A New Year Brings Success for Winter Track

by Ali Christ

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The new year held great opportunities for the winter track team, with almost all competing individuals earning personal bests. The year began with the largest winter track turnout in history, with roughly eighty individuals rostered for the boys’ and girls’ teams.

It was difficult to compete during this year’s cold winter, but the runners worked through it.  Coaches Tim McLoone and Bob Keogh decided to start the season slowly with the new runners, and moderately for the experienced runners. After a week or two of easier practices and instruction, they became more concerned with the quantity of running, and increased their expectations for daily workouts. Practices were typically short due to the weather conditions, so the coaches pushed the runners. Everyone knew that time was limited, and the team always strove to make the best of what it had.

The season’s first big competition was the Shore Conference Divisional Meet.  Though this meet was only for varsity runners, many girls were involved.  The meet’s competitors included  Mandi Anderson, Courtney Armstrong, Lizzy Bellin, Carley Bissett, Ali Christ, Rachel Christ, Abby Cooner, Olivia Duddy , Caleigh Farragher, Molly Hellman, Annie Hendricks, Elizabeth Illiano, Michaela Irvine, Shannon Kirchner, Megan Kugelman, Shannon McCarthy, Bethany Rue, and Caroline Saba.

All of the practice resulted in success, as a majority of the runners earned impressive PR’s (personal records). In the 55-meter dash, Illiano and Rue qualified for finals.  Rue finished in first place with a 7.96 (PR), with Illiano only milliseconds behind her.  In the 55-meter hurdles, A. Christ earned a time of 10.16 (PR) and won the event.  Competing in the 800 meter, Armstrong also placed within her event with a time of 2:32:72 (PR).

The coaches were ecstatic about three female athletes placing in first for three different events.  However, the boys also tasted success.  The boy’s 4X4 team ( Charlie Conover, Bobby DeBarba, Mike Moralle, and Connor Simpson) also won their event in 3:44:87.  Simpson also won the high jump, jumping 5’6”.

The middle of the season consisted of many meets at the Toms River Bubble, where many of the runners continued to earn PR’s.  For instance, Pat Hill missed beating the school record by 1/100th of a second during a meet, and McCarthy continued to receive PR’s each race she ran in as a new-comer to track. She was about 10 seconds from beating 2009 RFH graduate Jamie Carrol’s record, a time of 2:20.

As the team approached the end of its season, the inclement weather was a continual struggle.  However the team never let that get in the way of its performance. As time elapsed, some of the team members did lose intrest and left the team, an unfortunately frequent occurrence during winter track.

At the end of the season, about fifty runners continued to compete. The team entered the Meet of Champions ready to put in all of its hard work from the entire season. Many of the runners put forth their best, but few qualified. The girl’s 4X4 team (Bellin, Christ, Ehrenburg, and McCarthy) qualified with a time of 4:16:74.  Mike Carracapa, Armstrong, Hill, McCarthy, and the boys 4X4 also qualified.  At the final meet, McCarthy finished with a time of 2:23:98, earning her a #6 standing in NJ Group II , and 22nd in the State. The girls 4X4 ran a time of 4:14:34.  However, the boys 4X4 was disqualified.

Overall, the team was grateful to its coaches for preparing them for such a successful season. They came out looking for a challenge and ended with a strong finish. Every individual had a successful season, whether it was achieving a PR, earning first place, or running in the biggest meet.

In the words of Coach Keogh, “the most satisfying part of the season was watching so many dedicated athletes, at every skill level, train hard every day and show improvement. It doesn’t get any better than that for a coach and it made for a great experience.”

And Now a Bit More From the Coaching Staff:

Coach McLoone

Q. Describe your track experience (high school, college, etc.).

A. My coach at Seton Hall Prep, Bill Persichetty, was a world record holder while at Fordham and really shaped me as an athlete. He was very demanding, particularly when he sensed you were giving less than you could in practice or meets. He really taught us the technical as well as the ethical side of track.

Although I was a pretty highly recruited runner, I really struggled as a freshman. My college coach, Bill McCurdy was the kind of man who waited for you to grow up before he would deal with you. It was really his inspirational personal example that propelled me to get it going my sophomore year and eventually attain All-Ivy and All-American status.

I owe everything I did athletically to those two men.

Q. How long have you been coaching?

A. This is my 5th year coaching Cross Country and Track at RFH. I coached one year at Mater Dei in 1985 and we were fortunate enough to win the State Championship.

Q. How did you feel about the absence of former head Coach, Mrs. Johnson?  How did it feel to be titled as the “Head Coach” of the team?

A. Becoming Head Coach this Winter was quite the experience. It really made me appreciate how much work Mrs Johnson had put into keeping things organized. I had no idea of the amount of behind the scenes “paperwork” that took place (although it was mostly electronic). Fortunately, the father of two of our team members, Kevin Hill, stepped in and took care of the entries and Mr Reiser ordered the buses. We might not have gotten to any meets if not for the two of them.

Q. Has this year’s running team been the most successful out of all the previous year’s you’ve coached?

A. I think this season was our most successful for one major reason: we had an astounding 85 students come out for Winter Track. I think that doubled anything I had seen before. Most of them finished the season and, having graduated almost every championship point we had scored the year before, we had a lot of young people step up and make their mark in track for the first time. Of course, it was also nice that the boys broke 4 of the 6 school relay records that we contest and we also had four girls qualify for the State Championships along with five boys.

Q. What do you think is the best way to train?

A. In training, the most difficult part is identifying the best event for each athlete and then designing workouts that push them but also that they can accomplish. Everyone is different.

Q. What were some of the strategies you used for training? Why did you chose these?

A. If you train people properly and they are willing to accept the work, the joy is the inevitable improvement that follows later. It doesn’t always happen right away, so, when it does, it can be really exciting.

Q. What are your goals for Spring Track?

A. I think our goals for Spring Track are the same. We would like to see a lot of participation and a solid everyday work ethic. If we have that, the results will inevitably follow. Mr Batchler, the Head Coach for Spring, is really organized and understands conditioning and strength training better than I do so that will be a welcome addition to what we already do. We will also be looking to develop a new core of athletes who will make their way to the top of NJ Track just like their predecessors at RFH.

Q. What was your most memorable experience this season?

A. We had a lot of memorable moments this Winter. I really enjoyed the frosh relay teams winning some championships and the development of Shannon McCarthy into a state ranked 800m runner was fascinating. But the best was probably the boys and girls 4x400m relay teams both qualifying for the State Championships and the girls even advancing to the Meet of Champions. We would never have predicted that back in November.

Q. Describe your overall experience as a coach.

A. My overall experience as a coach was an appreciation for all of the athletes who braved the Winter elements and came out and worked hard everyday. I also loved working with my high school teammate, Bob Keogh, an All-American himself,who coached this year for the first time and had a huge impact on the program along with our other veteran coach, Mr Harris. As a trio, we have to be the oldest coaching staff in the history of Track and Field.

Mr. Keogh

Q. Describe your track experience (high school, college, etc.)

A. I began my running career in high school at Seton Hall Prep where I ran with Coach McLoone. Luckily for me, everyone made the team; I was pretty slow and at almost any other high school I would have been cut from the team by the second week. But with some great coaching, my times improved enough so that I could run at the college level. After high school I ran for Mt Saint Mary’s College in Maryland, a small school with a great track program. With more good coaching and some very fast teammates, we were able to compete successfully at most of the elite meets on the east coast and even made a trip to Panama where we won the Balboa Relays.

Q. What was your initial reaction about becoming a coach for winter track?

A. I was stunned at the number of students who turned out for winter track, a particularly difficult sport given the frigid weather in the northeast during the December to February season. We had approximately 85 boys & girls train and compete in at least one meet in the “bubble” in Toms River. For comparison, my high school track team numbered less than 25.

Q. Have you ever coached before?

A. I’ve coached other sports- baseball, basketball, soccer and swimming- at various levels, but this is my first time coaching high school track.

Q. Were you excited to coach with Coach McLoone?

A. I knew that working with the tyrannical Coach McLoone would be a big drawback, but I decided to try it anyway. (Just kidding!). Tim was a great teammate in high school, an All American runner at Harvard and is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the sport. And he loves working with high school track athletes. I knew that coaching with him would be great fun, and it has been.

Q. What did you expect for the outcome of the season?

A. I really didn’t know what to expect. Coach McLoone told me that, while we had some experienced runners, most of the team would be people who had little or no track experience so our focus was to try to develop that talent. I was pleased, and surprised, that every runner improved his or her time throughout the course of the season. It’s a testament to how hard the team trained despite the difficult weather.

Q. What were some of the strategies you used for training? Why did you chose these?

A. The fundamental strategy we used was to have all our runners do quantity work early, saving the speed (quality) work until later in the season. The concept was to build a base of fitness during the first month that would last the entire season and sharpen the speed of the runners in the later months when the tougher meets are held.  We also employed a strategy that alternated hard workout days with easier workout days. The idea was to increase the level of fitness over the season through the hard workouts but also give the body a chance to recover too.

Q. How did these methods help the team?

A. I think the fact that we had very few injuries and that all our runners improved from their December performance levels suggests that the entire team benefited from the key strategies.

Q. Are you coaching Spring Track as well?

A. I am very happy to be helping with Spring Track. I think it will be fun to see everyones times continue to improve with the warmer weather and the larger track.

Q. What was your most memorable experience this season?

A. There were so many that it’s hard to pick just one. Probably the most memorable was the sight of the team with textbooks out and studying in the infield between events during the Toms River meets. I’ve been at many track meets across the country and overseas and have never before seen student athletes studying on the field in the middle of a meet. And it wasn’t just an isolated occurrence. I’d say about 80% of our athletes studied at some point during each meet. On the performance front there were several highlights including: the improvement by all of the athletes throughout the season; the boys and girls breaking four school records in individual and relay events and just missing four others; and having four girls qualify for the elite New Jersey Meet of Champions.

Q. Describe your overall experience as a coach.

A. It was a wonderful experience and even more fun that I expected. This was a team with a lot of personalities that got along well and seemed to enjoy both the training and the competition in the meets. A number of the people that I ran against in high school and college, including Coach McLoone, are now coaching high school track and they all urged me to do the same. Without exception they told me how much fun I would have. I didn’t quite believe it until I experienced it for myself. But the most satisfying part of the season was watching so many dedicated athletes, at every skill level, train hard every day and show improvement. It doesn’t get any better than that for a coach and it made for a great experience.

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