By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
While many other Massachusetts schools pushed their indoor track season, which is actually being played outdoors, to the MIAA’s new Fall II schedule, Westwood was able to finish their indoor track season indoors during its usual, winter season.
“We had the opportunity to do winter track, which was ideal because it put us in the position to actually have indoor meets,” Coach Jen Teahan explained. “We were able to access the Wheaton facility during the month of January while their college students were home. Obviously with all the COVID restrictions and everything else, we felt we could provide the student athletes a safe environment, but also one most aligned with a winter track program as it has been in the past, with actual indoor facilities to compete in.”
But while it took place during its regularly scheduled time of the year, there was nothing typical about Westwood’s indoor track season. The Wolverine runners weren’t able to compete against all eleven other schools in the Tri-Valley League, as aside from Westwood, only Millis, Hopkinton, Dover-Sherborn and Medfield opted to avoid moving to the Fall II season. Unique to this season, the meets (which for Westwood came on Wednesdays and Thursdays) were smaller, with only the team Westwood was competing against allowed in the facility. As a result, Coach Jen Teahan said the meets allowed athletes from the two towns to get to know each other better than they have in the past.
“The meets were different, but it was almost more intimate because there was just one other team there. The Westwood girls would go against the Dover-Sherborn girls after the boys had competed first. They’re intimate because both programs were allowed thirty athletes apiece to compete, and it was maxed at seventy-five, including the officials and coaches. It was awesome - you got to really know the other athletes from the other programs. You got to really see one another and support one another.”
But you couldn’t aggressively cheer for each other. That’s not because of sportsmanship, it was because of one of many COVID-19 restrictions that made the meets different from years past. To try and minimize the chances of a coronavirus outbreak, many protocols were strictly enforced - from the basics, like running in every other lane, to the complex, like team-specific tarps covering the mats high jumpers fall on.
“Masks were mandatory. There were definitely a couple stipulations that were tricky to monitor - they limited cheering and I’m a cheerer, so that was hard; they don’t want you yelling, even though you have a mask on. Masks were mandatory, there were no mask breaks, really no opportunities to take your mask off. We had very strict rules about once you’re in the building, your masks are on, you have to sanitize your hands. You had to clean the shot-put. The high jump mats, you had to use a tarp. And it was every other lane for all the starts, 1-3-5-7, since there are eight lanes.”
While these may have been annoying for the athletes, it’s far less troublesome than what moving to Fall II would have done to them. The big advantage of running in the winter season was that you weren’t forcing athletes to choose between a sport they usually play and one they don’t. Many Fall II track programs have found themselves losing their athletes to sports like football, which moved from the traditional fall season. Westwood avoided this by running indoor track in the same season they always would.
But that’s not to say Westwood’s numbers weren’t diminished. Aside from the kids who didn’t play at all - in large part due to the hybrid schedule making practice more difficult to get to - many athletes' parents were comfortable with them practicing among their Westwood classmates, but not interacting with students from an entirely different town at meets. Still, Coach Teahan didn't think any varsity athlete opted not to compete, and because of the team’s commitment, the Wolverines never had to stop the season and quarantine.
“The kids were all incentivized because they wanted to play. They didn’t want any hiccups because they knew we’d be stopped immediately, and we’d have to quarantine. So, we didn’t’ have one athlete in our program - boys and girls - that had to quarantine at all, which is such a testament to how thorough they were in following the guidelines and how supportive they were in knowing what the expectation was.”
Coach Teahan said her athletes came into the year in good shape, only struggling with the rust of having not competed in technical aspects, like the high jump and the hurdles, which they couldn’t train on in their off-time at home. While she acknowledged the schools were mainly keeping scoring for individual achievements rather than focusing so much on who won or lost the overall meets, some athletes really flourished over the course of the year.
“Caroline Woodard was scoring, on average, thirteen points a meet. She was running the dash, the hurdles, the high jump. She was throwing the shot-put for us. Every single sprinter improved their time from the get-go, they all PRed. Alexis Moore was a 300-meter runner and she was very good before, but she’s like a distance prodigy. This kid became a powerhouse. I think she just took March, April and May, as well as the summer, and she just trained and trained and trained and fell in love with running in general. She came out of a mid-distance soccer player mentality, which is like 'attack and be competitive,' and she fell in love with the training component, so she came in and she was dynamite. And she’s so versatile in all the running events - you can throw her in anything from the 300 to the two mile and she’s going to win. She had a remarkable season and was extraordinarily competitive. Stacey Li provided phenomenal leadership - she’s a workhorse, very coachable. And Deirdre Galvin, it’s immeasurable what she gives to this program as both an athlete and a teammate.”
Unfortunately, Coach Teahan had to say goodbye to two of her senior athletes, Alex Ponte and Amy Lambert, who play softball in the spring. While she lamented their not getting to be sent off with a TVL invitational meet, she did note it was “a testament that they still came out and did their best, despite the fact they wouldn’t have the hurrah celebration.”
Outside of losing a few athletes to softball, there’s another competitive question surrounding Westwood’s spring track season. With all twelve schools in the TVL competing in the spring, many athletes will have almost no time off between indoor and outdoor track, while Westwood’s will have had some time off between indoor and outdoor track season. Is it better to be well rested, or will that leave them rusty?
Coach Teahan isn’t worried about it. She believes it could even be advantageous for her team, which will be hungry to compete again outside, while other teams will feel like they’ve been going through one extremely long spring track season.
“My biggest reason for advocating winter was because we came off of fall in really good shape, and I wanted that trajectory. With spring track being out from February vacation through April, vacation can be detrimental for some programs, but I think our kids have such integrity; we give them a suggested training program to keep up with, [and] they always do, because they’re very invested. The combination of the integrity they all have in their own individual goals and the investments they have conditioned into them as part of the program, it’s a nice system that kind of runs itself. I think the advantage is our kids are going to be hungry to compete, and for the kids coming out of Fall II, you’re going to basically have a very long spring season for them, since they’re competing outside both seasons. My kids are going to be so excited to compete and it’s a long season, late April through July, so I think that’s going to be in our favor.”