February 23, 2006

Track Team Ready For Its Second Season

Feb. 23, 2006

By Jeremy Herb
The Santa Clara

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The men's and women's track season begins Saturday, as the Broncos hope that they will continue to build upon last year's inaugural season.

Without a full team, however, Santa Clara's success in track is not to be measured in wins and losses. The 2-year-old varsity team consists of mainly distance runners from the cross country team, which means the Broncos do not run in enough events to compete as a full team at meets.

Head track coach Tom Service said that his team instead uses his runners' times, school records and the overall preparedness of the team for the following cross country season as a gauge of their track successes.

"We don't have any reason to try and be a full-fledged competitive track team," said assistant coach Felipe Montoro. "It probably helps the distance runners, because we don't have any dual meets where they're going to get tripled to score points, and they might get tired. We just go to the big invitationals and chase fast times."

This season, the Bronco squad will try to move a step closer to sending some of their runners to the NCAA regionals, something that wasn't possible before last year. When Santa Clara track was not recognized as a Division I sport by the NCAA, Santa Clara runners could not qualify for postseason races.

According to Montoro, however, the Broncos are still a couple to several years away from having runners with a good chance of qualifying for championship races.

"The standards are extremely hard," he said. "They take the top 100 times in the country from the previous year, average those out, and that's the time that everyone has to beat in order to qualify for regionals."

In the men's 5,000 meters, for example, the qualifying time set last year was 14:10, but the Broncos top time was 15:09, almost a full minute behind.

Santa Clara is competing in 13 meets this season, six more than last year. The increase will give more exposure to the varsity track team, which Service says will improve the Broncos' recruiting for the cross country team.

"We were losing a lot of quality distance runners because we didn't have an NCAA track team," he said. "A serious high school runner is going to want a program that offers both."

Along with cross country runners on the track team, the Broncos also have a female high jumper and a handful of sprinters on both the men's and women's sides.

One freshman, Jay Caldwell, came to Santa Clara this year after talking with a member of the cross country team who told him about the new track team forming.

"I had been wanting to run collegiate track, except I couldn't go to a huge university," Caldwell said. "I came here and noticed that there were some palm trees and a track team just starting up, so I figured that would be a good way to ease into collegiate sports."

Even with the added athletes, however, the Broncos still fall short of a full track and field squad.

"We're smaller and just getting started," sophomore Chris Furnari said. "Other schools have had their programs and are more well known, so they're able to get more recruits. A full track team would help us gain notoriety."

According to Service, there are no current plans to expand the Santa Clara track program. If someone wanted to compete in an event the Broncos don't normally run, they would not necessarily be turned away, but Service added that "we're really a track team and not much of a field team."

Funding is one major roadblock for expanding the squad. The Broncos don't have an adequate track to use for practice at Santa Clara, and instead, they must travel a few miles down the road to Bellarmine College Preparatory to use the track there.

"It would certainly be more positive if we did have a track, but at the present time, I don't see it in the plans," Service said. "We're lucky that we have a good relationship with Bellarmine."

Before the university created track as a varsity sport, the cross country team also had a track club, which competed in a few meets every year. However, the track club was restricted by NCAA rules about when they could begin their season and how much they could practice.

Now, Montoro said, Santa Clara can take advantage of a full track season to use as a springboard towards success next year.

"If you have a good track season, it'll lead to a summer with a good dose of training, which will lead to an even better cross country season," Montoro said.

While most cross country runners do both, sophomore Christen Gumbs said running cross country and track are two significantly different experiences.

"Running track is a lot more uniform, it's a lot different than cross country," Gumbs said. "In cross country, it's harder to get in a rhythm, because there's a lot of stuff that breaks your stride on the dirt course. On the track, you know exactly how fast you're running all the time."

The Broncos begin their season this Saturday with a time trial at the Los Gatos All-Comers Race.