WATERVILLE — This is outdoor track in central Maine in late April.
One day it is 65 degrees and sunny, the next it is 30 degrees chillier and a cold rain is threatening to turn into snow.
Dealing with less than ideal weather conditions is just one of those things that comes with the territory of outdoor track this time of year — something that was certainly not news to the 13 teams that competed at the 10th Annual David Whyte Memorial Relays Thursday.
A consistent 20 to 25 mph wind swept across Drummond Field — with gusts even stronger — but the athletes held their own for the most part despite it being the first meet of the season for a number of schools.
“It’s the first meet for us, some of (the other teams) have had their first meets already, so we’re just trying to get a feel for it,” said Mt. Blue junior Dan Lesko, who ran the opening leg of the Cougars’ winning distance medley relay. “The wind does make it hard, especially on the backside. You’ll get a gust and then you’ll fall back, and then it will go away and you’ll fall forward. It’s tough, but if you can kind of find a spot in behind someone and let them do the work (it helps).”
The Waterville boys and girls each held onto their meet titles, as the Panther girls racked up 179 points to hold off Edward Little (99), Winslow (75), Lawrence (69) and Mt. Ararat (62). The Waterville boys finished with 138 points to top Belfast (108), Edward Little (99), Maine Central Institute (83) and Mt. Blue (76).
“A lot of times you have to be realistic about what your goals are on days like this so your jumpers have to come in at a lower angle or lower starting height. You can’t expect to have the same performances in wind and cold that you would on a warm day,” Waterville coach Ian Wilson said. “It’s definitely a factor but mostly you just want to see kids compete well. The cream rises to the top, and if the times and distances are a little lower that’s OK. You just accept it for what it is but be happy they competed well. We really like having all these teams come here. You really get to see what other teams do.”
Between the 13 teams and relay format, Wilson also said that Thursday’s meet was a good indicator of the kind of depth teams have.
“If you do well at a big relay meet like this typically you have pretty good depth,” Wilson said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you have the top six or eight kids to win you a state title but it means you have a lot of deep talent on your team.”
The Panthers still showed they could have some standout performances as well though, despite the adverse conditions. Troy Gurski and Jordhan Levine took on the headwind for their legs of the shuttle hurdles, and it proved to be enough as they helped the Panthers set a new meet record in the event with a time of 53.59 seconds.
“It’s windy, it’s cold. You’ve really got to keep the legs moving, keep your body going so you stay warm or else you’re just going to freeze up so it’s really rough,” Levine said. “That definitely made things a lot tougher. (Coach Wilson) had (Gurski and I) run it so the wind would be in our faces to give ourselves a chance at the record and we got the record by (almost) two seconds. Our team competed really well.”
The shuttle wasn’t the only relay affected by the weather, as the more traditional relay events also had additional challenges — particularly in passing the baton.
“It’s tough, but we just kept on trying to keep warm,” said Erskine Academy’s Christina Belanger, who ran the anchor leg of the Eagles’ second place 4×200 and 4×100 relays. “We started warming up a half hour or 40 minute before the race. It’s still cold while you’re running but you still just have to try and stay warm.
“One of our handoffs it didn’t go too well today, but my hand was kind of numb so I couldn’t really feel the baton go in.”
The team of Belanger, sophomore Julia White and freshmen Abby Haskell and Jordan Jowett placed second to Edward Little in both events, which was still very impressive considering they were without their strongest runner in senior Jade Canak for the meet. Erskine coach Dave Evans confirmed Thursday that Canak will sign her National Letter of Intent sometime next week to continue her track and academic career at Division I St. Francis University in Loretto, Penn.
The Eagles’ relay team is confident that even though they are young, they can make impact down the line — particularly with Canak.
“Our coach has been studying a lot on starts and how to hand off really well,” White said. “He’s been helping us a lot and we’ve improved a bunch with his help. The veterans on our team help us a lot too.”
It wasn’t just the running events that felt the full effects of the weather, however, as the field events also had to adjust accordingly.
“It was really hard and just inconvenient because the wind is coming and going and you can’t get a pause in the wind,” said MCI’s Katie Hughes, who placed second in the discus to Waterville’s Rachel Bergeron. “You’re standing in the circle or standing in the runway and you only have a minute to throw, so you can’t always wait for the wind to die down.”
Throwers and jumpers alike had to adjust their trajectories, while runners had to simply power through strong, swirling headwinds. As inconvenient as the conditions were for Thursday’s Waterville relays, April 24 could be a day many of these athletes look back on as one that set them up for success when class championships roll around in early June.
“When you get to states and it’s warm, it’s nothing like it is now,” Levine said. “This gets you ready. You’re all set with the cold weather, it’s all done, it’s in June.”
Evan Crawley——621-5640 firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Evan_Crawley