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Ken O’Brien looking forward to 43rd season

With an experienced core group of returning athletes and a veteran coach at the helm, the Massachusetts men’s track and field team looks poised to contend in each event it partakes in this spring. Entering his 43rd season, UMass coach Ken O’Brien is confident in his team, and said he is excited to lead the Minutemen through another season with hopes of competing for a national title.

O’Brien categorizes his team as focused, versatile and seasoned. With 14 returning seniors, O’Brien is looking forward to the type of leadership and experience the team should bring to the blocks each day.

“If there’s one thing we know in sports, it’s that they are a marathon, not a sprint,” O’Brien said. “With experience, you usually end up with people who are more advanced technically, and psychologically they know how to get themselves through the grind of a season.”

Leaders

Senior sprinters Sam Laorenza and Brian Miller each return with a wealth of knowledge under their belts, and will be expected to lead the team. Laorenza typically competes in longer sprints like the 400- and 500-meter dash, and is the team’s strongest long-distance sprinter. Miller, who also competes in jumping events, gives the team a degree of flexibility it has been lacking in the past.

“Brian can do any one of the sprints, and he is a long-jumper and a high-jumper, so he is very versatile,” O’Brien said. “So not only does he bring valuable experience to the team, but he’s very versatile and as a coach of a team that has 22 positions, you love to see someone who can do more than one or two.”

Schedule

In a competitive Atlantic 10 conference, nothing is a guarantee, even for a coach as decorated as O’Brien. With a meet each weekend, the Minutemen will attend about 50 percent of their meets within New England, competing against three to five schools per meet. This allows them to compete at a high caliber without travelling across the country. The rest of the schedule includes a few larger meets where about 30-40 universities will be in attendance, with three championship meets at the end of the spring: New England Championship, Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship, and the A-10 Championship.

O’Brien describes his schedule as a good opportunity to face schools it wouldn’t otherwise because of the indoor facilities in the A-10.

Last season

Last season was a growth and development time for UMass. While there were some great individual performances throughout the year at each meet, the team was ultimately too inconsistent to achieve what it would’ve liked. O’Brien hopes a plethora of upperclassmen will motivate the Minutemen and guide them through their workout regimen throughout the season.

“This season we hope to improve on our consistency and how we finish out the season,” O’Brien said. “We had some great performances last year, but in the weeks that we needed them, we were inconsistent. I have some ideas to correct that this season, and we want to build on what we did well”.

Back from break

After winter break, most student-athletes find themselves a little rusty on their technique and stamina. The track and field team is no different. The challenges of finding proper track and field facilities outside of the University affect how each athlete trains over the winter months, depending on the climate they return to over break.

Most athletes lift weights and sprinters run along roads or indoor tracks to try to keep in shape. O’Brien realizes these challenges, and admits it generally takes about two weeks for the team to get back into proper shape, but said it’s something every team must deal with.

“Everybody needs a break,” O’Brien said. “There’s a physical and a mental need to get away from practice everyday and often times some time away can refuel an athlete’s competitive desire,” he continued. “We understand this and we deal with it and move on when we get back”.

Last weekend

Upon returning to campus in January, the track and field season began immediately. Last weekend, the Minutemen traveled to Boston University without much practice to compete in a meet, their first since early December. Despite this expedited return, they fared well, qualifying four athletes for the ECAC Championships, and eight for the New England Championships in their first event out of the blocks. O’Brien was proud of his team’s accomplishments.

“I was happy with the quality of the performances we put on the board,” O’Brien said. “We qualified 12 kids for championships right out of the gate, and that speaks to their hard work and training over break. We will be inspired to step it up a little now.”

Looking forward

This weekend, UMass travels to Rhode Island in its second competition since returning from winter break. The facilities at Rhode Island are top-notch, and O’Brien says his team is always excited to compete there. Unlike many other facilities like BU, which allow for better track events but leave something to be desired in the field events, these allow for much better performances in each field event.

“We’re really excited to go down to Rhode Island this weekend,” O’Brien said. “BU is notoriously bad for track events, and going down to Rhode Island is like going to a hitter’s ballpark. We should have some better performances in field events, and our guys are excited.”

Michael Wood can be reached at mcwood@student.umass.edu.

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