at their PR, or in Rachel’s case, had a big PR from where she finished a year ago,” Sparks said. “That’s going to bode well for being competitive, not just on the conference level, but on the national stage.”

Sparks attributed the successes to the training mentality of throws coach Adam Beltran.

“The great thing that they’ve done, and what coach Beltran has established in that group, is a culture of grinding day after day, year after year, to the point when you are a junior or senior, you can compete on a high level,” Sparks said. “It takes a patient attitude to grow through those freshman and sophomore years, where you are not the best, but still have confidence that you are doing the right thing.”

Senior Ryan Schweizer also competed well, winning the mile with a time of 4:15.44. Schweizer was one of the best freshman milers in the country a few years ago, but has been unable to race the past three years due to injury. Sparks was impressed with his performance, and he hopes Schweizer can continue to improve during the course of the season.

“Not only did he compete, but he competed at a pretty high level,” Sparks said. “Now he has that monkey off his back, and he can worry about getting back to that elite level he was at.”

Schweizer will be able to train alongside some of the best milers in the country, including junior Yared Nuguse who was the 1500m champion in 2019. 

“He has a lot of guys to fall in line with,” Sparks said. “He can get in line behind Yared and the other guys, and doesn’t have to reinvent himself.”

Sparks said he was equally impressed by the performance of sophomore Elena Denner, who was the runner up in the 3000m in her first race in over a year. Sparks discussed the impact of Denner’s twin sister, sophomore Maddy Denner, on her motivation to compete at a high level. 

“When you have a sibling that competes at a very high level, you feel like you have to do something extra special,” Sparks said. “In the case of Elena, she is learning how to be herself. She doesn’t have to compare herself to a sibling or another person on the team. She just needs to be the best version of herself on that day, and then she can continue to improve.”

Sophomore Colton Crum took first in the pole vault. Crum was All-Conference in last year’s season, but redshirted during the outdoor season.

“He took the outdoor season off to perfect some skills and rid himself of some bad habits in the vault, and he really took that to heart in the spring, summer, and fall to pick up right where he finished the indoor season last year,” Sparks said. “When you are able to do that, you can grow during the next three months as you prepare for the championship season in March.”

There were a lot of freshmen competing in the meet, and Sparks noted the performances of freshmen Catherine Coffey and Connor Shields, who both won the 800m race.

“Both of them winning the 800 was a step in the right direction for them. They were both walk ons with not a lot of expectations, but it’s nice to see both of them step in during their first race and be competitive,” Sparks said. “That’s an event where we are a little thin on at the conference level, and if they can continue to progress, they might be able to find their way to the conference meet and give us some depth in an event we haven’t had much depth in recently.”

Despite these strong performances, there are still areas that the team needs to improve upon going forward, Sparks said. One of these areas is the short sprint events.

“We are still looking for people in the 60m, 200m and 400m to step up,” Sparks said. “We had a couple of injuries on the men’s side in the 400m, but [graduate student] Edward Cheatham ran the 400 pretty well. Other than that, we are looking for someone in the sprint events to assert themselves.”

The next meet for the team will be five days after class resumes in January, and Sparks knows the importance of continuing to train hard over Christmas break.

“You can’t spoil a good fall of conditioning by getting lazy over the winter,” Sparks said. “They’ll be on their own for three to five weeks of training, and they need to keep that momentum from the fall.”

Next up for the team is the Bill Clinger Invitational, which will take place at Grand Valley State University on January 17.