UMass track and field gains confidence amid improved outdoor conditions

By Nick Souza

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(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

Both the Massachusetts men and women’s track and field teams inspired confidence in their respective head coaches this weekend, despite middling results. The men’s team finished sixth place at the Yellow Jacket Invitational while the women tied for second at a home tri-meet.

Minutewomen coach Julie LaFreniere and assistant coach David Jackson actually had to clear the lanes of snow themselves in order to get the track ready in time for the season-opening tri-meet Friday.

While the Minutewomen only managed to tie Boston College and fell to Rhode Island 121-107, it still ended up being well worth it for the team to have the meet, according to LaFreniere.

“Because we have such limited time to get meets in before the championship, having this meet was vital for our team,” LaFreniere said. “And I’m very happy with our athletes, we got exactly what we needed from it.”

Among the standout performers was sophomore Heather MacLean, who posted the fourth fastest 1,500-meter time in program history. At 4:31.77, she earned first place in what was her first-ever race in the event. But according to LaFreniere, she’ll continue to get even better at it.

“Our plan is to have her run it at our invitational next week,” LaFreniere said. “She hopefully can come through the 800-meter mark at 2:20 and we are trying to get her to break the school record by the end of this season.”

Another somewhat surprising standout was freshman Colleen Sands in the 3,000-meter run, who finished with a very respectable 10:09.29 time, placing her second to Courtney Hawkins of URI. She will also be competing in the 3,000-meter steeplechase for the first time later in the season.

“I’m really excited to run the steeplechase for the first time,” Sands said. “I don’t really have goals for it yet, I’m just going to run hard and see what I can do.”

Friday was also the first time UMass had some of its best runners back from injury. Senior Courtney Neves took second in the 800-meter run with a 2:18.73 in her first race back close to full health.

Also returning from injury was captain Katie Powers. The senior ran the second leg of the 4×400 meter relay that came in second with a split time of about 59 seconds. This was a good first step for her but there is still progress to be made, she said.

“I want to get my time down from 59,” Powers said, “I still have a long way to go but I want it. I’ve been dealing with some swelling in my ankle but I’m just going to gut it out in this last month.”

LaFreniere said she thought the athletes responded well.

“The athletes are sore and tired,” LaFreniere said. “No one is going to be fresh when they’re racing at this point in the season but I’m proud of my athletes. They love what they’re doing and today was a good measurement for them.”

Minutemen double up

The Minutemen sent their athletes to two different meets this weekend in the Sam Howell Invitational at Princeton University and the Yellow Jacket Invitational at American International College.

For UMass coach Ken O’Brien, the string of positive performances outweighed the 55-point finish at the Yellow Jacket Invitational.

“When taking into account the harsh winter and lack of outdoor practicing, I was pleasantly surprised with how our team performed,” O’Brien said. “They exceeded my expectations.”

The Minutemen displayed great depth in the sprinting events starting with the 100-meter dash. Senior Patrick Farnham led the way with a second-place finish and a time of 11.19 seconds. Junior Youssef Elkorchi, who finished fourth with a time of 11.28, followed Farnham as did Corey Adelson, who just missed out on scoring with a 10th-place finish.

These four also helped comprise the 4×100 meter relay team that managed to come in second with a time of 43.26. The Minutemen lack a real game-breaking sprinter, but O’Brien hopes their depth will make up for that.

Another area of success was demonstrated in the 400-meter dash, with Austin Peters, Deion Arneaud and senior Zack Grube all finishing in the top 10. All three athletes ran in the same heat and combined for seven points in the event.

In the field events, Greg Copeland and Nicholas Gemino placed third and fourth respectively in the pole vault with a height of 4.1 meters.

“These performances surprised but I don’t want to say I was underestimating my team because I didn’t know much about them,” O’Brien said. “So I guess I didn’t know what they would do because I hadn’t seen them in a competitive environment.”

The Minutemen competed in the Sam Howell Invitational the day prior, which was strictly for the long distance runners who haven’t gotten a chance to compete since the fall season.

UMass’ best performer was sophomore Blake Croteau, who took fourth in the 10,000-meter run with a time of 31:09.61. The goal of the meet was to break in runners who compete in events longer than the 3,000-meter. Many of the athletes who made the trip were underclassmen.

“The conditions for distance running that evening were perfect,” O’Brien said. “I thought the runners responded well to the environment they were placed in to open the season.”

UMass looks to continue the positive trend next week when it hosts the Minutemen Invitational.

Nick Souza can be reached at [email protected]