By JOHN GORALSKI
It almost seems like a cruel joke to see members of the indoor track team shivering in small groups as they trudge outdoors for preseason practice. It looks like disorderly confusion as they break into smaller groups and gravitate toward different sections of the outdoor facility.
But if you look closer, there appears to be rhythm and order underlying all of it.
The distance and mid-distance runners gravitate toward the front entrance where one of the head coaches, Dan Dachelet, barks out orders to his former cross country runners in puffs of wintry mist. The other head coach, Connor Green, works in tandem with the spring track coach, Colleen Roarty, as they bounce between groups of sprinters, throwers, and jumpers like a pair of ping pong balls in a lottery hopper.
The workouts are doled out with perfect precision. The athletes throw themselves into their training, and it doesn’t take long to notice that the team with no practice facility has a purpose like never before. Excitement is brewing as the Blue Knight indoor track teams set out to prove that the winter season is as legitimate as any other.
“Our goal from the get go is to create a culture, and that certainly starts at the top,” Dachelet said about the coaching staff committee. “We want to have the same staff working with the kids throughout the year, so that word spreads around the high school that this is a real program.”
Each member of the staff has a specific talent aimed at a specific group of athletes. Dachelet is an expert at distance training. Green is a technical reference for the field events that was lacking in years past. Roarty serves as an assistant coach for the technical events, and she brings her experience as a sprinting coach for the boys track team last spring. It’s all designed to bring more success to the winter season.
“Dan is going to take over the mid-distance and longer distance because he’s an awesome coach for that,” said Green. “Then, Colleen and I are gooing to be working with sprints, jumps, and throws. The throwers and the jumpers have sort of been on their own over the last few seasons. They’ve been coached, but not to the level that I think they can be. They are very excited, and I’m really happy to give them a chance to succeed at a higher level.”
Both teams have made great strides in recent years. Last winter, the boys team qualified 16 athletes for the postseason in six different events with Matt Bennet leading the way with a Class LL shot put title, a state open medal, and a trip to the New England championships. The girls team were on the cusp of a big breakthrough with nine girls qualifying for the state meet in four events.
Now, with more specialized training, expectations are even higher this winter.
“We want to have quite a few more kids qualify than last year, and we want to put more kids into the state open. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s a realistic goal,” said Dachelet. “We want to look at this on an individual basis, and we want to see these guys have success. We want to set [personal records] no matter what event it is. We will do a good job of helping them realize where they’re at and where they want to go. We’ll help set goals and train them.”
For Dachelet, it’s an extension of the progress made during the fall cross-country season, and most of the names are the same. Co-captain Jack Myers will pace his fall teammates, including Sean Garrison, Mark Murdy, Thomas Murdy, Adam Theriault, and Dylan Breutzmann.
Senior co-captain Amanda Hamel will pace a girls squad that is hungry to continue the fall success that landed them inches from a state open bid. Catherine Myers, Lauren Perkowski, Katherine Mellit, and Megan Albert welcome the return of Gabi Napoli from injury as well as the addition of Erin Angelillo from the soccer team.
“It’s pretty similar to what we’ve already seen in our cross country teams. For the ladies, the biggest addition is Angelillo, but she’s been training really hard during the soccer season. She came in with guns blazing already from what I’ve seen,” said Dachelet. “The trick is to get them up mentally for a second season and a third season after that. We have to get them motivated and insipired to get to the state meet for individual races.”
Co-captain Raquel Romano will lead a wave of mid-distance runners on both the boys and girls sides. Faith Ritchie, Kalie Pliego, Jami Pliego, and a host of junior varsity cross country runners make this an exciting group.
“They have loads of talent and a lot of leg speed, so I thnk that will give us really strong relays,” said Dachelet. “On the guys’ side, most of our carryover from cross country are pure distance runners. They won’t be able to dominate like the girls, but Vincent Zhang is a transfer student, and he’s shown potential in the 400m and the 800m.”
The biggest change this winter will be seen on the short track and field events. Green said that there is a lot of talent coming in. The biggest challenge will be training them for competition.
“On days that we are able to, we’ll be outside. For the throwers, a lot of our days will be spent in the weight room getting stronger or in the halls, working on form, and things like that,” he said. “For certain events, like the pole vault, it’s tough because you need the mats and the runway. It’s the same with long jump, but there are still a lot of technical related things that we can work on and a lot of speedwork that goes into all the field events.”
David Massabni, a state qualifier in the shot put, returns to lead a small contingent of throwers that includes Zach MacDonald, Daniel Mullin, and Everett Sperry. Kali Pliego and Amanda Howe are expected to make an impact in the shot put for the girls team.
Outdoor track veterans like Bailey Kahl (long jump, pole vault) and Tom Perzanowski (pole vault) will mentor a small group of hopefuls as the Knights try to raise expectations in the field events.
“We have a lot of upperclassmen that bring a lot of experience, and they are ready to lead the younger kids to a new level,” said Green. “We’re lucky. Basically all of our seniors in the field events know what they are doing. They have a great base and knowledge, and that should help the coaching staff to develop our young talent.”
Coaches expect even more changes to come as the season approaches as they welcome an influx of football players to add depth to the sprints, jumps, and throws. Led by co-captain Dan Parzych, a kicker on the gridiron team, it could herald a new era of success to the winter season.
“We’re always excited to welcome more people to our sport,” said Green. “Especially ones that are already performing at a high varsity level.”