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Indoor Track & Field Thread / Coach Vives 30th Year!

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Press release from Roberto on the team and it's unusual schedule this year. I like the concept but if anyone gets sick or has nagging injuries they will be hard pressed to get in competition shape.

UAlbany Track & Field Opens Season At Penn State
Indoor Track Opens Season At Penn State
ALBANY, N.Y. – Before the winter intersession, the University at Albany track & field team held its annual RACC Classic Intrasquad Scrimmage, which represents the soft opening to the indoor season. The UAlbany student-athletes have now returned to campus, and will open the 2015 season for real this weekend at the Penn State Nittany Lion Challenge.
More than the season opener, the beginning of the 2015 campaign marks Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives’ 30th year at UAlbany.
“It’s a milestone year for me, and with that milestone we would like to take a jump forward with our program,” Vives said.
Normally, the UAlbany team would have already competed in a meet, but this year the staff has decided to take a new approach. The schedule starts a week later, allowing the returning student-athletes more time to train before having to compete following the long winter break. Indeed, UAlbany stands as the only America East whose season has yet to start. The coaching staff also added a built-in week off after the first three meets, in an effort to keep the team fresh for what ultimately becomes a long indoor season, followed by a long outdoor season.
“The coaching staff assembled to evaluate the last year,” Vives said, “and we decided we wanted to look more for quality over quantity. So now we have a smaller schedule, which includes an open weekend, and has our conference championship as our fifth meet instead of our sixth.”
“There are no throwaway meets with this new approach,” Vives continued. “Each meet counts, and we’re hoping that the tighter schedule sets and keeps the bar at a high level. Ultimately, we’re trying something new this year, but everyone seems to have bought into it.”
One of the reasons that the schedule change was possible was because UAlbany will not host an indoor meet this season. In years past, UAlbany has hosted the Great Dane Classic at the Armory in New York City, usually on this weekend. Without it, there are fewer logistical demands on the coaching staff.
“Our home meet for indoor was different because we held it away from campus,” Vives said. “But especially during the years while our new outdoor facility was under construction, we saw the indoor meet as our contribution to track & field. Though the indoor meet afforded our program great visibility, now that we have an outdoor facility again our focus will be to build up our outdoor meets.”
“Further, not having an indoor meet allowed us to start the season later,” Vives continued. “We won’t have an early season team meet this year which allows for greater development. Running the meet also took valuable coaching time away from the student-athletes, because the coaches had to worry about preparing for and running the meet. Without it this year, we can focus all of our attention on coaching and developing our student-athletes.”
One final change in regard to the season is the alterations made to a staple meet on the calendar, the Armory Collegiate Invitational. The meet is now one week earlier, and has parsed down the number of schools participating. Where the meet formerly drew a collection of 100 or more teams, this year the field will feature only 40. Additionally, the shrinking of the meet brings the level of talent of the field to a more comparable level with UAlbany.
“Collegiate has changed this year, and the changing format will hopefully put UAlbany in the forefront,” Vives said. “We will use that meet as a team competition, to see how we compare against schools that are maybe more in line with our own program.”
But despite these schedule changes, the goal for the program remains the same as it was a year ago, as expectations remain high.
“Team-wise, we’re looking to repeat as America East Champions, for both the men and the women,” Vives said. “Beyond that, I think we have a shot at both IC4A’s for the men and ECAC’s for the women. And hopefully we can get at least one from each of the men’s and women’s team to qualify for NCAA’s.”
Last year, the UAlbany men won their ninth consecutive America East title, and the women won their second consecutive and fourth in their last five conference titles. Returning men’s competitors who placed in the top three in their events at conference championships include Robert Harris III (third, 60), Jaymen Teemer (second, 200), Taariq Jones, (first, 400), Andrew Pirnie (third, 800), Zachary Cook(second, 1,000), John DeLallo (third, 1,000, second, mile), Christopher Buchanan (third, 5,000),Alexander Bowen (first, high jump), Matthew Campbell (second, high jump), Kingsley Ogbonna (third, high jump), Nathan Hiett (second, pole vault), and Youssef Benzamia (first, long jump). The men also won the 4x400 (three members returning) and the 4x800 (all members returning) relays, and placed second in the distance medley relay (all members returning).
Women’s returning competitors include Aderinsola Ajala (second, 400), Kamilah Williams (third, 400),Michelle Anthony (first, 60 hurdles), Aiyanna James (first, long jump), Solène Bastien (third, triple jump), Janice Johnson (third, shot put), and Lauren Lopano (third, weight throw). The women placed second in the 4x400 (two members returning) and distance medley relays (one member returning).
Like any new season, the returning student-athletes have to step up and fill the roles of the departed senior class, while having the incoming freshmen and transfers fill in the subsequent depleted ranks. For the UAlbany, that means filling gaps left behind by student-athletes like Kareem Morris, Donald Williams Jr., Jonathan Santana, Larry Ramirez, Alfonso Scannapieco, Matthew Catera, Nicholas Mattera, and Abel Gilet. And for the women, it means making up for the departures of Jillian Haynes,Tynelle Taylor-Chase, Brianne Bellon, Kathryn Fanning, Silvia Del Fava, Ashley Grant, and Samantha Kosa.
As for the makeup of this year’s team, with departures and additions, there are areas where the teams may be stronger or weaker than they were last year. The women’s throwing squad, for example, will be headlined by Florida State transfer, and former national qualifier Briana Cherry-Bronson, who is a potential NCAA qualifier. Her best mark in the weight throw is 68’-10”, which would have won ECAC’s by four feet.
“Briana is a quiet leader,” said throws coach Deshaya Williams. “She leads by example. She’s competitive, yet humble, and she’s able to share her maturity and experience with the rest of the squad.”
The throwing squad has greater depth this year than it has had previously, which affects training considerations.
“The added depth has made the throwers more intense at practice,” Williams said, “especially in cases where there may be four spots available for five competitors. It helps them work harder for their ticket to go places. But it also allows them to focus more exclusively on a primary event, or a primary and secondary event. That itself is a bit of a learning curve. Before, they might have their attention divided among three events, where now they need to adjust to being great in one or two events, instead of being mediocre in two or three, because there are additional bodies to pick up the slack.”
The throwing circles at Penn State are actually outdoor circles, so Coach Williams has had the throwers practicing on the same surfaces to minimize surprises once the first meet starts.
“The circles at Penn State are nice and smooth, but the student-athletes still need to be able to make adjustments if needed, and that’s something we’ve worked on in practice. At this point the biggest thing for them is to have confidence in their training, and their overall potential depends on their confidence and trust in their own abilities.”
Helping out Coach Williams this season is 2014 graduate Abel Gilet, who served as one of four men’s team captains last year.
“Abel works mostly with the shot putters, which allows me more freedom to focus on the other events,” Williams said. “And the throwers really gravitate to him and respond to him. He puts on demonstrations and is very enthusiastic with his new role. And it’s been great for me to have this opportunity to kind of coach him again in a different capacity.”
Perhaps no returning group features the same mix of talent and depth as the high jumpers, who are headlined by junior Alexander Bowen. Bowen qualified for indoor nationals last year and spent his summer competing for the Panamanian National team. He was recognized by flotrack.org as a contender for the national championship in the high jump. But before that can play out, he and some of his squad-mates will have to overcome some nagging injuries.
“Alex should be ready to go, if not next week then the week after, after tweaking his hamstring in the RACC Classic,” said Todd Wolin, who works with the high jumpers, pole vaulters, hurdlers, and multis. “Kingsley will be out for longer, after straining his abdominal, and we’re being cautious with both.”
The UAlbany men swept the top three places in the high jump at indoor conference championships last year, with Bowen winning, Matthew Campbell placing second, and Ogbonna placing third. While the men’s high jumpers revolve more around high-end talent, as they did a year ago, the women’s high jumpers feature more depth, with more competitors who can score points. The women are led byRochelle Reid and Min Pacella at the top, who are looking to contend for both the America East title and the UAlbany school record.
“The high jumpers are a very strong group,” Wolin said. “They work very well together, and they push and help one another, which is great to see.”
Beyond the high jump, Michelle Anthony headlines the hurdling squad. Anthony set the meet record at last month’s RACC Classic, and has her sights set on the school record, from which she is only about one-tenth of a second away. The women feature greater depth in the hurdles than the men, with the freshmen and multis athletes coming along in practice, in addition to the loss of the top three male hurdlers and the replacing of them with only one newcomer.
In the multi-events, Paige Vadnais is looking to place well at conferences, as is multis newcomerSolène Bastien, who is making the switch from primarily competing in the horizontal jumps. And sophomore Mary Adeyeye is improving, and is stronger and fitter than she was a year ago. On the men’s side, decathlon school record holder Matt Catera graduated last year, and his top spot is now held by Stefan Buechele, whose proficiencies in a wide variety of events arguably favor the decathlon than the heptathlon.
Wolin’s final group, the pole vault, sees indoor men’s runner-up and outdoor conference championNathan Hiett. On the women’s side, there is newfound excitement for the event with the addition ofKaytlin Mack, who potentially represents UAlbany’s first ever ECAC scorer in the pole vault. Mack will be backed up by Vadnais and Toni Ann Werner, who can provide depth in the event at conference championships.
Alfonso Scannapieco, who is the lone UAlbany student-athlete to officially compete this season due to his eligibility expiring at the end of the fall semester, allowing him to take advantage of meets before the intersession, is helping out with Wolin’s group now that he is no longer a student-athlete.
Moving to the track events, the men’s middle distance and distance runners arguably feature the greatest collection of returning veteran talent of the squad. Of course, the distance runners have already experienced live competition this year due to the fall cross country season, but their last competition was back in the middle of November, if not earlier.
“Our main focus is to stay healthy and exceed what we have done in the past,” said Matt Jones, who coaches the middle-distance and distance runners. “We have a limited group this weekend, due to nagging injuries and training schedules. Basically, whoever travels this weekend has been back on campus training for two weeks.”
Unlike the men, the women’s distance squad lost considerable talent in Kathryn Fanning, Silvia Del Fava, and Brianne Bellon.
“You don’t replace people like Kathryn or Brianne,” Jones said. “The women I think are young and inexperienced, and they have some holes to fill. So we’re looking at some individual development, and there is room to grow there.”
Coach Jones is looking to be more specific with the approach he and his student-athletes take to training and racing. However, considering the early point in the season, such projections are difficult until the first races have finished.
“My goal for the team is usually to outscore the rest of the distance squads at conference championships,” Jones said, “and to be top two or three in each relay. But since it’s still so early, and since we’re coming off a long layover in terms of the winter break and since the end of the cross country season, we need to see people start before we can give a goal to finish. So this first meet will help establish a baseline for training and racing going forward.”
The final group belongs to Coach Vives, who works with the sprint squad. Vives expects the women sprinters to be deeper this year, with the addition of Puerto Rican national champion Grace Claxton to the squad, who is a potential national qualifier in the 400. Claxton joins returning veteran Kamilah Williams, who has responded well to Claxton’s arrival.
“Kamilah is highly motivated,” Vives said, “and her workouts are better than ever. She and Grace challenge one another, and feed off of one another, and push each other to be better.”
Freshman Halie Snyder, who is the Division II New York State champion in the 400 will also help solidify a women’s sprint squad that has the potential to run under 3:40 in the 4x400 this year. The women are slightly younger in the short sprints, with freshmen Taahira Butterfield and Chanel Smithexpected to help fill the gap left behind by Jillian Haynes.
The men are led by defending America East Indoor 400 champion Taariq Jones, who leads a particularly deep 400 squad that features as many as six student-athletes who could find themselves under 48 seconds by the end of the season. Robert Harris III returns to lead the short sprints.
“I think the sprinters are in better shape than they ever have been at this point in the season,” Vives said. “I think they can be very competitive in conference, and we want to see what we do at the conference meet transferred to the IC4A and ECAC level this year.”
Elsewhere, the Great Danes should have increased depth in the horizontal jumps, particularly in the triple jump where the team has lacked presence in years past.
Despite all the promise and the expected excitement the beginning of a new season brings to a team, the fact of the matter is that the student-athletes and coaches need to live up to the promise and the expectations and perform when they need to. The first phase of that journey starts this weekend.
“I’d like to see the throwers open with PR’s,” Coach Williams said. “I think they’re all ready to do so. But more importantly, I want them to be relaxed, to go with the flow, and be calm and technically sound. I want to see them keep their composure and execute and trust their training.”
“At this point it’s not necessarily about clearing a bar,” said Coach Wolin. “It’s more about doing what is necessary to put yourself in a position to clear that bar, doing what I need you to do so you can clear that bar. So if they go out and hit a PR, then great. But it’s more about taking the proper approach and executing properly at this point.”
“This weekend is about determining where we are and how we progress going forward,” said Coach Jones. “I’d like to see them run under control and finish strong. We’re not looking for spectacular performances yet, but more how they finish and what we may need to do to work from fitness to racing.”
“Everyone is excited to start competing,” said Coach Vives. “My goal for the team is to win both conference championships, and take a run at IC4A’s and ECAC’s. I am even more convinced of that now as the first meet approaches that we have the team to do so.”
The Nittany Lion Challenge kicks off Saturday, January 17 at 11:00 a.m. with the women’s weight throw and the mixed one mile run. The collegiate track events will begin at 12:00 p.m. with the men’s mile

Roberto J. Vives
Director of Men's and Women's
Track & Field/Cross Country
University at Albany
518-209-1973 - cell
518-442-2596 - fax

“do the incredible”

3 times IC4A Champions

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