It’s the time of year when many of Vassar’s athletic teams find themselves in the thick of springtime competition. However, this isn’t the case for the men’s and women’s track teams. For the Vassar track and field teams, spring break provided an opportunity to finally kick off their seasons after a grueling campaign of preparation.
For Brewer track, offseason workouts began as soon as the previous academic year ended; moreover, many of the Brewer runners and jumpers are dual-sport athletes, splitting their semesters between cross country in the fall and track in the spring. “It is a testament to the rigor of the sport and the commitment of our students how long the preparation phases are for track. It takes a lot of consistent, diligent, patient and focused work to be at your best,” explained Head Coach of Cross Country and Interim Coordinator of Cross Country and Track, James McCowan.
Vassar College Track and Field entered the final stage of their preseason as many members of both squads traveled to Tucson, Ariz. to participate in a training camp in preparation for the Willie Williams Classic at the University of Arizona, their season-opening meet. “It was an excellent week of training and team bonding, and culminated with some outstanding performances,” McCowan said of the time the teams spent in Arizona. The coaching staff and teams returned to Vassar with much to show for themselves, as many Brewers posted outstanding times and personal records.
On the men’s side junior Gabe Fishman and freshman Ry Blume both notched personal records in the 800M, while one of the standout performers for the women was sophomore Lucy Balcezak, who started her season off with a time of 2:19.40 in the 800M, good for an ECAC qualifying spot. Sophomore Jared Feedman also picked up a personal best time in the 1500M of 4:06.11. Sophomore Michael Walsh excelled overall as well, notching personal bests in a total of three events: the Long Jump and the Triple Jump, as well as the 200M.
The second week of spring break was also dedicated to preparing for competition, as the Brewers traveled to Monmouth University to participate in their second meet of the young season this past Saturday after a week of practicing on campus. Vassar track and field had a second successful weekend at the Northeast opener, with several runners achieving new personal bests and one jumper securing a new record for Vassar. Freshman Annelise Depman started her collegiate career off in fine fashion, breaking the Vassar school record for the triple jump over the weekend’s official season-opening meet. Juniors Samara Roman-Holba and Alex Gittens also notched new personal records at the Monmouth meet: Roman-Holba in the 400M and Gittens in the 1500M. Several other runners also achieved if not career best times, at least college-best times as sophomore Michael Scarlett and sophomore Philip Brown ran in the 1500M, while senior Colin Hepburn finished 11th overall in the 10K with a time of 33:39.68 and freshman Christiana Prater-Lee opened up her collegiate career in the 5K.
The Brewers plan to use their achievements in Tucson as springboards for the remainder of the season. “[W]e want to compete well at Leagues … We want to be qualifying lots of students for the ECAC championships and compete well there, and ultimately we are looking to see student-athletes advance to and compete well at the NCAA Championships,” said McCowan, laying out some of the ultimate performance goals for both the men’s and women’s side. Expectations are high for the Brewers, as successful seasons have been the standard for VC Track for the past five years. Within the past two years, Vassar has qualified at least one individual for the NCAA National Meet and even more notably, two Brewer runners have earned NCAA All-American recognition. “We have a great tradition of track NCAA qualifications,” said McCowan.
Beyond the black-and-white success or failure on the track, much of what the track coaching staff seeks to encourage is a cohesive team atmosphere. “[I]t is the process that remains our focus: seeing each and every member of the team take responsibility for doing their part to contribute to our collective growth and success, committing to and following through on developing as people and as student-athletes. It takes risk, it means always learning and growing, and it is what allows each student to be their most successful self,” assessed McCowan. Fostering a strong team dynamic is always crucial for any team’s success but especially so in a sport as grueling as track. “Our teams thrive off being an inclusive group, whether it is seen by how our women and men train side by side or the number of dual-sport athletes we have had throughout the years,” Vassar track and field head coach Justin Harris pointed out. Maintaining a strong identity is one of the less quantifiable and more intangible goals that both teams will be striving to achieve this year.
Both the men’s and women’s sides welcome a substantial number of new faces. The 2015-2016 season will be the first year of collegiate competition for 21 freshmen across both teams: a group of nine middle-distance runners and sprinters join the men’s track contingent, while a further twelve freshmen, whose specializations span nearly the entire range of events, join the women’s squad. At the other end of the spectrum, this season will also be the last in the careers of 11 Brewer student-athletes. On the men’s side, Colin Hepburn, Kyle Dannenberg, Dylan Manning, Taylor Vann, Jonah Williams, Peter Winkeller and Morrie Lam will all graduate after the conclusion of this season. The women’s track team will graduate four seniors: Mollie Schear, Ava Farrell, Sarah King and Sarah Muskin.
While the players and coaches strive to improve their results, performances and preparation, they look to represent the college in the best possible manner. “The past several years, nearly every student-athlete has achieved personal bests across all the events we compete in, and that shows us that our mission is being fulfilled. Working with our student-athletes to be successful during their time at Vassar, and more importantly after Vassar, is what our coaching staff finds the most satisfying,” expressed Harris.