Track team prepares for new season

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With Northern’s campus situated in the heart of the Upper Peninsula, the switch in seasons from winter to spring is often lost under a foot of snow.

One sign that the seasons are progressing, though, is the change from indoor to outdoor seasons for the NMU women’s track team.

The wintery weather is perhaps the most difficult hurdle for the track team to overcome during the outdoor season. As proven with Tuesday’s blizzard, weather can cause problems for the team. With the storm, snow covered the facility that NMU utilizes – the Marquette Senior High School outdoor track.

Since NMU has no standard 400-meter outdoor track, head track coach Tom Barnes said he makes due with the resources available.

“We practice on the turf in the Superior Dome,” Barnes said. “The turf is a real advantage for us because it’s easier on the legs and we can worry less about stress fractures, but more strength is needed to be able to push off and keep up the speed that we need for a workout.”

NMU’s Superior Dome also holds a 200-meter indoor track under the turf, as well as a one-third mile loop around the bleachers. To give the runners a course on the turf, Barnes marks out a makeshift 285-meter circuit, designated by orange traffic cones and red plastic Solo cups.

“The turf is good because you get much more out of the workouts,” senior sprinter and jumper Danielle St. Onge said. “The energy doesn’t get transferred back from the turf because it’s softer. The one bad thing about the dome is there is no sandpit to work with, and that gets kind of frustrating with the car and boat shows and such.”

The sandpit in the dome is located underneath the turf and when the Superior Dome hosts events such as trade shows, metal plates are placed over the sand. The loss of the sandpit for the long jump and triple jump athletes can be challenging to overcome, taking away practice facilities.

The track team is also forced to share the space with a variety of other campus activities, including the varsity football team, the USOEC, physical education classes and general walkers from the community, but members of the team use the added company as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.

“Working with the USOEC has helped me so much,” sophomore Krista Squiers said. “Every morning we practice at seven, and we see them every morning. I work with the weightlifters and their head coach Andy Tysz has helped me a lot, and has made me more explosive as a thrower – to have that resource here is just awesome.”

Another aspect of the outdoor season is the different events to compete in from indoor to outdoor season. Between seasons, the event list will change due to facilities, such as the replacement of the 60-meter dash with the 100 dash and the addition of events that cannot be safely practiced indoors. One of the new events is the javelin.

“The GLIAC is a strong throwing conference, but with the addition of the javelin, it should help us,” Barnes said. “(Krista) Squiers missed going to Nationals last year by one meter and we’re looking at three others on the team to have really good years.”

To practice the javelin, the throwers will use an indoor version of the object and throw inside the dome. The indoor javelin differs from the outdoor version by having rubber stoppers for tips. However, there is a small amount of concern when practicing such a dangerous sport in the dome.

“People [when we’re inside the dome] don’t realize that I’m throwing something that could hit them,” Squiers said. “They just walk out in front of you and you have to stop. Either Coach Barnes or a teammate will keep an eye out for others.

“We haven’t hit anyone yet,” Squiers quipped.

Javelin is still competed outdoors and Squiers and the other throwers do need to practice outside the comfort of the dome. But, Squiers said conditions for throwing can be difficult to find.

“It’s hard to throw outside because you have to find a spot on concrete to throw on and then hopefully find a spot to throw to that isn’t covered in snow,” Squiers said. “Then you have to worry about the ground being frozen because the javelin will hit and then just fall backwards because there will be about an inch of mud and then it’s frozen from there on.”

The steeplechase is another event exclusive to the outdoor season. The event is held on the inside of the 400-meter track and includes wooden steeples that the runners jump over. After one steeple there is a water pit that the competitors need to traverse.

“For the steeplechase you need the strength to get over the hurdles but the endurance to last the entire 3000 meters,” sophomore Erin VanEnkevort said. VanEnkevort is scheduled to start competing in this event at the third meet this season.

Another outdoor-exclusive event is the heptathlon, a combination of seven events that one person completes in. The heptathlon is scored much like a small track meet for one athlete. The person who scores the best through the 100-meter hurdles, 200-dash, 800-run, high jump, shot put, long jump and javelin wins.

“I originally just did it to score points for the team,” junior Leslie Luehmann said. “Then, after I did it, I started to train for it more. It’s really a challenging event.”

The women’s track team, which competes from early December to late May for both seasons, is currently in their last week of the transition period from indoor to outdoor seasons.

“Our practice has been different through these transition weeks,” Barnes said. “Our first transition week was spring break and then our first week back is a little hard. We have to reload through harder workouts with higher intensities to get ready.”

NMU had its best indoor conference meet this past season, scoring 37.5 points behind six nationally ranked teams. Barnes said he is hoping to carry over the success of the indoor season to the outdoor season, with the team having its first outdoor meet at Ferris State University on Saturday.

“We have the best conference for track in the country,” Barnes said. “We have six teams ranked in the top 30 in the country and we managed to finish six points behind No. 24 Hillsdale. I’m happy with how they performed and gave their best performance and I’m excited to see about how we will continue to improve.”