Five meets into a solid winter season, Swarthmore’s track and field team has their sights set on the conference championships later this month. The team has enjoyed greater depth this year due to a large influx of freshmen, especially among the sprinters and fielders, who have nearly doubled in size.
“Over the past couple of years, our team has been working on adding depth, transitioning away from a more distance-heavy team and into a more well-rounded one,” said distance runner Mayank Agrawal ’18, “This year’s increased presence of jumpers and throwers has allowed us to make this transition, and we hope to be more competitive in conferences as a result.”
Additionally, the returning players have been impressive in setting an example for the team’s younger members. Sophomores Andrew Jansen ’18 and Jenn Beltran ’18 have each achieved new PRs in the past three weeks, with a shotput throw of 12.74m and 400-meter dash time of 1:04.42 respectively. Similarly, Sarah Nielsen ’16 qualified for conferences at the Villanova Invitational last weekend after finishing as the top DIII runner in a competitive one-mile run.
Though perhaps the most notable standout this season has been distance runner Indy Reid Shaw ’17, who, after beating out 34 DII and DIII competitors to win the mile race with a PR of 5:18.5 at the Kuztown Golden Bear Invitational, was named Centennial Conference Runner of the Week. Shaw’s success continued into last Saturday’s meet at the Villanova Invitational, where she crushed Swarthmore’s 12-year-old 3000m record by over four seconds (10:12.98).
Looking forward, members of the team have two goals: set new PRs and qualify for indoor conferences on February 27. However, this is difficult to achieve during the indoor season —- especially for hurdlers, sprinters, and distance runners —- as the shorter track distance alters the kinds of races that can occur. For example, runners whose training revolves around the 100-meter dash, an outdoor event, must compete in the much quicker 60-meter dash.
“Indoor is hard; a lot of your times are slower indoors due to the tighter curves of the indoor track. The only event that’s really better indoors is the pole vault because there’s no wind,” sprinter Ben Hejna ’19 commented.
The harder surface of the winter season’s indoor track has also resulted in a myriad of injuries, which are holding the team back from reaching their full potential. Fortunately, the injured players will have time to recover, as much of the emphasis on training is oriented around peaking during the spring season. This is typical of any collegiate track and field program, especially for distance runners who taper strategically to optimize performance at outdoor conferences.
While head coach Peter Carroll is satisfied with the team’s achievements this winter, he believes there is room for improvement.
“The team’s performances have been solid,” Carroll said. “Standouts have been a bunch so far, and we have a nice crop of first years. However, we certainly have a ways to go because we are not peaked yet and need to get some more practice under our belts.”
Fortunately, the team has two more weeks to prepare for indoor conferences that athletes can qualify for by meeting officially designated times or distances throughout the season. After the men’s disappointing 8th place finish (out of 9 teams) and women’s 7th place finish (out of 10 teams) at last year’s indoor conferences, both teams are eager for the opportunity to compete. Team morale is high going into the event, and, despite recent injuries, members remain focused and optimistic for the future.
“I think that every day, we are getting stronger and faster. We are truly supportive of each other, in that instead of trying to be better than another teammate, we push each other to run faster,” said sprinter Becky Tang ‘18. “I can’t help but feel proud of my teammates when they PR or run an awesome race, and we’re always cheering each other on.”
Freshman hurdler Benjamin Hejna ‘19 reported similarly optimistic sentiments, saying, “There have been strong performances across the board, and we’ll be working progressively harder as we move towards conferences.”
The young track and field squad is hopeful that their “day-in day-out” mentality will pay off later this month, but until then, they’ll be grinding.