Competitive Spirit Keeps Teams on Track

Published in the February 11, 2009 issue of The Stow Independent

By Jordana Bieze Foster

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Handoffs are always one of the most challenging aspects of track, and inheriting a head coaching position from a local legend is no exception. But each of Nashoba Regional's two first-year indoor track coaches has grabbed that baton and run with it.

At the Mid-Wach B league meet on Saturday, the girls' team finished third, outpacing two teams who had defeated the Chieftains in dual meets earlier in the season. The boys' team placed first, nudging out archrival Westboro and avenging last season's second-place showing despite not having the services of one of its top runners. And at the MSTCA McIntyre relays meet on Sunday, two relay teams from each gender qualified for the state meet later this month.

“All the guys who ran (indoor track) last year are going above and beyond what we expected,” said boys' head coach Andy Le Blanc. “And then there are some new guys who have taken a break from basketball and come in and really helped us out. We're lucky to have them.”

The coaching exchanges didn't go as smoothly as a rookie might have hoped. Having to fill the Brobdingnagian shoes of longtime helmsmen Ley Ricker and Don Gribbons would have been pressure enough. But on top of that, Le Blanc and girls' head coach Keith Bennett had just two weeks to prepare for the season.

Le Blanc, who is in his fourth year of teaching technology engineering at the high school and has been an assistant coach for outdoor track and football, had the advantage of already knowing some of the athletes. Bennett, who previously coached indoor and outdoor track as well as cross country at Austin Prep High School in Reading, was less familiar with Chieftain territory. The help of assistant coach Ben Langelo, who also assisted with the girls' outdoor track team last spring, has been invaluable.

“We still have a few weeks to go, but in some ways it seems like we're just getting started,” Bennett said. “I wasn't really familiar with this team or this league, and didn't really know what to expect. But it's been fun. The girls have been great, especially the seniors, who have been very supportive of the younger athletes. And we've been very pleased with the performances, especially in the last few weeks.”

And on top of it all, the first-time coaches have had the weather to contend with. One wouldn't think that snow and ice would affect a team that competes indoors, but this winter's meteorological madness has impacted the indoor track teams as much if not more than other sports. Because Nashoba does not have an indoor track, much of the teams' running practice is held outdoors. Sprints can be practiced in the hallways and some field events in the gym, but the track teams compete for gym time with boys' basketball, girls' basketball, and wresting, and weather-related school closures cut into that time even more.

“We do the best we can, but this winter has been a little weird. A team like Shrewsbury has an advantage, since they have a field house they can practice in. But most teams are in the same situation as we are,” Bennett said. “At this point, we're hoping for some melting, so we can get outdoors in next couple of weeks to get ready for the state meet. We're checking the weather and trying to plan accordingly.”

Not surprisingly, the girls' team has been led by senior co-captain Alee Wade and Stow sophomore Emily Clark. The two scored 36 points between them on Saturday, with Wade winning the 300 and the 55 meter dash, and Clark placing second in the 55-meter dash and the 55-meter hurdles. Both have also qualified for the state meet in the long jump, which is not included in league meets because of facility limitations. At the relay meet on Sunday, Wade and Clark teamed with Stow freshman Cassandra Campano on a long jump relay that placed fifth out of 17 teams.

Also on Sunday, the 4 x 200 relay team of Wade, Clark, and Stow sophomores Rachel Busch and Aubrie Vannasse finished 15th and the 4 x 400 relay of Wade, Clark, freshman Nicole Adams and senior co-captain Megan Cullinane finished 22nd. Both relays qualified for the state meet, although Bennett said probably only one of them will compete because of regulations limiting the number of events per athlete.

Stow senior co-captain Conor Megee scored 28 points for the boys' team on Saturday, winning the 55-meter hurdles and the 300-meter dash and placing second in the high jump. Sophomore Alex Schryver, senior Jake Abraham, and Stow junior Justin DeBenedetto finished 1-2-3 in the 55-meter dash. Stow junior Coby Horowitz placed second in the 2-mile event and teamed with Stow senior Alex Papanastassiou and seniors Mike Dandley and Nick Lawrence to win the 4 x 800 relay.

On Sunday, the 4 x 50 relay team (DeBenedetto, Megee, Abraham, and Schryver) finished 4th, setting a new school record. Stow junior Brendon Aylaian, who did not run on Saturday because of a hip injury, joined Horowitz, Dandley and senior co-captain Joe Doyle on a 4 x 800 relay team that placed fifth. Both relays qualified for the state meet, where the boys' team will defend its 2008 title.

“One thing about this group is that they're all very competitive,” Le Blanc said. “They always want to win everything. I think that's something that Ley and Don have instilled in them.”

Copyright 2008 Jordana Foster – 24 Kirkland Dr, Stow, MA – Email: – Fax: (815) 346-5239