Track and Field Finds Continued Success in New Facility

By Robert Erickson

With each passing week, the Middlebury track and field team has looked more and more ready for the New England Division III Championships coming up this weekend, an important step on the road to Nationals. School records have been falling left and right, going back to the Middlebury Invitational three weeks ago when James Lynch ’16 set a new heptathlon score and John Natalone ’19 left his own mark on school history in the pole vault.

The ladies had no shortage of stellar performances either: Maddie Provonost ’17 gave the Panthers a sweep of both heptathlons by winning the women’s, Paige Fernandez ’17 took the title in the 500-meter dash, Abi- gail Nadler ’19 crossed the line first in the 1,600-meter competition, and the squad of Halle Gustafson ’16, Alexandra Morris ’16, Lucy Lang ’19, and Jackie Kearney ’16 out- paced the competition en route to winning the 4×400 relay.

The weekend after, the squad sent athletes to both the Dartmouth Indoor Classic and the Cupid Challenge at Tufts, where the 4×400 relay team of Lang, Kearney, Fernandez and Morris placed second overall and smashed the old school record by almost three seconds at 3:56.72. James Mulliken ‘18 led the charge for the men, separating himself from the field to win the 500-meter dash. Down in Boston, Adrian Walsh ’16 smoked the competition in the 5,000-meter race, finishing more than 10 seconds in front of the second-place competitor in the field of 32.

Just this last weekend, Kevin Serrao ’18 blew past the previous 800-meter record by more than a second at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational at Boston University; in the same meet, Alex Nichols ’17 set a new mark in the 400-meter dash, only to watch Jimmy Martinez ’19 break it again minutes later.

Against a field of female athletes from all three divisions, Fernandez placed first in her 500-meter heat and Lauren Bougioukas ’16 wound up second in her 800-meter heat.

Morris also lowered the 400-meter mark she already held by a little over half of a second. Her time of 56.43 earned her 20th out of 196 athletes and was the top DIII runner at the meet. She currently sits second in the country.

Lynch, whose performance helped the Panther men land first place out of eight teams at the Middlebury Invitational, spoke about some of the unique challenges that ath- letes in his event face.

“It’s a grind over the two days,” he said. “The hard part is going to bed sore on Friday night having competed in the 60-meter dash, long jump, shot put and high jump, and knowing that you have to wake up the next morning and perform near your best in three more events [60-meter hurdles, pole vault, 1,000-meter dash].”

The women almost did equally well, coming in second out of six (behind Williams). That being said, the ladies will have another chance to compete at the Virtue Field House this next weekend when Middlebury hosts the women’s New England DIII Champion- ships.

Newly hired Assistant Coach Jordan Schi- lit, who boasts his own impressive collegiate athletic resume (six-time DIII All-American in cross-country and track), was very excited by the attention that the meet drew. “Several people had marks that ranked in the top 10 in the country for Division III,” he noted. “All of the teams were very excited to compete at our new facility and are looking forward to returning next winter.”

Schilit also reflected briefly on his first year working with the Panther athletes. “My job has been extremely enjoyable so far,” he said. “I try to bring the same passion and enthusiasm I had as a competitor to my coaching role. The most helpful information I can pass along is how to avoid the mistakes I made as an athlete and to convince the team to not set barriers.”

If helping the team avoid barriers has been his goal thus far, things seem to be according to plan; Lynch could barely contain his optimism as he looked forward to the rest of the season and beyond. “I feel great about this team,” he beamed. “We’ve got some great new faces and our returning athletes are excited to be here. This team is hungry. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t know how many days there are until NESCACs. This field house is going to give us incredible momentum into the outdoor season. I am excited for this year, but I think we are really going to see something special out of this team over the next three years.”

Looking forward to next week and beyond, Serrao hoped that the team would be able to put the finishing touches on the training that’s led them to the success they’ve had so far. “Personally, I have a lot of strength in my legs right now, but not a lot of speed,” he explained. “I think across the board the team is working on improving turnover for the championship season. We’ve already done the long slow distance, but we all need to get some speed in us to hang with the big league boys in the weeks to come.”

For the DIII New England Championships next weekend, the men will be at MIT; the women are looking forward to competing in front of a crowd of Panther fans at home.