At the level of the individual, track is a simple sport. All that matters is who can run fastest, jump highest, or throw farthest. But collegiate track and field is not just an individual endeavor. Team scoring and a long season change the dynamic of competition and complicate the sport by adding layers of strategy to both training and racing.
The women’s indoor track and field team will compete in Providence tomorrow against Connecticut, Hartford, Maine, Quinnipiac, Central Connecticut State and host Rhode Island. Because of track’s combination of individual and team competition, what is important tomorrow is not necessarily which team wins, but how the meet fits into the Bulldogs’ training schedule.
Head coach Mark Young ’68 said the URI Invite is more important as part of a longer-term strategy to win a championship than it is as a goal in itself.
“[The Heptagonal Championship] is the meet that matters indoors and out[doors],” Young said. “What you do is you gear the training and the mental focus on those two meets.”
But Yale’s schedule includes many more meets than just the league championships. Over the course of the next four months, the Elis will compete in a number of invitationals, dual meets, tri-meets, and other championships including indoor and outdoor ECACs and NCAAs. The difficulty arising from such a schedule is the need to reconcile the training needs of individuals with the desire for team success. Especially problematic is striking the right balance for athletes whose ability is on a higher level.
“With certain individuals, their individual goals take on a national scope, but along the way they can score as many points as possible,” Young said.
He pointed to twins Laura and Kate O’Neill ’03 who were instrumental in the Bulldogs’ team success last year but also succeeded at the NCAA Championships.
Such careful planning and long-term outlook means tomorrow some runners, even the best runners, will likely sit out to rest or train with a focus on future meets. But others will run both to gain race experience and have the opportunity to get a fast time without worrying about running multiple events in order to score as many points as possible for the team.
“We generally view large invitationals like this as great opportunities to compete against some heavy competition,” captain Lisa Wygant ’04 said.Ê”Since we don’t see the team scores in these meets as important as league meets, we try to focus on individual events and aim for improvements in personal performances.”
Young provided an example: a banked track may provide better opportunities for sprinters to record fast times. To gain speed or strength, distance runners may run a race length to which they are not accustomed.
At Heps, the Bulldogs will try to score as many points as possible in all events, meaning individuals may not run their best races. But with the focus on Heps, meets along the way, like tomorrow’s competition in Providence, allow the Eli women to run their best events and focus on them completely.
“[You don’t] worry if you’ve got every event covered,” Young said. “You give each individual girl the chance to do her best.”
For sprinter and long jumper Katrina Castille ’07, meets like the URI Invite provide another type of opportunity: to practice new techniques in a competitive environment.
“I had to make drastic adjustments in my long-jumping technique this year,” Castille said. “Right now, I am in the awkward phase of relearning how to do basically everything and my jumping is suffering a little bit.”
She also takes a long-term approach, trusting her coaches and her training.
“My main goal is to learn as much as I can as far as running style and technique go, so that I may concentrate my following years on getting my times down and winning big,” Castille said. “But I don’t mind if a win a few races this year along the way.”