Track & Field: Despite its young age, UNH strives to improve every day

By Max Sullivan
On February 21, 2014

UNH men's track and field head coach Jim Boulanger knows his team doesn't have the pieces to take first place in many of the events in the conference championship this weekend. With 16 freshmen in their ranks, the Wildcats are just too green for that this year.

"They're young, you know," Boulanger said. "We should have a good meet, but I think our youth is going to show."

What that leaves for the Wildcats at the America East Championship this Sunday and Monday, Feb. 23 and 24, is a developmental gauge. How far have the upperclassmen come since their freshman year? How many first-year Wildcats have adapted to the collegiate level? A realist, Boulanger is more concerned with answering those questions than he is about high placement.

"[We're] looking for good meets out of ... the older crew," Boulanger said, "And then it's, 'Let's see how the freshmen can handle the new world.'"

Among the upperclassmen who Boulanger hopes will do well this weekend is senior middle-distance Steve Souza, who placed seventh with a personal best of 1.4.56 in the 500-meter race two weeks ago at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational, held at Boston University. This week, he's developed a cold. Boulanger hopes he can overcome it and repeat the success he had two weeks ago.

Seniors George Jumpp, a hammer thrower, and middle distance runner Eric Stys are also expected to do well this weekend. At BU two weeks ago, Jumpp threw a personal best 57 feet and 9.75 inches, placing seventh in his event. On Feb. 1, Stys placed fifth in the 800-meter race at the URI Invitational on Feb. 1 with a time of 1.56.62.

Boulanger said that junior distance runners Jeff Moretti, Jeremy Wildgoose and middle distance runner John Prizzi are also expected to do well this weekend. Moretti and Prizzi both reached personal-bests in the 3000-meter run at BU two weeks ago, and Wildgoose helped UNH place fourth in the distance medley at URI three weeks ago.

"Jeff Moretti and John Prizzi [are] two juniors who have stepped up nicely," Boulanger said. "Jeremy Wildgoose is another. These kids are healthy, coming out of cross country [and] are really shining."

From the freshmen, who are still learning to compete at this level, Boulanger expects mixed results.

"Some are going to do well, and some are going [to] act like freshmen," Boulanger said.

What makes a freshman stand out is his consistency, Boulanger said. Most first year college athletes are used to qualifying often in high school, some of them with ease. In college, athletes find it more difficult to stand out, especially when going against schools like Albany and Boston University, who have bigger budgets for their track teams than UNH does. The margin for errors shrinks a lot in college.

"It's quite a bit different," Boulanger said. "They're used to competing at the high school level and qualifying, you're in [college] and everybody's good, so you perform at your best all the time. There's not a shot, not a chance to have a mediocre performance."

Weight thrower Mike Shanahan is one of the freshmen who has learned to be consistent. He's regularly thrown 50 to 51 feet this season- fantastic, considering he'd never thrown the weight before coming to Durham. A member of the UNH marching band, Shanahan had only done track in his senior year of high school.

"[The weight] is an implement he has never seen, you know," Boulanger said, "So, it's a whole new event for him."

Boulanger suspects the music background has helped develop his feet.

"I think that fact that he's working in music- he's got great feet, so I think that's important," Boulanger said.

Another freshman who has stood out this year is Drew Piazza, a former soccer player who also ran track at Danvers High School in Danvers, Mass. He came in first in the 800-meter dash in last week's meet at Maine. The conference championship, however, will be a greater test than the meet last week.

"[Piazza] is really starting to shine in the 800 with his win at Maine last week," Boulanger said. "Now, to do well at the conference [championship], he's going to have to step a whole 'nother second... he's going to have to run with people."

Boulanger also mentioned freshmen distance runner Tanner Kent, who placed 21st in the 500-meter race at BU two weeks ago, and Chris Poggie and John Cox who, along with Wildgoose, both helped secure fourth place for the Wildcats in the distance medley at URI.

The indoor conference championship also serves as the gateway to the spring's outdoor season. Much of the training in the winter months is focused on preparation for the outdoor season, where many players benefit from the excitement that comes with escaping the dingy, gray gym at the UNH Field House.

"It's kind of like, 'Okay, we've got to put up with the winter to get the spring,' kind of like the normal New England feeling, you know?" Boulanger said.

Some of the Wildcats are so eager to put the winter behind them, they're already training outdoors. Thursday afternoon, during a warm break from the snow storms, Jumpp trained outside like he has for much of the past few weeks, despite the snow on the ground.

"Georgie and Rosemary Read [of the women's track and field team]," Boulanger said, "they're even out there now as we speak, finding the hammer in the snow pile, digging it up and throwing again, so that's how crazy they are about spring."

First comes this weekend's championship meet, though, and Boulanger hopes his team can at least nip at the heels of the favorites while he looks at how much the team has grown this season.

"We got some gaps in the team," Boulanger said, "But just battle. The goal is to get people in the finals and then see what happens. That will be the telling question, because then we can go on to the spring."

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