Laurel Gordon (‘19) shakes out her hands and legs one last time before the race official blows the whistle, signifying athletes to take position. She steps backwards into her blocks and tents her hands so that they perfectly parallel the white starting line. Everything is still for just one moment. The official fires the gun and the racers are gone within a second. This is the moment that Gordon has been rehearsing in her head for weeks.
On Saturday May 25, Oyster River Track and Field will toe the line at the Division II State Meet hosted by UNH. Expectations are high and competition is fierce this year, especially for the girls’ team, following their recent win at this years Indoor DII State Meet at Dartmouth.
“We knew we were in the running to win but when it actually happened it was such an amazing feeling… It wasn’t just one person who did it. The whole team really pulled together and came through and, did this amazing thing which is so incredible,” says Gordon regarding the triumphant moment that occurred this past February. With strong performances from Devan McClain (‘19) in the sprints, Lily Doody (‘20) and Olivia Lenk (‘20) in the distance field, and Corrinne Quaglieri (‘20) and Nathalie Pare (‘21) in field events, the lady Bobcats pulled ahead of Portsmouth High School’s deep team of athletes, winning the title by 7 points for the first time in 41 years.
“Expecting to win is a tough phrase, but I think we were the favorites so we anticipated it going our way. In the long run, Portsmouth got a lot of points from events that we weren’t a part of which made it a lot closer,” comments Head Coach Nick Ricciardi.
This win back in February puts more pressure on the Bobcats as they head into the outdoor championship season. Riccardi commented on the upcoming competition: “I think it’s a two pony race again. Portsmouth is really pushing for the DII title. Portsmouth is almost twice the size of us so they’re [Oyster River] competing against just a lot more athletes. It’s not that we don’t have depth but depth of a school of 750 is a lot different than depth of a school that has 1200 kids.” Despite Portsmouth’s depth, Oyster River athletes almost always lead the charge in their specified events, placing one and two usually in the sprints and relays especially. If these points can be sprinkled evenly through, OR has a shot at the state title.
Portsmouth’s large numbers and broad array of athletes is the biggest threat to Oyster River, and is what almost edged out OR this winter, as they performed highly in events Oyster River did not enter in. “In the past years, we’ve gotten so close and it’s always frustrating having certain teams come in with just such large numbers and having little Oyster River with like 10 people,” says hurdler Evi Fischer (‘20), who feels like this past Indoor win was a bit of an underdog moment. Portsmouth edged out Oyster River at this past Bobcat Invitational (May 11th) by 24 points, and 15.66 points at this past weekends Seacoast Championships (May 17th).
In comparison to Indoor, Outdoor Track and Field adds more field events to the competition including javelin and discus, as well as more disciplines. “Our chances, I think, are a little slimmer just because outdoor is such a different animal. There’s more room for error in outdoor and there’s a couple more events,” says Gordon. While this is true, Gordon also believes that the OR team has a wide enough spread of athletes to perform well.
Riccardi explains that the team finds most of the points in the 100 meter and 200 meter sprints as well as the hurdles and relays, including a 4×800 team that consists of several athletes who broke the school record during the 2018 outdoor season. “I think we have the edge in some of the open sprints and the relays. Even though they’re ranked ahead of us, head to head we’ve been successful against them,” he follows up. Riccardi feels secure in his team’s capability following several competitive performances during last weeks Bobcat Invite, including the girls’ 4×400.
In preparation for the big day, the team is tapering down, decreasing workout volume, and practicing skills. “This week is the time where all the workouts slow down and all the weightlifting slows down. It’s time for like recuperating and recovery, so we can be the best we are at States,” explains Fischer. Mental visualization of race day is also key to the Bobcats’ strategy with the goal of feeling comfortable and familiar in such a high pressure situation.
On the boys’ side of things, there is slightly less pressure. The OR boys placed third at this years Indoor State meet, but that’s not to say they won’t be performing their best. “I think the boys will probably do well. Winning could happen, but I don’t know because we lost a lot of sprinters last year and we have some good distance runners but we lost some after indoor. I think we’re just going to see what happens,” noted sprinter, Cam St. Ours (‘19).
Pride in fellow teammates’ work is a large motivator for the team. “We’re together all the time, and just being there for one another and cheering for each other during races, and hyping each other up. Just being with each other is motivating because we’re all trying to do the same thing,” Gordon said. While the season has been filled with tremendous hard work in preparation for States, the team takes pride in each other’s accomplishments and uses it to fuel their own endeavors. “I think you need that the majority of the girls sprinters are in the top five in the state… They know that they have a possible state championship for themselves on the line so they’re working really hard. I feel like just seeing that commitment in like them motivates me to work harder and that’s really a great thing,” put St. Ours.
On Tuesday, May 21st, a seeding meeting will be held and attended by all DII coaches. “We go to the seeding meeting and we kind of play a little cat mouse game of who’s going to run what, where do we want to scratch people, where do we want to put people,” said Riccardi. With a state championship on the line, races no longer become about personal bests, but more about where the most points can be earned. The seeding meeting Tuesday will provide insight to what other teams will be running and where Riccardi can place his athletes for the best shot at winning.
When the big day comes, the team knows what to do, says Riccardi. “We don’t really coach all that much at the state meet. We coach the mental aspect, but all the training and all the coaching has been done in the months leading up.”
Written by Grace Castonguay