The mention of track and field usually conjures thoughts of runners circling a track and soaring into the air, dripping with sweat under a glowing sun.
Even the most dedicated of runners has a little difficulty getting excited about lacing up the shoes with Friday’s forecast of a minus-15 wind chill.
While the PIAA’s track and field season for high schools does not begin until the end of March, State College and St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy are shaking off winter’s chill preparing for the indoor season. The Little Lions have already competed in one meet, at Dickinson College in mid-December, and the season resumes for all of the area’s athletes Saturday morning at Penn State’s Multi-Sport Facility with the Kevin Dare Invitational.
With smaller teams and limited access to facilities, the indoor season is not at the level of outdoor track and field, but there is still high-quality competition.
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“It is set up for the outdoor season,” State College boys coach Steve Shisler said. “At the top level it is very competitive, especially at the indoor state meet when it is combined for (class) 2A and 3A. ... But the focus on our year is on (preparing for) the outdoor district and state meets.”
The coaches and athletes also use the time to put in the building blocks for the spring.
“For some kids it’s a good chance to refresh what we did in the summer, get stronger and stay stronger,” St. Joseph’s coach Jayson Jackson said. “It a chance to bring everyone together.”
The biggest obstacle is how to get in daily training.
Snow covers State College’s outdoor track, and the indoor track in the school’s North Building is not wide enough for more than two or three runners side-by-side and doesn’t have marked lanes. Their gymnasiums also have to be shared with basketball and wrestling teams along with open gyms for other sports. As often as weather permits, St. Joseph’s practices are held a few blocks away at the Pennsylvania Military Museum’s half-mile paved path.
The rosters of the teams are smaller than for the spring, with many athletes competing in basketball, swimming and wrestling. Jackson knows it’s a little tough to compete against those sports when he is sending kids outside for training.
“The indoor sports sure look a lot nicer when it’s negative-9 outside,” he joked.
The coaches also improvise for some events. With no sand pits for the jumps, athletes focus on form and technique and land on mats. The halls of State College’s high school buildings also are typically used — except this week the entire campus is in the middle of a move to the new building for Monday’s opening.
“It’s very difficult to train,” Shisler said, “but we make the most of what we have available to us.”
When other options like treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes and weight rooms are thrown in, and athletes prepare as best as they can. Once they hit the tracks and runways at meets, however, the difficulties melt away — unlike this week’s snow.
“The last couple years it’s thrown some people off with it being so cold,” Jackson said. “As soon as they get out there and start racing, then they get back to the same goals and objectives — winning, records, things like that. I think we do a good job figuring out what their goals are for the season.”
A glance at the teams:
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
The strength for both the boys and girls teams are the distance runners, with many experienced from successful cross-country campaigns in the fall. Among them are PIAA qualifiers Max Wortman and Carter Kauffman on the boys’ side, and members of the PIAA runners-up in Sera Mazza, Julia Cusatis, Myah Chappell, Lindsey Carmack, Addie Ebbs and Maggie Urban.
Jackson also sees a strength for the team in sprinter and jumper Sarah Watkins. The distance runners should do well on the boys’ side, but there isn’t much depth otherwise.
“We’re excited to get started,” Jackson said. “It’s been a two-month break, so we’re just getting back into the action and testing ourselves against the competition and getting the rust off.”
Both boys’ and girls’ teams return a number of athletes who will be contending for state medals. The cross country teams won district titles and had strong showings at the PIAA meet — including a fifth-place finish for the girls — and they should help bolster the middle- and long-distance groups.
The boys also have strength in the jumps with brothers Lance and Stan Hamilton, each of whom were PIAA qualifiers at last spring’s outdoor championships. Lance Hamilton transferred from St. Joseph’s.
“We could have one of the best jumping teams in the state,” said Shisler, who also figures to have contenders in the pole vault with PIAA outdoor meet qualifier Luke Knipe and Pat Osborne.
Cohen Russell is the top sprinter, already nearing the marks of Alex Kenney, who graduated in 2010 with the state record in the 60-meter dash.
The girls’ team lost to graduation several indoor and outdoor state-meet medalists, but the Lady Little Lions will bring back Lyndsey Reed (pole vault) and Taylor Givens (long jump) along with relay runners Esther Seeland, Julia Neely, Emma Simon and Elly Haushalter.
“We have a number of young veterans in each event area,” coach Jennifer Evans said. “Our cross country ladies are coming off of an outstanding season, and we look to build upon that energy in all event areas. A number of girls have committed to training all year long in their events, and we look forward to seeing how their hard work will pay off this season.”
Indoor track and field
Local schools competing in indoor track and field as teams at a glance:
Head coaches: Boys — Steve Shisler; Girls — Jennifer Evans
Assistant coaches: Artie Gilkes, Joe Sarra, Tom Kleban, Chris Cipro, Rebecca Donaghue
Key losses: Boys — Nick Feffer, Joey Feffer, Owen Wing, Chris DiPerna, Ben Oesterling, Matt Russel, Pat Holoviak, Thomas Branstetter, Matt Balogh. Girls — Sara Almarzooqi, Jordan Bair, Annalisa Betti, Sophie Bollinger, Catherine Curtin, Haley Garvin, Kassidy Kane, Peyton Lee, Ellen Maple, Jordi Rohrbach, Zoe Wicks, Hannah Yoder
Returning letterwinners: Boys — Cohen Russell, Tanner Reed, Terrell Ealy, Radison Hockenbury, Joe Messner, Owen Isham, Mitchell Etter, Chase Longenecker, Stan Hamilton, William Howell, Jake Hefkin, Luke Knipe, Pat Osborne, Joe Brucker, Jeremy Thompson, Titus Thompson, Logan Lieb. Girls — Gabbi Bock, Liana Craig, Taylor Givens, Julia Neely, Britney Peachey, Megan Petrine, Lily Plute, Cailin Saylor, Esther Seeland, Camryn Bendik, Erica Feese, Nadalye Garlin, Kileigh Kane, Jenna Kokoskie, AnnaKwasnica, Claudia Lagoa-Miguel, Emma Maras, Noelia Pagano, Lyndsey Reed, Emma Simon, Jordan Terrizzi, Maddie Adams, Elly Haushalter, Jessica Lose, Gracie Myers, Rachael Spencer.
Key newcomers: Boys — Lance Hamilton, Zach DeCarmine, Erik Boethius, Bennett Norton, Jonathan Kondratyev, Henry Ballard, Ari Gluckman, Sam Knipe, Marc Allerheiligen.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
Head coach: Jayson Jackson
Assistant coaches: Sarah Wygant, Nicole Van Thuyne, Sommers Moyer
Key losses: Boys — Michael Peters, Lance Hamilton, Zach DeCarmine, Nick DeCarmine. Girls — Monica Surovec, Mary Elliott, Shannon Brawley, Grace Cousins, Kate Ott
Returning letterwinners: Boys — Max Wortman, Cole Bernier, Theo Spychalski, Kaelan Wright, Isaac Hyman. Girls — Sera Mazza, Julia Cusatis, Sarah Watkins, Myah Chappell, Lindsey Carmack, Addie Ebbs, Maggie Urban, Shannon Saclyn, Hannah Langelaan, Veronica Emigh
Key newcomers: Boys — Carter Kauffman, Tyler Emigh, Leland Calistri. Girls – Elizabeth Peters, Sarah Lombardi, Ruthanna McMurtrie, Izzy Warren, Teghan Prospero, Kaela Meyer, Kathleen Simander