WATERVILLE — On a raw May day that felt more like March, Dom Kone worked at becoming the best sprinter in the country.
A Colby College junior, Kone won the NCAA Division III title in the 60-meter dash at the indoor track and field championships in March. The outdoor championships are May 24-26 in Claremont, California, and Kone should be a contender for the national title in the 100. Now he is trying to find that perfect balance between fine-tuning his form and getting enough rest.
“All the work is out of the way,” Colby track and field coach Jared Beers said. “Now you’ve got to rest.”
On Saturday, Kone won the New England Small College Athletic Conference title in the 100 and 200. He won the conference title in the 100 for the third time, breaking his own school record and a conference record that stood for 19 years with a time of 10.56. Kone is currently ranked third in Division III, behind Jonathan Smith of Guilford (10.51) and Kenneth Turner of McMurry (10.52).
“At this point in the season, I don’t think there’s any workout that’s going to get me any faster. I think I just need to stay healthy, rest, stay relaxed and make sure I’m getting a lot of sleep,” Kone said. “I’ve done the preparation, and now it’s just getting that mental focus. That’s what’s going to get me faster times.”
That said, Kone is taking care of the finer details. On Tuesday, he worked with assistant coach Emily Hackert on driving his acceleration through the first 30 meters of the 100. When he’s approximately one-third of the way into the race, Kone wants to be at his top speed.
“Ideally, he maintains that for another 30 or 40 meters. Then it’s just what they have left,” Hackert said.
Added Beers: “That’s something he nailed in the 200 last weekend. He went from 22.0 to 21.7.”
Kone already has exceeded any expectations Beers had of him when he came to Colby out of Bucksport High School. As a senior at Bucksport in 2009, Kone won the Class C title in the 100 in a state record time of 10.99, the fastest time in any of the three state meets that year. Kone also won the 200 and the long jump, not bad for a kid who wasn’t even the fastest athlete on his team until his senior year.
“There was this one kid named Nate Warren,” Kone said. “At a young age, he was just all pure muscle. I wasn’t developed at that age, so he was always the fastest one, all the way up to our junior year. Our junior year, he won the Class C state championship in the 100. My senior year, my body just physically matured.”
Kone’s time in the 100 in 2009 would have won the NESCAC title the previous year, Beers said.
“We knew we were getting somebody who could be really good and could be a NESCAC champion and compete in New England. I had no idea how good he was going to get, or how good the NESCAC was going to get,” Beers said, citing the three other sprinter who broke 11 seconds in the championship race: Wesleyan’s LaDarius Drew (10.69), Daniel Lange Vagle of Tufts (10.94) and Waterville native Isaiah Spofford, who ran 10.98 for Bates. Kone is at the lead of a sprinting resurgence in the conference.
His freshman year, Kone opted to join the men’s basketball team instead of running indoor track. Kone played in four games for the Mules, and when the season was over, considered taking the spring off.
“He loved basketball, and I totally supported him playing basketball. Obviously, it would have been nice to have him come out,” Beers said. “In the spring, I was like, ‘Take a week, relax, come back out.’ “
“I was so exhausted from basketball season, I just wanted a break,” Kone said. “A few of my friends, family members, even my roommate, they all kind of convinced me to give the first week a shot. I joined the team, and I couldn’t leave.”
Kone didn’t decide to join the indoor track and field team until the first day of his sophomore year.
“I’d played basketball my entire life. It’s still my favorite sport. It wasn’t until I got here the first day at Colby, I finally made the decision. I realized I had a lot of potential in track, and I needed just to take the plunge,” Kone said.
That potential was nearly realized at the indoor national championships that year. Kone entered the preliminary round seeded 16th out of 16 sprinters in the 55 meters (the NCAA went to 60 meters this year). In the preliminary heats, Kone ran a 6.34, the fastest time of the meet.
The next day, in the finals, Kone pulled a hamstring. He limped across the finish line in eighth place, and the injury kept him off the track for much of the spring season.
“As an athlete, that’s not something you prepare for, or think is going to happen to you,” Kone said.
Kone defended his NESCAC title in the 100, and narrowly missed qualifying for the national championships.
“He didn’t run again until the outdoor state meet, five or six weeks later. That was actually a pretty miraculous recovery, given how bad the injury was,” Beers said. “The fact that he got all the way back to being ranked 24th in the country, almost going to outdoor nationals, is pretty impressive.”
When he reached the indoor championship at Grinnell College in Iowa in March, Kone was ready. He won with a time of 6.75 seconds, holding off Smith and Turner, his main rivals in the 100.
“I learned to relax. I made sure I did all my prep before, made sure I got a good warm up in so I wouldn’t pull anything again. The big turning point for me was relaxing the entire season,” Kone said.
As to how fast Kone can get, that’s a question mark. He feels he can shave another second, maybe a second and a half off his 100 time this year.
“I’ve been saying ever since the fall, my goal was to get about 10.4, so that’s what I’m shooting to get into nationals,” Kone said.
Beers compared Kone to former Springfield College sprinter Stephen Headley, who won the 55 and 100 national titles in 2009. Like Headley, who was coached one year by Hackert, Kone is a late bloomer of sorts.
“I can’t put limits on him. I’d like to think that aside from staying healthy, he just has to keep working,” Beers said. “The sky’s the limit as far as I’m concerned.”
This weekend, Kone will compete at the New England Division III championships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He’ll skip the New England Open Championships the following week in order to concentrate on his final exams. Then it’s the ECAC Championships, followed by the NCAA meet.
Kone ran on a cold day in early May, with the hopes it led to standing on a warm podium at the end of the month.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242