WATERVILLE — Chris Hale doesn’t think his old track and field specialty, the high jump, compares to his new assignment as a Colby sophomore, the hammer throw. Mules throwing coach Will Baron disagrees.

Both events require explosive vertical movement in order to succeed, explained Baron, the second-year coach and Highland Games veteran. But Hale would just as soon consider it a completely fresh start.

Set back by ankle and Achilles problems, Hale saw that and a new head coach signaling an opportunity to nurture his more adventurous nature.

“Track is such a great sport because we get to try so many different things,” said Hale, who tried some decathlon in between jumps as a freshman. “I’ve taken advantage of that and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

Waterville’s Hale, who followed in the footsteps of his brother, Jeff, a successful distance runner for the Mules who graduated last spring, may be the most extreme example but definitely isn’t alone in buying into change under first-year head coach David Cusano. Another sophomore from central Maine, Marcques Houston of Monmouth, is seeing it more on a team-wide level while the new regime figures out how best to take advantage of his versatility.

The Mules opened their season Saturday with a strong performance in the Colby Open Invitational. The men boasted 14 winners at Alfond Track. That included Houston, who won the triple jump.

A member of Colby’s school record 4×400 relay team and runner, Houston also finished second in the 400 in the unscored meet last weekend. He enjoyed multi-event success in high school, but has been pleasantly surprised to maintin his versatility into his college career.

“The load of events and the variation in events that I’ve been able to do and be successful in — doing four events in one day and still being able to do well,” Houston said.

Cusano appreciates Houston’s versatility, and loves the equal amount of zeal he brings to each event.

“His enthusiasm for the sport and for our team are his No. 1 attribute,” Cusano said. “He’s so passionate about how he trains and how he competes, it just translates throughout the team.”

Still, Cusano sees a lot of potential in Houston if he narrows his focus. The question is, what to have him focus on?

“We don’t want to muddy the waters and have him not really get that top-knotch level where we think he can be,” Cusano said.

Houston overcame knee problems to become a state champion 200, 400 and relay runner at Monmouth Academy. He’s stayed healthy at Colby and is expecting the benefits of experience and training to continue to show throughout the spring.

“I’ve hit some of my best times since high school this year in the 4×400 and the 400 and in the 200,” said Houston, a double major in English and American Studies. “I feel like there’s still a lot of growing to do.”

Baron said Hale still has a lot of growing to do but is already far ahead of schedule of someone whose throwing experience entailed a little bit of javelin and indoor weights. Throwing the hammer competitively for the first time, he finished fourth on Saturday with a throw of 36.70 meters

“(Saturday) was a good start. I was happy with my base,” he said.

An all-conference basketball player in high school like Houston, Baron and Cusano believe Hale could still add another 20 pounds to his frame and see where his daily throwing and lifting routine takes him.

“He brings a ton of natural talent and athleticism,” Baron said. “And, he’s a workhorse.”

“Long-term, it could be a great match,” Cusano said.

“I’ve been having a great time with that so far,” said Hale, a double major in Global Studies and German Studies. “It’s really exciting. I’m really open to learning new things.”

Cusano, a former track and football star and later assistant track coach at the University of Maine, moved to Colby from Wheaton, where he coached 49 All-American performances in just four years running the program. Colby merged its men’s and women’s teams under one head coach but retained a number of assistant coaches, including Baron, former men’s head coach and current cross country coach Jared Beers, and former Waterville High School coach Ian Wilson.

“That’s beneficial for the whole team because everyone knows each other really well,” Houston said. “We all know when somebody’s had a good day, somebody’s PR’d, which is very good for the team. I think the overall culture of the team has changed a lot.”

The outdoor track and field season gears up quickly. Colby hosts the Maine State Championships next Saturday, then heads to Brunswick for the New England Small College Athletic Conference championships before May’s busy slate of New England, ECAC and NCAA championships.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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