Even though Swarthmore seems to remain indefinitely frozen over, one team on campus is bringing the heat. This past weekend, Swarthmore track and field competed in the Centennial Conference Championships, where several people set personal records and the women’s team clinched second place in the entire conference.
The road to victory has been full of hard work this year. Each member of the team competes in one or more of three events: distance, sprints and hurdles, throws and pole vault. A track and field athlete’s events largely determine his/her daily practice routine, but despite differences in exact routines, the runners all train similarly for conferences.
At the beginning of the season, just before winter break, the team focused heavily on fitness and endurance. As they got closer to conferences, the emphasis was more on speed training and “tapering,” which is the process of gradually decreasing stress on one’s body in order to stay in perfect shape for the day of the competition.
A similar exercise regimen was not all that the team shared in the weeks leading up to conferences. “Everyone had a secret buddy […] we had team spirit days every day, so it was focused on each other and making sure everyone was there for each other, which I think really helped going into conferences,” said Sarah Nielsen ’16.
Even with all of the good spirit and confidence the team had going into conferences, the relentless snow that has blanketed Swarthmore for the past three months proved to be a challenge for a team whose training largely occurs outdoors. Head coach Pete Carroll described the adjusted training the team did because of the bad weather as “Spartan.”
Many times, the team would use the cleared hill near the athletic center for hill sprints or swim in lieu of running on the track. They managed to overcome the difficult weather with good humor, making the best of the situation.
The snow didn’t thwart their training or their spirit, and perhaps most importantly, it didn’t impede their success at conferences. Last Saturday, March 1st, the team packed up and drove over to our Tri-Co “friends” at Haverford for the Centennial Conference Track and Field Championships.
Conferences are a good way for the members of the team to evaluate themselves mid-season and set the bar for the rest of the season. As Stuart Russell ’14 explained, “People see indoor conferences as a halfway point for a larger, broader outdoor track season, so it’s kind of like a check-in point see how you’re doing and how your training’s been going.”
Clearly, the training has been going well, because Swarthmore did not fail to impress this weekend. Unlike a basketball or a rugby game where points are easy to keep track of, points at a track meet are harder to monitor throughout the lengthy eight-hour meets. “If you become a bean counter and you count and add up the scores, you’ll go crazy,” attested Carroll.
However, by the time the last race came around, Swarthmore knew where they stood point-wise. Only half a point stood between the women’s team and Dickinson College for second place. The women shook off any nerves they might have had and gave it their all. A combination of adrenaline, determination and raw talent ultimately brought them to victory over Dickinson.
Several people also broke personal records during their races. The effort and confidence that each athlete brought to conferences made for a memorable weekend overall.
Co-captain and sprinter Jason Heo ’15 reflected on the weekend, saying, “I think it was inspiring to have teammates like Jonas [Oppenheimer ‘15] and Katie Jo [McMenamin ‘16] that were breaking records. In general, I think everyone expects themselves to be a little faster, throw farther or jump farther when conferences comes around. I think that’s part of being an athlete — being able to rise the occasion.”
For some members of the team, this weekend marked either the true beginning or the end of a track and field career at Swat. “I was thinking about this on Saturday when I finished my last race for a certain distance […] Wow, I just locked in my lifetime personal best for that race because I’m never going to run that race again. It’s just kind of realizing that every race that you’re doing now is one of, if not the last, chance you have to perform at that distance,” said Russell.
For the freshmen on the team, the experience was a little different, a reminder of the psychological aspect of racing. As freshmen, they see many of their competitors from Johns Hopkins or Dickinson for the first time and don’t have preconceived notions about them. Consequently, they run to the best of their ability without the psychological baggage of familiarity. As Coach Carroll aptly put it, the freshmen were able to “perform without paralysis.”
The victories this weekend were both individual and team-wide, but the effects were undoubtedly felt by every person on the team. The emphasis on team cohesion in spite of the individual nature of the sport has been, in fact, a marking characteristic of this track and field season. For the team, there are few opportunities to come together as a whole and celebrate their accomplishments.
“We don’t […] get to be a team very often because we don’t score our meets during the regular season, so when we do score it’s at the Conference Championships and we measure our team ability relative to how we do there,” said Coach Carroll.
Swat track and field is on a hot streak, despite the cold, and their success isn’t likely to end soon. Their season will culminate this May at the outdoor Conference Championship, which will be held here on Swarthmore’s hopefully vernal campus and will be a rare opportunity for the Swarthmore community to cheer on one of the most successful teams on campus.