WATERVILLE — When she stepped into the shot put circle at Plymouth State University’s Bank of New Hampshire Fieldhouse, Lilly Friars knew she was making a little Thomas College history. Friars and her Terrier teammates were the first varsity track and field team to compete for the school.

“It was nice to get a feel for all the varsity teams and how far we can improve and grow,” Friars, a sophomore from Lebanon, Maine, said. “It was like, wow, my throw really mattered. It counts for something.”

Two years of building under coach Ian Wilson has led to this. The Terriers hit the ground running in this debut varsity track and field season, with 40 athletes and the goal of immediately competing in the North Atlantic Conference. The meet last Saturday at Plymouth was the first for the Thomas team. The Terriers will take place in another meet Saturday at the University of Southern Maine.

Friars took eighth place in a field of 24 throwers in the shot put at the Plymouth meet. Eleven Thomas men and seven Thomas women scored points in Saturday’s inaugural meet. Jarrod Hooper’s second place in the men’s 500 meters was the top Thomas finish of the day. On the women’s side, Ellie Michaud took third in the triple jump. The Thomas men placed seventh out of nine teams, while the women finished eighth of 10. While Wilson was happy with the results, the point was to get a taster of competition.

Thomas College athlete Dillon Sullivan, right, runs during indoor track practice Wednesday in Waterville.

“It’s a starting point. You just want to see kids put in a lot of effort. You want to see good habits, like good warmups and a team culture where they’re supporting each other. When those things happen, other good things tend to start happening as well,” Wilson said. “I liked every thing I saw, and the performances will come.”

“We’ve been working really hard the last couple years to get that varsity status. We doubled in size every year since Coach Wilson showed up,” Dillon Sullivan, a senior middle distance runner from Windham, said. “We started with 10 people on the team, just trying to compete, trying to put our name out there. We were up to 20 last year and we’re up to 40 this year.”

According to the rosters displayed on Thomas College’s athletics web page, the track and field team carries 25 men and 15 women this season.

“Being varsity, you finally feel like you actually competing. And our team was competitive, so we’re excited for the rest of the year,” Troy Worster, a senior thrower from Mount Vernon, said before a recent practice at Thomas’ Harold Alfond Athletic Center. Like Sullivan, Worster is one of the few holdovers from the team’s days as a club program.

“Most of the kids who did the club team were attracted to the club team because practices were only once or twice a week and pretty optional. They went to three or four meets. To be honest, I didn’t have many of the club kids continue with it. I knew we’d be going varsity in two years, so you can’t all of a sudden one day show up and have training sessions six days a week,” Wilson said. “You have to establish that on day one. I told them that from day one we were going to treat the club like an NCAA program, so that when the transition happens you won’t notice much of anything. A lot of the club kids decided it wasn’t really for them, that level of commitment, but some of them bought in.”

Thomas College athlete Troy Worster practices the weight throw Wednesday in Waterville.

Wilson coached track and field at Waterville Senior High School from 1997 through 2014, leading the Purple Panthers to a combined 25 state titles in indoor and outdoor track (18 girls titles, seven with the boys teams). In 2014, Wilson took a job as an assistant coach with Colby College’s track and field program. In 2016, he took the job of building the Thomas program from scratch. Starting the program is like climbing a mountain, Wilson said.

“It’s one step at a time. If you look at where you want to be and look at the peak when you’re down at the bottom, it’s really, really daunting. My effort has been to set little small goals. Build the numbers at first, try and teach the kids some of the basics. Create a culture here from scratch,” Wilson said.

The biggest difference between coaching high school and college track and field, Wilson said, is focusing more on each individual athlete’s goals rather than how the team does in any certain meet.

“In the college level, we’re focusing on getting people qualified for New Englands. Getting them qualified for conference championships. It’s a longer game. That also means I can do things with athletes that are probably in the athletes best interest for a long term. A kid doesn’t feel pressured to run, even if it didn’t come from me. It might come from teammates. ‘Hey you know this is our big rival Saturday. I know you’re foot’s hurting, but you should run anyway.’ There’s none of that,” Wilson said.

Being a part of building something was a selling point to many of the athletes on the team. Wilson said he guaranteed a roster spot for all four college years to each athlete he’s recruited. Some, like Friars, were not considering competing at the college level until talking with Wilson.

“When I first looked at Thomas, I wasn’t interested in doing track. Once I met Coach Wilson, he really sold it to me. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made,” Friars said.

Recruiting newcomers to the program doesn’t just fall to Wilson. Current athletes are happy to play a role in the team’s

Thomas College indoor track head coach Ian Wilson instructs Allison Hughes during practice Wednesday in Waterville.

growth, too. Sullivan said he’s shown recruits around campus, shared a meal and given the Thomas pitch from the student-athlete’s point of view.

“Sometimes we’ll bring them into practice and show them how things are run, answer any questions that they have,” Sullivan, who also runs for Thomas’ cross country team, said.

The NAC will hold a outdoor season championship meet on April 28 at Regis College. The Terries’ goal is to make a run at the conference title.

“It will take some time, but we’ll compete to the best of our ability,” Friars said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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