Freshmen embracing new challenges of high school women’s track

Track season started a few weeks ago, and the men’s and women’s teams are working very hard after school to improve their track performance, and for freshmen, this is their first taste of the sport at the high school. Head coach Chris Wood said, “The transition from junior high to high school can be difficult but doesn’t have to be. Some of the bigger adjustments for athletes is our early start. We typically start two-three weeks before spring break whereas the junior high schools tend to start after spring break. That extra time allows our athletes to be prepared for indoor track meets and mentally and physically ready to compete with other high school programs when we get to the outdoor season. This extra few weeks of practice can be a lot for athletes that haven’t been doing much during the winter. In the first few weeks of practice we are at the mercy of mother nature. We try to be out on the track as soon as possible, but this year it has been tough with cold and snow. Our coaches have made some adjustments to get the most out of indoor work with time trials, stairs/hill work and a variety of other technical work to get athletes’ bodies prepare for outdoor training.” 

Because it is still a bit chilly out this is quite the transition for ninth grade girls starting their first year of high school level track. 

Many freshman girls have only had one experience with running, last year in eighth grade. Because of COVID two years ago, many of the short distance, jumps or throwing athletes have not run cross country, so the track experience is fairly new for some athletes, and the freshman girls at Peet and Holmes, especially running alongside older and more experienced athletes. But Wood said this is a great learning experience for the younger athletes. “The great thing about our sport is that it allows our newest athletes the opportunity to practice alongside veteran seniors. Many other sports have varsity, junior varsity and even ninth/10th grade teams. We are one big family. The benefit of this is that everyone grows together; the challenge is that with 100+ athletes, we have limited spots at meets. Our expectations for varsity/junior varsity and 9/10 stays the same: we compete in practice together, and when we’re at meets, you’re doing everything you can to compete not only with the girl next to you, but also with yourself. Many of our athletes will move around in meets between JV and varsity depending on the event, so while we award letters at the end of the season to those that meet the qualifying letter criteria, some will compete in both JV and varsity throughout the season.”

Because the freshmen are running with the same difficulty of practices, it can be quite a lot the first few weeks. Assistant coach Peyton Twedt said, “I think the most difficult thing for girls entering their first year of high school sports is getting acclimated to more advanced practices and harder competition. It can be hard to stay positive when older girls are faster and beating you.” 

And the freshmen at Peet agree. Jacie Wessels runs mid and short distance and said, “I think the biggest change is running with people who are older than you, and more advanced. For instance, running next to a senior who has been to State can be very different than running next to someone in your grade or even a friend. I think this is good though because it lets you push yourself and look at what you could be or end up being in the future. Another big change is putting all the effort into your practices. Your practices are the most important part of the track season. Everything you have worked for in practice leads to your meets, so knowing, understanding and doing your best in practices is what is most important.”

Practices are a very big deal and a huge part of athletes improving throughout the season. Twedt said, “Track practice for a normal week consists of two workout days, two recovery days and a technique/third workout depending on the week.” 

And volunteer assistant coach Keith Harms said, “Without meets during the week, we try to have hard workout days for short spriters Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and recovery days on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Hard days would consist of short sprinter workouts of 800-900 total meters of running, including wicket runs, cone flys, hill running, mat running, stairs.  Easy days, more lighter jogging or stride out runs, bicycling, more stretching, yoga and baton or block, tech drills and hurdle mobility drills.” 

Freshman hudler Mattie Dieken said it is a large step up from middle school practices. “I love how dedicated the coaches are to making us the best we can be. I appreciate how there are several opportunities in the morning and several opportunities on the weekends outside of practice to make us the best we can. They always want the best to us and want to see us succeed.”

Athletes are supposed to know their warm ups and be able to manage themselves. Harms said that one of the most difficult things “would be getting comfortable with the high school practice routine and the amount of knowledge that, we as coaches, want/expect girls to receive and remember.” 

Peet freshman Rebekah Chagdes agreed. “It’s easily a lot more work. You can’t cut corners. You have to go full out. It’s so much more organized, especially the warm ups. I got injured pretty quick into the season, but there’s actually an athletic trainer at practice. So overall, it is like a lot more professional.” 

When it comes to meets and the team dynamics for high school, though there is a big shift for the freshman girls, many say it has helped them push themselves and grow even more this season. Rae Wilson does long distance and said it is “more of a workout but also more understanding of sport and team building more commitment.” 

Dieken agreed and said, “The biggest change from junior high track to high school has been the competition. In middle school it felt like track was mostly for the social aspect and to be around your friends, but now moving on to high school, the severity of track and the drive to want to compete at your best and be the best is a lot more intense.”

From a coaching standpoint, Harms pointed out how mentally it has been a huge shift for the freshman but has been a great season so far. “We expect the same focus, effort and competition at meets as in any other sport. Not necessarily a social event, but to have fun with teammates.  We expect girls to compete hard in their events for themselves and their teammates. Little more higher expectation for varsity than JV.  Varsity is oriented more to events and meet championships or best efforts.  JV, with same expectations, and good tech learning, but little less pressure, but also to learn what track and field is about and to learn to be good competitors and learn/improve techniques for their events, while developing more competitive attitudes.” And Harms said that a huge aspect in track is mental “competition, by taking team/girls to compete at meets, and watching girls become stronger, mentally and physically, and develop that self-confidence that will carry them through life. Competing with their teammates against other teams/kids and having fun competing. Competition is the rest of your life, so it’s fun to develop that in young people.”

Freshman Apryl Halzor said, “I am a long jumper, mid distance and long distance runner. It has been good so far this year. The first meet went by in a breeze, and it was a smooth transition from junior high running to high school this year.” 

Chagdes said she has “definitely enjoyed meeting everyone and hearing what they’ve learned.”

Coaches encourage current eighth graders to try out for track. Woods said, “Go out for eighth grade track and field. Have fun. Try different things. Develop a better understanding of our sport and the competition within it. Both Holmes and Peet have amazing coaching staff who work with girls to develop a level of fitness while having fun and learning what they enjoy and maybe some of what they don’t. Having an idea of what you’re interested in when you start ninth grade will really help coaches get in you in the right events.” 

Harms agreed. “Give it a try and see if it is for you, to have fun, but expect to work hard, have a great attitude and compete with your teammates,” and Twedt said his “advice for 8th graders would be to try track even if you’re on the edge of going out or not. We have girls that come out to be social and be with friends, while others are aiming to place at the state meet. The main goal is to have fun and keep improving every day.”

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