Track and Field on the Upswing

Patrick Hebble (r.) and Anthony Lee

The 2012 Middlebury indoor track and field team epitomizes the adage that records are made to be broken.

Sixteen school records have been set during this winter season, including junior Jack Davies’ 4:10.31 clocking in the mile and the women’s distance medley relay (DMR) team’s best-in-Division III time of 11:39.56. Juliet Ryan-Davis ’13 set school records in two individual events, the 400- and 800-meter runs, as did Michael Schmidt ’12 in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter events.

Davies, Ryan-Davis, Schmidt and five of their record-setting relay teammates—Margo Cramer ‘12, Rebecca Fanning 12, Patrick Hebble ‘13, Peter Hetzler ’14, and Addie Tousley ‘14—have also qualified for the NCAA Division III indoor track and field championships this weekend (March 9-10) in Iowa.

Few Division III schools send as many as eight athletes to nationals, yet it’s been business-as-usual for the indoor track squad during practice this week.

On Tuesday afternoon in the Bubble, the atmosphere around the indoor track is relaxed as the athletes loosen up. First-year students mingle with track and field veterans; school-record holders and NCAA champions jog around the oval; and everyone stretches their muscles while conversing with coaches and each other.

Every thrower, runner, and jumper has an individualized workout to complete. And since winter track runs right into spring track, and as there are more than 100 students on the team, and because everyone has a lab to complete or a thesis to write or a paper due tomorrow, the athletes tend to be conscientious about their training and work independently.

Martin Beatty '84

College track and field is like one big extended family, and the leader of Middlebury’s pack is Martin Beatty ’84, who has been the head coach for the past 24 years.  Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Beatty surrounds himself with some of the top coaching talent in Division III and together the coaches motivate their athletes with hard work and understanding.

“We have a really balanced team this year,” Beatty said. “Some years the men do better than the women, or vice versa, but this year it’s pretty even and I like that! It’s a wonderful thing to have both genders doing well, especially with a combined program like we have, so I am really happy that we have had almost an equal number of records broken on both sides of the spectrum.”

Nine men’s and seven women’s school records were toppled this winter. (It’s safe to say that’s more records set than in any other year of indoor track, except maybe the first season.) Team Middlebury was in the thick of every meet it entered in 2012, bookended by the season’s opener at NYU in January at which 39 Panthers competed, through last weekend’s ECAC Championships in which the men finished 9th out of 62 teams and the women were 11th out of 51 teams.

“When both the women and the men do well, it makes everyone feel good about each other and about the team as a whole,” said Beatty. “This has been a really good supportive team this winter. They really care about each other, from the coaches and captains on down.”

It should come as no surprise that the 2012 indoor track season has been a banner year for Middlebury College. Both winter and spring track has been on the upswing in recent years. Athletes who finish in the top eight at the NCAAs (winter or spring) are considered All Americans, and since the year 2000 Middlebury has produced 25 All Americans: 18 women and seven men. And some—like Kristy (Laramee) Kerin ‘01 in the high jump or Bryan Black ’02 and Khristoph Becker ’06 in the javelin or Alexandra Krieg ‘09 in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters or Kaitlynn Saldanha ‘11 in the 800 meters—have achieved All American status in multiple years.

Vaulters and their poles

At this year’s NCAAs, Vermont’s attention will be on Middlebury’s women’s and men’s distance medley relay teams—that combination of speed, endurance, and baton-passing in which the first runner covers 1,200 meters followed by teammates who do 400, 800, and 1,600 meters. The women’s relay team of Tousley, Fanning, Ryan-Davis, and Cramer dominated the competition this year, capped off by its best-in-Division III clocking of 11:39.56 at the Boston University meet. The men’s DMR team of Davies, Hetzler, Hebble, and Schmidt also won at BU en route to recording the fourth best time in the nation, 9:56.07.

Track and field athletes often enter multiple events at meets, and elite athletes occasionally qualify for national championships in more than one competition. And when they qualify in two dashes or two field events, it’s generally not an issue. This year the Middlebury team had an interesting problem: Margo Cramer, a 4:51-miler, qualified in both that event and the DMR, and Michael Schmidt, who knocked nearly 16 seconds off his best time in the 5,000 meters this year, qualified in his specialty and in the men’s DMR. Both Cramer and Schmidt’s individual times were tops in Division III this winter, so would they compete in their individual events and the DMR at the NCAAs?

Fortunately the men’s 5,000 and the finals for the mile are on Saturday, the day after the DMR, so the coaches and athletes decided that Cramer and Schmidt could double at the NCAAs.

Meanwhile three other Middlebury runners in the distance medley relays also qualified for individual events at the NCAA championships—Ryan-Davis in the 800 and both Davies and Hebble in the mile—but they resolved to focus solely on the DMR, a premier event in which Middlebury College has a legitimate shot at two gold medals.

Of their choice to forgo individual races in favor of the relays, Beatty said, “It was a very unselfish decision on their part, but they decided that their individual races could affect the success of their whole relay teams, and they want to help each other become All Americans together.”

The women's distance medley relay team (l-r): Margo Cramer, Addie Tousley, Rebecca Fanning, Juliet Ryan-Davis, and assistant coach Nicole Wilkerson

Update: The women’s distance medley team took first place at the NCAA meet in a record-breaking time of 11:37.35. The men’s DMR team was fourth in 10:01.38. Margo Cramer was fourth in the mile with a 4:55.83, and Michael Schmidt was sixth in the 5,000-meter run at 14:25.55. Overall, the Middlebury women placed 10th out of the 63 teams that scored, and the men finished 23rd out of the 60 Division III schools that scored.  

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  1. It’s an absolute travesty that the only mention of Nicole Wilkerson is one measly caption.

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