With a short spring season underway, Vassar women’s track has started off with some of their strongest in season races ever. With multiple school records set so early, women’s track in on a path to perform well in the Liberty League Championship and the Division 3 NCAA finals in the upcoming month.
Women’s track is a relatively new program at Vassar and each season sees a growth in numbers and talent. With a growing program comes loftier goals. Sophomore captain Nina Anderson expressed her view on the outcome of an ever-growing program. “Because this is such a new program, every season is more successful than the last. We have so many athletes this season who are hitting personal records, breaking school records, and qualifying for ECACs already, it’s almost like our personal goals change on a weekly basis.”
During one of their earliest meets in the season, at the Monmouth University Invitational on March 30, the team ran one of their best season openers in the program’s history. Sophomore Heather Ingraham ran an ECAC qualifying time of 59.00 seconds during her event, placing fifth in a mixed field of Division 1 and Division 3, and leading the Vassar team to an impressive set of scores. Sophomore Ariel Bridges started her season with a strong 200 meter, coming in with a time of 26.52 seconds, only .02 seconds away from ECAC qualification. Bridges and Ingraham joined Anderson and sophomore Payton Johnson to run a strong 4 by 400 meter relay with a time 4:09.39.
“It was awesome to be racing again, there’s honestly nothing like that first race of the season,” Anderson wrote, describing the team’s performance at Monmouth. “Everyone was nervous but our coaches did a great job preparing us; we were ready to go. We had people hitting times that they hadn’t been able to run until the end of last year’s season, so I feel pretty confident about our team’s success this season.”
The teams next impressive meet came on April 5 at the Ramapo College Roadrunner Invitational. Bridges and Ingraham achieved two more ECAC qualifications, while senior Kelly Holmes picked up one for herself in the 1,500 meter run, where she placed third with a time of 4:46.03. Bridges’ 100 meter time, 12.66, tied the school record and earned her a spot at ECACs. In the 200, she had a stunning 25.99, setting a new school record and easily qualifying for ECACs with her fifth place finish. Ingraham ran a strong ECAC qualifying 200 meter dash in 26.34. Ingraham also qualified to ECACs with her 12.75 performance in the 100 Meter Dash. Freshman Sarah King ran an impressive debut in the 3,000 meter steeplechase, finishing third in 12:05.83, a mere six seconds away from ECACs.
Head coach James McCowan is happy with his team’s excellent performance so far. “Things are off to a good start,” McCowan explained in an emailed statement. “Until [the Liberty League Championships] we are really working on getting each individual the experience and training they need to make their individual goals, which collectively will be our best team effort. Ultimately, we are looking to get everyone to their highest level of ability.”
Joining McCowan on the coaching staff are Assistant coaches Justin Harris and Meghan Young and volunteer Assistant coaches Ron Sonitsch and John Brooks. The coaching staff takes on the job of motivating the team and getting the individual runners to perform their best.
“There are many ways to get the best out of people,” expressed Harris. “We push to create opportunities that get our athletes to learn both self-awareness and self-confidence. This is achieved by encouraging and doing our best to model how clear pathways of communication often lead to trust and then to success.”
Along with the coaches, captains play an important role in the success of the team. As one of the captains, Anderson expresses how easy a team women’s track is to manage. “It really isn’t a struggle to keep this team motivated. D3 runners are generally really committed because we chose to be on this team. We aren’t on scholarship and we don’t get a lot of credit for what we do, we run simply because we love it. As a captain, our job is really just to be a link between the coaches and the rest of the team. Our coaches just want us to be good teammates and leaders. We help people out in the weight room, lead event groups, and do some of the behind the scenes stuff so that the team functions a little more smoothly.”
As the season begins to take shape, the team looks ahead to future races and regional championships. Their next event will be the Rensselaer Polytechnic Invitational on April 13. Liberty League Finals will be held at Vassar this year on April 20, while NCAA finals will be hosted by the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse on May 22.
Coach Harris is extremely optimistic about the progress and outcome of this current season given past performances in the ever-growing program. “Considering we’ve had individuals qualify for 6 out of the 9 past NCAA Championships we are in the process of first stabilizing that expectation of excellence and then building upon it.”
Coach McCowan knows the effort that goes into being a student athlete, and is extremely proud of his team as a whole. “Ultimately, I think they all just want to be respected for the effort and passion they put into their work—in the classroom, on the track, and in all the other facets of their lives as Vassar students,” expressed McCowan. “Not everyone can do what it takes to be a Vassar student—this is a select group of people. Similarly, not many people can do what it takes to be a college track athlete, and even fewer are willing to make the commitment that it takes to maximize that opportunity. That is no small thing.”