With athletic competition cancelled last spring in the initial disruption of Covid-19, Amherst student-athletes have spent the past year in anticipation of a return to play. The Amherst men’s and women’s track and field teams have been struck particularly hard, as both their fall cross country and winter seasons were canceled this year. However, following the March 9 NESCAC announcement of a potential return to play this spring, the future of Amherst track and field seems to be looking up.
Many of the team members who are on campus this term are excited at the prospect of a return to competition. Chris Gong ’23 described the process as “everything [he] could ask for. Being back with the juniors and seniors … brings back a familiarity, comfort and love.” Gong feels fortunate to be on campus this spring, as most sophomores were not permitted to return.
Some sophomore track and field members have decided to live together in off-campus houses this term in order to preserve team chemistry and train together. Jack Trent ’23 and his teammates living off campus in the town of Amherst have been “doing the same things [they] would be doing on campus … [they] go to the Amherst High School track” and “have met the coaching staff there to ensure [they] are allowed to be there, and then go about practice as usual.” While Trent will not have a chance to compete this season because of his off-campus status, he is “super happy for [his] teammates [and] that they get a chance to compete.”
Head Coach Stephen Rubin explained that he and the staff “had to make some adjustments relative to our numbers, equipment, staying spaced, etc.” in response to the pandemic. However, he characterized these changes as “minor” and suggested that the team “has been able to keep training elements very similar to what [the team] would do in a normal year.” Rubin and the rest of the staff are excited to rekindle their personal bonds with the athletes. “That’s what this is all about,” Rubin remarked. Despite the setbacks of the past year, the coaches and athletes have retained their positive outlook and are looking forward to competing this spring. Gong described being back on campus as conferring a “sense of normalcy” because he is able to see his friends again, compete with them and return to a regular workout routine.
Track and field athletes are excited at the prospect of competition this spring. Both coaches and players want to ensure that they make the most of the opportunity to participate in meets. Gong explained that the team will be properly prepared for this shortened season. “Our coaches placed an emphasis that this pandemic should not hinder our progress.” He also noted that, throughout the fall and winter, the track and field athletes were “training at a pretty high intensity … to get our bodies strong like we were going to have a season.” The track and field teams’ consistent training in spite of uncertainty should enable them to compete at a high level this spring.
The track and field coaching staff have built a very successful program at Amherst. The men’s track team finished first in the Little Three Championship in 2019-2020 and the women’s track team finished second in the same competition in 2019-2020. Rubin explained that he and the other coaches “are thrilled that we get competition opportunities.”
The wait for competition has taken its toll on the track team’s coaches and players alike. “People were missing the connection of shared experiences … the more connection we create, the happier they will be,” Rubin remarked. Ella Rossa ’21, who is a captain of the women’s track team, also explained that the best part of the return to play is “the bond you are all able to build with members of all four classes” and how “it has been such a light in [her] life … to be back with [her] coaches and teammates [on-campus]”.
Despite not being able to compete over the past year, team unity remains a high point for track and field. To this point, Gong noted that he has a “focused perspective and [that] there are things more important in life than losing a race.” Gong was most excited about the opportunity presented to the team as a whole. As for his fellow track and field athletes, Gong said, “it will be amazing to see them compete again.” Rossa reinforced that same point. “I am also excited for our first-years to be able to dip their toes into some collegiate competition.”
Even Trent and his teammates who are off campus and cannot participate are excited for their teammates to return to competition. Trent “wished [he] was out there with them,” which demonstrates the deep bonds formed between athletes during their time at Amherst.
Even though the teams have had extended time off from competition, Rubin stated that the preparation for the spring will be “nothing different.” He continued, “[the team] has always planned to have intra-squad or virtual competitions, and we were preparing purposefully for that. Now we get to have better competitions.” Rubin, the rest of the coaches and all of the track and field athletes will be ready heading into the shortened spring season.