By Thomas Becker
Last year, they caught people off guard. This year, no one's taking them lightly.
After a successful inaugural season, UPEI's Track and Field team make their anticipated return to the AUS Championships, hosted by the Université de Moncton (Feb. 23-24).
"Training has gone well since October, so the heavy lifting is done," said Panthers head coach Colin MacAdam. "We've had an intense week and all our athletes look great. All we have to do now is compete."
Headlining the Island squad are 60m standouts Bailey Smith and Damon MacDonald. MacDonald looks to crack the top five after posting a personal best of 7.15 seconds in the dash (good for seventh in the league). While reigning champion, Smith, aims to stay atop the podium in consecutive seasons.
"If Bailey and Damon have races like they've had all year then they can both make the finals. Once there, you have a real chance to win."
Both Smith and MacDonald gained valuable high-level experience over the summer competing for Prince Edward Island in the 2017 Canada Games in Winnipeg. Now they're hoping to transfer that experience over to the weekend, as they aim for a podium finish.
"It will come down to running a personal best when it really counts. I am confident that both these athletes will be at their best in Moncton."
However, Smith's path to the top won't be easy. Standing in her way are Dalhousie's Maya Reynolds (7.62) and St. FX's Hayley Wilson (7.71), who posted better times than Smith's season best of 7.73 seconds.
"Being the defending champion is a double-edged sword. Bailey is a great runner and she has loads of confidence, but as defending champion she is a target," MacAdam said. "Bailey has a history of doing well in the big races and I expect she will do well this weekend. She is extremely tough mentally and welcomes the big races."
Despite last season's championship run, Smith again finds herself as the underdog – a label she's learned to embrace.
"I have to stay focused and remember last year I wasn't expected to win either, but I kept telling myself I could do it and I did," Smith said.
And she's hopeful another win is on the horizon.
"There is definitely a lot of pressure to repeat," she said. "I feel it's important to get the win for the track team itself, to help for the future in possibly getting more funding and recruits."
The Panthers will also field an additional nine athletes all looking to earn personal bests in their respective events.
"The group has been very focussed since day one and they have a very good idea of where they want to finish," MacAdam said. "If the athletes compete to the best of their ability then I'll be happy."
MEET THE TEAM
Danika Atchia (1st year from Charlottetown, PE) – 60m hurdles (10.57)* specialist
Alec Brown (3rd year from Charlottetown, PE) – 1000m (2:28.44)* specialist
Lucas Clow (3rd year from Charlottetown, PE) – 300m (46.99s)* specialist
Patrick Fletcher (2nd year from Advocate Harbour, NS) – 1500m (4:43.50)* and 3000m (10:08.55)* specialist
Amanda Isenor (2nd year from Carrolls Corner, NS) – 60m (8.75s)* and Long Jump (4.40m)* specialist
Damon MacDonald (2nd year from Stratford, PE) – 60m (7.15s)* and 300m specialist (36.08s)*
Kelly McCardle (1st year from Stratford, PE) – 60m (8.85s)* specialist
Megan O'Hanley (1st year from Souris, PE) – 60m (8.93s)* and 300m (50.74s)* specialist
Steve Seviour (3rd year from Stellarton, NS) – 300m (44.10s)* specialist
Bailey Smith (2nd year from Mt. Stewart, PE) – 60m (7.73s)* specialist
Kylee Wallace (2nd year from O'Leary, PE) – Long Jump (4.99m)* and Triple Jump specialist
*Brackets = Season Best