The track seems to hit the ground running

The Slippery Rock women’s and men’s track teams will be looking to add new personal bests to their records as they begin to head towards the end of the season, starting with a visit to Bucknell University on Thursday.

Coach John Papa, who will step down at the end of the season, has been impressed with what he has seen from his athletes so far in the outdoor part of their season.

“We’re really excited because a lot of our athletes are hitting personal bests and competing at a really high level,” Papa noted.

Dad is also quick to praise The Rock’s strength in depth for both the men’s and women’s teams, believing it’s an advantage they hold over other programs.

“At the national level, our shots for both men and women have been very good; This area is particularly strong,” Papa said. “In conference terms, we have athletes looking to score points in the distance run, sprints, hurdles and jumps.

“We are a very complete team [as] some other programs only have athletes good at a handful of events, [where] we have good quality athletes in almost all areas.

As The Rock enters a number of big competitions coming up in late April, Dad is looking for big characters who can guide some of the young athletes. He is confident that fifth-year senior Dalton Anderson can be up to the task.

“He competed in the heptathlon, but his main focus now is the javelin,” Papa said. “He’s going to be right at the top of the conference and more than likely will make the cut and go to the nationals.”

Dad went on to share that “[Anderson] provides excellent leadership.

“He’s a fifth-year senior athlete, so he has that extra sense of maturity,” Papa said. “It definitely rubs off on young athletes.”

With Dad being in his final year as head coach of both track teams, recruiting took a different form this year with Dad focusing more solely on distance running, with other events handled by the assistant coaches Bill Jordan and Tabitha Bemis. Despite the continued success, Papa notes that things haven’t been as easy as they have been in previous seasons recruiting.

“I continue to recruit distance runners, but it’s difficult,” explained Papa. “We have a good group of long distance runners who come to reinforce what we already have [and] we are fine there.

“[However] I’m glad they weren’t all like that, because it wasn’t as productive as usual.

Both track teams traveled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina over spring break to compete. Dad believes that by participating, his team gained an advantage for the final stages of the season.

“Sometimes it takes one or two competitions to get into the groove,” Papa said. “We were able to knock that first one out early on so we could have our fixtures here and really look to get going.”

The Rock is scheduled to compete at Bucknell University this weekend. The men’s track and field team will send 26 athletes to participate while the women will send 31 athletes. Dan Hyatt, Bryan Dworek and Taye Lynch will all be looking to impress, while senior Jason Goodman will compete in his first decathlon.

On the track for the men’s team, Brenden Lewis and Devon Navaroli will both compete and look to score points for The Rock. Lewis currently ranks 2nd in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) in the 110-meter hurdles while Naravoli currently ranks 5th in the 1,500-meter.

On the women’s side, Marianne Abdalah, Morgan Donatelli and Rachel Veneziano will all compete on the track, hoping to continue their fine form. However, all eyes will be on Skylar Sherry, Cecily Greggs and Trinity Clark. All three athletes are currently ranked in the top 16 nationally in their chosen events.

Clark, a senior from Kane, Pennsylvania, has overseen an impressive outdoor season so far, including bettering the NCAA provisional qualifying time. However, Dad is keen to make sure things aren’t taken out of context early on.

“When you compete at a high level, you’re not going to be your best every time. [and] the weather also has a lot to do with our sport,” explained Papa.

There will be mixed feelings for athletes and fans at the end of the season, as Dad finally says goodbye to the track after a staggering 35 years of training at Slippery Rock University. However, there is also an air of excitement around the athletic department as a new face will seek to be named. Despite the length of Dad’s stint and his accolades to show, however, Dad insists he won’t have a say in who his successor will be.

“I have no jurisdiction over who will or will not be hired,” Papa said. “I’m not aware, but I’m confident the committee will make an excellent choice as to who is next to hire and represent the track teams here at Slippery Rock University.”

The men’s and women’s track and field teams will be in action when they host the one-day invitational at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium on April 21. The PSAC Championships will begin May 12, while the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II National Championships will get underway May 26 in Allendale, Michigan, through May 28.

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