The Men’s Track and Field season has finally begun after months of hard work of training and lifting and the Vassar team is setting its goals higher than ever. According to junior sprinter and captain Abe Gatling III, “The team goal is to send multiple people to ECAC’s and NCAA’s every year. In years past it used to be a pipe dream, but recently that dream is getting closer and closer to becoming a reality.”
Having been in serious training since returning to Vassar in January, the team is very eager for its competitive meets, which began over spring break at Coastal Carolina, NC, and will continue this weekend at Princeton’s Sam Howell Elite Meet. The team balances strong camaraderie and enjoyment of each other with an intense work ethic and desire to improve. Freshman Cheikh Athj, standout hurdler, shared that, “Our coaches are definitely trying to inspire a culture of athletic professionalism.” Additionally, junior Colin Hepburn said, “Our coaches have also always supported our sport as well as our academics, by not saying that it is important to be the best athlete we can be, but by stating that what they want is for us to be the best student-athlete we can be.”
Senior Captain Sam Ballard elaborated, saying, “DIII athletics are just generally a little weird. We’re all very dedicated to it and fiercely competitive, but there is still an acute sensitivity to academic matters throughout the team and coaching staff. To that end, student-athletes and coaches work together to find a system that is the most effective for enabling us to meet both our athletic and academic goals.”
This is extremely important as the Track season begins in January and the postseason tournaments continue into May after school has ended. Additionally, many of the distance runners also participate in Cross Country in the fall, making the balance of athletics and academics even more crucial.
The crossover between Cross Country and Track partially explains Vassar’s success in the sport but the team is expanding. Hepburn explained that “I would say that it seems that Vassar breeds 800 runners, and has historically done very well in that and the distance events, however in the past 2-3 years our sprinting team has grown tremendously.” Competitors to watch out for this year include senior Sam Wagner, looking for a repeat appearance at NCAAs (400m and 800m), senior Mathue Duhaney, who has left the pool to challenge sprinters on the track as well(100m and 200m), Gatling, who has bounced back from injury in fine form (200m and 400m), while freshmen Athj (hurdles), Dylan Manning (400m and 800m), Jonah Williams (1500m and 5k), and Taylor Vann (High, Long, and Triple Jump) all look to establish themselves as contenders.
Though it may appear to a casual viewer that Track contains elements of athleticism grouped into competitive format, there is a greater degree of complication than initially meets the eye. Every event has a high degree of specialization, as Ballard shares, “Long races have to been run strategically, short races have to be technically sound, and it you don’t throw or jump in a fundamentally sound way then you’re likely to fail and/or lose a limb.” In the same vein, Gatling continued, “Every event requires cultivation of technique, whether it’s hitting splits, driving from out of the blocks or momentum maintenance in the triple jump. I think that pole vault requires the most, because there are so many steps to executing a good pole vault. You can’t just hurl yourself over 13 feet into the air with a fiberglass stick without having superb technique.”
Success in Track is directly correlated with the hard work training and time put in during the offseason, and the commitment is not to be taken lightly. “It’s funny, because sometimes I question why I’m doing this, why I spend all this time working my butt off and the pain/soreness and frustration of bad days and workouts, when you’re tired or stressed or life just seems to be going bad. But then you will have those days where everything seems to click—you feel great, you run fast and smooth and get this weird rush—which is when I remember that this is what I love to do. That and the fact that my teammates are some of the best people I know—I have some of my best friends on the team—who are always supportive and can relate to you on many levels since they are doing the same thing,” revealed Hepburn. Ballard also talked about what made Track so special for him, “Best: The community. There is an understanding and a bond among our teammates that is really a great support network throughout school. Worst: You’re always with the same damn people! Sometimes it seems like you have no secrets!”
Vassar hosts the Liberty League Championships on Saturday, April 20th at Prentiss Field Complex, an excellent opportunity to catch some of the college’s finest athletes competing for postseason berths and eternal, ephemeral glory.