Rutgers peaks as postseason nears
Expectations sometimes exist to be defied.
The young Rutgers women’s track and field team has led an indoor season sowed with performances that do just that.
With a team that has double the amount of freshman and sophomores (22) than juniors and seniors (11), the outlook for the Scarlet Knights this season wasn’t anything extraordinary.
In the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association’s national report, Rutgers held a ranking of 81 for the first three weeks of the 2015 indoor season. In the latest report, the Knights jumped further up the list, now ranking 72 nationally.
What caused this leap?
Although a predominantly young team, Rutgers has collectively and consistently seen improvements as the indoor season has progressed.
At the Rutgers Invitational, the kickoff event of the season, the Knights logged only two ECAC qualifying marks, both from senior standout Gabrielle Farquharson.
At the most recent meet, the Valentines Invitational held Feb. 14, Rutgers picked up six ECAC qualifying times. Four of the six times were clocked in by underclassmen.
“Because it’s a young team, I think the ability to train at a high level on a more consistent basis has really gotten better over the last couple months,” head coach James Robinson said. “I think that’s been a major key — that they’ve stayed healthy and been able to handle a higher-level training.”
Among the top young performers was freshman sprinter Bria Saunders, who picked up an ECAC qualifying mark in the 200-meter dash for the third time in a row this season.
Surpassing her previous time from the Metro Team Challenge of 24.88 seconds, Saunders set a new personal record in the event in her second place finish at the Metropolitan Championships where she followed Farquharson closely across the finish line at 24.57 seconds.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a championship meet or if it’s just a regular meet, I treat them all the same,” Saunders said. “Every meet’s important, every meet is a new opportunity for me to further time and get better.”
With strong examples and encouragement from the team’s upperclassmen, the young Knights have flourished in both training and competition.
“I think it starts definitely with your leadership. We’ve had upperclassmen that really stepped in and showed them the ropes and helped the young team get adjusted to college training,” Robinson said. “The upperclassmen are very good at sharing their experiences and guiding the young ladies on what they should do, so I think that’s been very helpful.”
Among the ECAC qualifiers is sophomore Felicia O’Donnell, who has had consistent top-ten performances in the 1000-meter run throughout the season.
O’Donnell picked up a new personal record with her ECAC time of 2:55.19. Freshman Celine Mazzi followed O’Donnell across the finish line, capturing a season-best in her own ECAC time of 2:55.94.
Sophomore Nicole Nicholas also had a notable performance in the 500-meter run, grabbing an ECAC qualifying time at the Valentine Invitational in her debut appearance for the event this season.
Thriving off the successes of one another, Rutgers continues to show vast improvements as the season continues.
“Just seeing everyone do well, it really just influences everyone else to try to match that,” Nicholas said. “It makes everyone try to work to their best ability.”
With so many distinguished performances, it is clear that any competitor who perceives the Knights as a young team that poses minimal threat will suffer the consequences first-hand.
A strong, family-like team dynamic paired with focused training revs Rutgers onward and upward as it heads into matchups with conference rivals at the Big Ten Championships this weekend.
“We’re all here in the best interest of our teammates, and we want to see everyone succeed and do well,” Saunders said. “That really brings us closer together on the track and off the track, and it really brings out the most success in all aspects.”
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