WRITTEN BY BRYAN FONSECA
Small college, small conference, small team — they don’t care.
Despite having disadvantages that other Division 1 athletes are unfamiliar with, the St. Francis Terriers women’s track and field team doesn’t complain, and continues to perform. In a sport where you don’t come across a lot of flashy highlights, people may be quick to turn a blind eye to what happens on the track, and the Terriers are aware of the obstacles that present themselves.
“I think the first thing people think is that it’s not interesting, but they don’t think about all the athleticism that goes into the sport,” senior captain Grace Vixama said. “In every sport there’s some form of running, but track and field actually isolates that and looks at the person as a whole, how athletic they are…So I guess we’re used to it already because nationally that’s the norm.”
Junior sprinter and triple jumper Maya McDuffie chimed in by indicating that “track does not get the recognition that it should.” she said. “A lot of people, If I tell them that I run track, the first thing they say is ‘oh I bet I can beat you in a race,’ and I think that is the funniest statement. They don’t know the time, the effort, and the lack of sleep that we get for this sport. Unless you’re actually in our shoes, then you don’t really understand.”
Some colleges and universities have a home track, but St. Francis doesn’t. Every meet is another road trip, making it tougher for the Terriers to get their proper support. Junior mid-distance runner Stephanie Morales acknowledges that a group of Terrier fans in attendance would be nice on occasion, but insists that it doesn’t get to the ladies much.
“We’re not like basketball or soccer that has a home field, we travel all the time, and we don’t have a home track. It sucks because we are the smallest school in the conference … and it’s hard but we do try our best. We’re the smallest school but that doesn’t faze us,” Morales said.
“I think we’re one of the loudest teams even though we are one of the smallest. We’re always stopping what we’re doing to cheer each other on but it would be great if we had people come to our meets to watch us,” Vixama said. “I hate going to a meet and watching my ladies run — knowing that no one’s there to cheer them on or give them an extra push.”
In spite of all of this the ladies have grown closer, and their improving team chemistry could be a factor in their performance at the upcoming 2015 NEC Conference Championships on May 2nd and 3rd.
“The chemistry this year has been the best that it’s ever been since I came to St. Francis. Grace did an amazing job as the captain getting the team together,” Morales declared.
“It’s good because you get to bond — learn more about each other, and I’m so glad she was our captain this year because she did an amazing job.
“I cannot thank her enough because I formed amazing friendships on this team that I never thought I would. Without her honestly I don’t think the team would be like the way it is right now.”
Vixama agreed: “The ladies are so much closer, and I can’t complain, they’ve been great.
Like Stephanie said there was division between sprinters and distance because yeah, they train with different coaches, at different places, but that still goes on today. The difference is we’re a lot closer in our bond.”
In life it’s important to continue to work hard and develop at a consistent rate. Terriers track not only understands that, but they feel that they’ve made the necessary strides in order to put together some of their best performances to date.
“From last year to this year I saw improvement, like a lot more. Most of my teammates too, they’re improving…this is a good year for us,” said senior sprinter Kristal Williams.
Terriers sprinter Kristal Williams
“Going into conference (championships) I know that we’ll rack up more points and more medals — we’re coming home with some medals,” Williams added with a smile.
“We’re all improving slowly but surely — conference is going to be our big bang, we’re gonna rack up them points, we’re gonna be on the podium, get those medals, you know? That’s what I’m talking about,” McDuffie said.
Morales, who recently came back from a hamstring injury, credits her teammates with keeping her spirits up through what has been a tough marathon of a year dating back to cross country in the fall.
“Even when I didn’t believe in myself they believed in me, and that helped a lot because it was just really hard just to get back into it,” Morales said. “I lost my confidence, my motivation, but with them I was getting it back slowly.”
Morales also shouted out sophomore Lena Janoda for her growth throughout the year.
“This is her first year running indoor/outdoor, and with running cross country she improved tremendously. She’s been P.R.’ing (personal record) in the 800 and the 1500 — I’m very proud of her,” she said.
The Terriers remain optimistic with championship time looming, and with this follows a number of goals that they wish to achieve when it matters most.
At the NEC Championship meet, Williams has her sights set on accumulating points in the 100 and 200 meter sprints for her and her teammates.
“I’m looking forward to conference this year because I’m going for first place in the 100, 200, and the 4×1,” Williams said.
The soon to be SFC graduate then issued a friendly challenge to her current teammates that will be back next year.
“I want to break my own record for both the 1 and 200, and I’m also challenging my fellow teammates that I’m leaving behind to step up to the plate and beat my records,” she said.
Williams also spoke briefly about what it meant to represent St. Francis at the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships for this past indoor track season where she ran the 60 meter dash and finished with a bronze medal.
“It’s an honor. I’m proud of myself and I’m also proud to compete for my school” she said. “It’s a great feeling to go out there and know that you’re competing against some athletes that you know are making it to NCAA’s.”
McDuffie also expects a lot of herself, and she’s looking to put her best foot forward for the good of her teammates.
“My goal is to be number one in the triple jump, and relay wise I want us to be number one in the 4×1 — I want to have the school record in both,” she said.
“I feel like records are supposed to be there to be celebrated, but at the same time they’re there for a challenge, they’re supposed to be broken … I know that when the time comes, I’m gonna get what’s mine, and what we deserve. Team wise I want us to rack up more points, and let the conference know that the Terriers are nothing to mess with.”
McDuffie was also a previous ECAC competitor having qualified during last year’s outdoor track season with the 4×100 meter relay team.
“It was awesome. Just to be there actually representing for SFC, it was really cool,” she said. “It’s very humbling — at the same time I’m looking at all of the events and it just makes me want it more, just to come back there to compete alongside the other schools.”
Vixama is looking to end her career on a high note as she gears up for what will be her final NEC Championship Meet.
“My goal is to run the best 400 I’ve ever ran…to be realistic I hope our 4×4 team comes in the top 3, but more so to qualify for ECAC,” she said. “That’s a big thing because we don’t wanna just end with conference. If our 4×4 qualifies for ECAC’s that’ll be one of the greatest things ever.”
Morales acknowledged that while she’s had her struggles, she will do everything in her power to give her best effort at the NEC’s.
“I know I’m not in the best of shape but I just wanna finish the season strong, believe in myself, be confident again, and all that stuff…run my heart out — whatever event I’m running,” Morales said.
“My main goal is to finish strong, not let my teammates down, and go out with a bang,” she continued.
The goals are clear, the focus is sharp, and the Terriers are locked and loaded, ready for their finale.