by, Kelly Kennedy and Samantha Walla, Asst. Social Media Editor & Senior Writer
Looking down the line of an unconventional spring season of college sports, the Jaspers are equal parts excited and grateful to return to competing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Manhattan track and field team is no exception.
After a year since the spring track season was cut short, sending athletes to their hometowns, many without knowing if they would ever be granted the opportunity to compete again, the MAAC conference has reopened in full force this spring. While the Lady Jaspers look forward to their competition with other teams in the conference, the bigger challenge to overcome is returning to regular form after having not competed since last spring.
“You’re going to hear the word untraditional a lot from every area,” said Kerri Gallagher, head coach of both the men and women’s programs.
“This is not a typical season for us, but we got off to a strong start at the Fordham Invitational and honestly just getting on the bus and getting to the meet was a huge win.” Gallagher said.
Part of the unconventionality lies in the team’s schedule. However, the extreme amounts of rest and time to focus on training has not only strengthened the players, but lit a fire within them.
“I feel like we’re a lot stronger than we have been in the past because we’re given the opportunity to excel in the weight room rather than just focus on throwing or jumping,” said Alexandra Preckajlo, a senior thrower. “Obviously we still focus on those things, but we’re going back to basics, making sure all of our techniques are perfect and we’re as strong as we could possibly be. So it’s exciting to see us playing out so far.”
All of the athletes are able to focus on training, in and out of the weight room. For Andria Scaglione, a sophomore distance runner, the additional training has resulted in racking up a higher mileage than in other years, although this is her first track season at Manhattan College.
In the first meet of the season at the Fordham Covid invitational, Scaglione was one of three Jaspers to pace the leaderboard of her event. She won the 5000 meters by over 20 seconds with a time of 17:22.59. Joining Scaglione at the top of their event was senior Alexandra Preckajlo and junior Cassie Riley in the shot put and high jump respectively.
“I feel like there’s been more of an emphasis on consistency and volume,” Scaglione said. “I’ve been running pretty high mileage, but I feel like usually in a regular season, regular circumstances, if we had as many races as we did in cross country and even track, indoor and outdoor, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do that and focus more on the base work that comes with it.”
The Jaspers next returned to action on April 7 at the Peacock Outdoor Invitational in Jersey City, New Jersey. The women’s team finished in first place with 49 points while the men’s garnered second place with 38 points.
On the women’s side, the team swept the top honors in the shot put with Preckajlo in first, Lasma Padedze in second and Nina Bjorkman in third. sophomore Nicola Scaglione won the 1500 meters with a time of 4:55.69, while senior Zarah Harris bested the field in the 400 meter when she clocked in at 1:00.54.
From there, Manhattan had a quick turnaround when they competed in the Metropolitan Outdoor Championships on April 9 and 10. The Jaspers impressed once again, winning six events on the second day of the event.
Among the notable highlights was the men’s 4×100 meter relay team. After getting second at the first meet of the season, the relay grouping of Kaya Simpson, Noah Jefferson, Dean Niosi and Larry McCollum earned first place by registering a time of 42.24. McCollum and Jefferson also headlined the 200-meter dash by finishing first and second respectively. The rest of Manhattan’s triumphs came via Marc Carrera in the men’s 800 meter, Preckajlo in the discus, Padedze in the shot put and the foursome who ran the women’s 4×400 meter relay.
Manhattan’s run of success early in the season gave them every bit of confidence heading into Day 2 of the Peacock Invitational on April 14.
In their return to Jersey City, the Jaspers added five more wins to their impressive ledger. Riley set the tone for Manhattan’s success with a first-place performance of 1.67 meter in the high jump and in the process beat her previous high score by nearly two inches. On the men’s side, freshman Justin Jordaens and junior Liam Farrell made their first appearances on top of the leaderboard in the 800 meters and 5000 meters respectively. For Jordaens, it was his first of two wins in that event this season.
The regular season closed out with the St. John’s Invitational on April 16 and the Monmouth Meet on April 18.
More than anything else, the Jaspers were fueled by solid field performances at the St. John’s Invitational. Junior Lily Brown was the top performer in the pole vault, flying for 3.35 meters in her triumph. Continuing her decorated season, Preckajlo claimed the shot put title and was followed by Padedze in second place.
The results at the Monmouth Meet bore a strong resemblance to some of the other meets. The team walked away with more accolades under their belt as Andrea Scaglione won the 5000 meter, Bjorkman won the discus and Preckajlo earned her fourth shot victory in the spring.
The team has had a lot to smile about in recent weeks while racking up their wins. But above all, the athletes expressed gratitude in returning to competition.
“For me, my biggest goal is to just get back into the mindset of being a strong competitor,” Andrea Scaglione said. “I mean, especially with track, this is my first outdoor track season, so I just kind of want to get my feet wet again and just learn to compete.”
Unlike other sports, track and field does have a benefit to their unconventional late start.
“It’s not like a traditional basketball game where you look at the points at the end of the game and you’re like, ‘Oh, this team won.’,” Kevin Ross, director of Sports Communication and Media Relations, said about the track and field season. “They’re trying to build up for that final championship meet at the end of May and they’re working toward that and they have a regimented schedule.”
The coaching staff chooses to see the positives that come with extensive time away from team training. While the staff might have a clearer understanding of the athletes particular strengths and weaknesses in more conventional years, simply having a season during the COVID-19 pandemic leaves a tinge of excitement in the competitions.
“In other years, we’ll have had a better view of where people stand [at this point], Gallagher said. “This has been a really unique year where we’re putting pieces together while we’re training and while we’re competing. So MAACs is going to have kind of an element of surprise to it that I think is going to be fun because the athletes have put in a lot of work. And so it can really only pay off in positive things.”
The MAACs will take place at Michael P. Brady Track and Field Complex in Lawrenceville, New Jersey on May 8 and 9.