Massachusetts women’s track and field coach Julie LaFreniere can’t speak highly enough about how hard her team has been working during fall training, and she thinks the new season looks promising.
The Minutewomen will have their first chance to make that hard work pay off when they have their first event of the 2012-13 indoor season at the URI Pentathlon in Kingston, R.I., on Friday.
“The coaching staff is very pleased with how well the fall training has gone and what’s even more important is the commitment that our athletes have made to this program and to each other and we can build on that,” LaFreniere said. “It’s a young team, and we’re looking forward to watching them compete and working with them. I think it’ll be pretty exciting.”
Last year, UMass finished 11th out of 12 teams at the indoor Atlantic 10 Championships. LaFreniere said the A-10, which now has 14 teams with the addition of Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, is a tough conference, but the team is hoping for better results this year.
“We’re looking for our athletes to make it to finals, but be strong enough to improve in the finals and not just make it there and then not perform,” LaFreniere said.
LaFreniere said that injuries may be a problem for the team. Some major players from last year will not be competing this year due to injuries sustained last season, LaFreniere said, but she didn’t give the names of those players.
This year, the team brought in 13 freshmen recruits. LaFreniere said she feels good about the new members, but mainly hopes that they can improve as they make the transition from high school to college.
“We’d like to see them by the end of the season perform at a little bit higher level than they did in high school,” LaFreniere said. “Some people adapt better than others with new training programs, the academics, but we will do whatever we can to get them to perform to their best.”
The team’s freshmen did not take long to make the transition last year. Then-freshman Rebecca Stoyle set the fourth best mark in UMass history for indoor triple jump at the A-10 Championships, good for fifth place at the tournament.
Stoyle also got the third best outdoor triple jump in team history at the outdoor A-10 Championships, earning third place.
Meghan Landry had success as a freshman last year in the 4×400 meter relay along with upperclassmen Sarah Bitterman, Meghan Leahy and Michelle Jenssen at the Indoor New England Championships, setting the fifth best time in team history.
Katie Powers and Courtney Neves also found their way into the UMass record books, setting the second fastest time for the indoor 4×800 meter relay with Bitterman and Deanna Julian at the Indoor New England Championships. The pair also won the Outdoor New England Championships with Leahy and Claire Petit, again setting the second best time in UMass history.
LaFreniere said now that the freshmen standouts from last year are sophomores, not only are the coaches’ expectations higher, but the players’ expectations for themselves are higher as well.
“They’ve got all that initial adaptation under their belt and they’re fit and have higher expectations from what they did as freshmen,” LaFreniere said.
The upcoming pentathlon consists of five events: 60-meter hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put and 800-meter run.
The event is not part of the regular track season. Instead, the players take their combined scores from all the events, and those who get the top scores have a chance to qualify for the pentathlon event at the Indoor New England Championships .No UMass athletes qualified for the pentathlon event at the New England Championships last season. However, LaFreniere is still looking forward to the upcoming event.
“We’re looking forward to seeing what the pentathletes are able to do, see how they perform,” LaFreniere said.
After this event, the track team will have to wait another month before the regular season kicks off on Jan. 11 at the GoRhody Invitational.
Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @jgms88