By Thomas Becker
Like any inaugural season, there are ups and downs. And the same can be said for UPEI's Track and Field program.
With the AUS Track and Field Championships fast approaching, the Panthers are hoping to use what limited experience they have to turn some heads and maybe grab a few medals along the way.
Led by head coach Colin MacAdam, the first-year UPEI squad has their hands full against some of the league's more established teams like Dalhousie, St. F.X. and UNB. In all, nine teams, including Acadia, Memorial, Moncton, Saint Mary's, St. Thomas and UPEI will participate in the weekend meet (Feb. 24-25) hosted by the Université de Moncton. Mount Allison, meanwhile, will send a single athlete to the meet.
"The goal is to be competitive and I think we will be," MacAdam said.
Admittedly, there have been challenges the program has had to overcome – mainly a training facility that doesn't meet the needs of UPEI's track stars – but MacAdam says it's made his team stronger.
"No one said this would be easy but I think our athletes, as a group, enjoy the challenge," he said. "There are challenges in whatever level you're at, so you can either moan and complain about them or you can work your way around them. But when things come together it's fantastic."
And at times it has come together.
Sixty-metre dash star Bailey Smith headlines a Panthers team that could surprise fans. She ranks second in the conference and is expected to make a push for the podium this weekend.
"The track team means a lot to each member and to finally be given the opportunity to represent our university means a considerable amount to us all," said the 20-year-old sprinter. "To represent the university as a top competitor makes me excited but also very nervous."
Damon MacDonald (60m) and Darcy Norton (300m) have been strong so far this season and have a good chance to make the finals in their events. While cross-country runners Alec Brown and Jeremy Thompson are making the transition to indoor running and should have strong finishes in the 1000m and 1500m, respectively.
Jumpers Angela Sande and Kylee Wallace have perhaps the biggest challenges, competing in the long jump and triple jump. Without a facility to train in, the only time these athletes see a long jump pit is when they travel to Moncton or Halifax.
"It's a difficult situation, but you always want people to run and jump to the best of their ability," MacAdam said. "And hopefully that will mean a personal best and maybe even a medal."
For years, students who wanted to participate in these events would have to qualify under the open category, which didn't allow them to compete against other universities. With MacAdam's guidance and the school's newfound support, the Panthers will be represented in the AUS Championships for the first time.
"Competing at the AUS level is a great opportunity for our team to race against the best and having others to push us further," Smith said. "Coach has been making sure each of us are healthy and ready to perform at our best. He's so dedicated and humble and loves seeing us do well, and we thank him for that."
While MacAdam has certainly made an impact, none of this would be possible without the commitment and dedication of UPEI's governing body.
"We're excited that the university has started this program," MacAdam said. "The administration along with athletic director, Chris Huggan, took a chance on us and we're very, very grateful for that."
MEET THE TEAM
Coach – Colin MacAdam
Alec Brown (2nd year from Charlottetown, PE) – 1000m and 1500m specialist
Lucas Clow (2nd year from Charlottetown, PE) – 300m specialist
Ben Coles (1st year from North Milton, PE) – 60m (7.42s)* and 300m specialist
Aricca Fraser (1st year from Alberton, PE) – 1500m specialist
Damon MacDonald (1st year from Stratford, PE) – 60m (7.24s)* and 300m specialist (38.10s)
Darcy Norton (2nd year from Charlottetown, PE) – 300m specialist
Angela Sande (1st year from Charlottetown, PE) – Long Jump (4.75m)* and Triple Jump (9.20m)* specialist
Steve Seviour (2nd year from Stellarton, NS) – 300m (45.39s)* and 600m specialist
Bailey Smith (1st year from Mt. Stewart, PE) – 60m (7.80s)* specialist
Jeremy Thompson (2nd year from Charlottetown, PE) – 1000m and 1500m specialist
Kylee Wallace (1st year from O'Leary, PE) – Long Jump (5.04m)* and Triple Jump (10.09m)* specialist
*Brackets = Personal Best