Change is the word to describe the beginning of the indoor season for both the men’s and women’s track and field teams.
Head Coach Matthew Cole has begun his first season leading the UW-River Falls teams after being an assistant coach from 2006 to 2013 for the women’s track and field team at Rose-Hulman University. Cole was named the Great Lakes Region women’s assistant coach of the year from 2011 to 2013.
With a new coach have come new training techniques. Senior captain Matt Shutey said that the change has certainly been noticed.
“For a lot of us this is a different training program and different style, it’s an entirely different way of training. We’ve seen some really good turnouts in the short sprints,” said Shutey. “Another difference has been the new weight training program under Carme Pata and Coach Andy King. I think this is where the lifting program should have been the past years.”
Freshman sprinter Grace Curran has also noticed a change from running in high school to competing at the university level.
“The time commitment is so much greater in college than it was in high school and that was a little bit of a shock to me,” Curran said. “Going from being a senior in a small school to a freshman in college track and field, it is much more competitive and very humbling to say the least.”
The improvement which Curran has seen is something which Cole hopes all of his runners will continue to see as the season goes on.
“Our kids are really following the process of the training and working hard. As long as they know they can follow process then good things will happen and they’re starting to see it,” Cole said.
However, Shutey said that the changes for the athletes extend beyond just running on the track.
“We’ve never really been a team. We had five different teams that rolled under the UWRF flag. For example, I would watch the sprinters’ events, but wouldn’t care about the distance events. It’s not like that anymore, and some of us older people have worked very hard to eliminate that,” Shutey said. “We now have a lot better unity, where sprinters aren’t just friends with sprinters, but also with distance runners and pole vaulters. It is more like a family than it ever has been.”
Despite these changes, Cole said that both the men’s and women’s teams are not quite where they want to be just yet.
“Right now I’m happy, but I think we can always do better and there’s no doubt about that,” Cole said. “Right now this isn’t where we want to be in the future.”
While the team as a whole has not yet reached the level Cole is hoping for, some athletes have seen plenty of success so far this season.
At the UWRF Invitational, senior Kimberly Lueck established herself as not only a contender for the WIAC championship, but also the national championship in the 60m hurdles.
“She broke the school record in the hurdles, and the facility record, this past weekend when she went 8.32 [seconds]. That is one of the top times, not only in our conference but also in the country, she is sitting number five in the country,” Cole said. “She is a strong leader for us, vocally and athletically.”
Junior Tia Harris, senior Hillary Geipel and sophomore Beth Riihinen also hold spots two through four, respectively, in the WIAC honor roll in the 3000m run. Harris and Riihinen are also have the top two times in the conference in the 5000m run.
On the men’s team, sophomore sprinter David Paynotta has emerged as a top conference runner. Paynotta’s times currently rank him sixth in the 60m dash and fifth in the 200m dash in the WIAC.
“[Paynotta] ran an outstanding 200 this past weekend and has really positioned himself as one of the top sprinters in the conference,” Cole said. “He should really compete well at our conference meet.”
In three weeks both teams will get a chance to see if these changes will be reflected within the WIAC. The indoor conference meet will be held at UW-Whitewater on Feb. 28, and March 1.
Since 2004 the men’s track team has finished no higher than seventh place, out of nine, at the indoor meet, while the women’s team has finished anywhere between fourth and eighth in that same time frame.
“The competition is so intimidating, but motivates us to strive for greatness,” Curran said. “It makes me so proud to represent a team that is a part of the SEC of Div. III.”
The WIAC has produced nine of the last 13 men’s indoor national champions and five of the last 10 women’s indoor national champions. UW-La Crosse is the defending national champion on the men’s side, while UW-Oshkosh is the defending champion on the women’s side. Additionally, six men’s WIAC teams are ranked in the top 25, including three of the top four, and four of the conference’s women’s teams are ranked in the top 15.
Cracking the top positions of the conference will be difficult for both teams, but Shutey said that is role which the team is used to.
“We’re going make some good marks, but we won’t be great overall. But we’ve always been the underdog in the conference,” Shutey said.
UWRF has two more meets to run before the WIAC championship. This will give the runners two more chances to qualify for the conference meet. The top 25 times in each event qualify for the WIAC meet.
On Saturday, Feb. 15, both teams will travel to UW-Superior Invitational. On Friday, Feb. 21, the men’s team will travel to the University of Minnesota Snowshoe Open, and on Saturday, Feb. 22, the women’s team will travel to the Minnesota Parents Day Invitational.