NEW HAVEN — The COVID-19 virus has thrown a curve ball to sports teams at every level with the need for high-level safety protocols either shutting down seasons or forcing adjustments to how the games are played to ensure a safe environment.
If comments from athletes at a dual indoor track meet on Thursday at Floyd Little Athletic Center are any indication, the Southern Connecticut Conference boys and girls teams are making the best of a tough situation. They are literally running away with the opportunity they’ve been given in March.
On Thursday, Sacred Heart Academy faced the Wilbur Cross girls team and Notre Dame-West Haven faced the Wilbur Cross boys team. Due to the pandemic, the CIAC only allowedteams to practice in January and February but allowed dual meet competition from March 1-March 27.
“It is awesome we have the ability via our New Haven athletics director Erik Patchkofsky to have this facility ready, safe and willing to allow us to race these competitive dual meets in March,” Wilbur Cross boys and girls indoor track coach Travis Gale said. “The state guidelines are met. We have had eight weeks in person, but took advantage of those first eight weeks doing remote practices, conditioning plans for the student-athletes to do on their own. We even held two time trials, to see where everyone is and to improve. The athletes did an excellent job.”
Gale said the No. 1 priority has been safety.
“The protocols in place provide safety,” Gale said. “Adapting to change is always important. This team did just that. They worked out in masks, they run with masks on, doing their best to be safe for themselves, the team and their families. There are no fans, and that is a different vibe. I am still loud as ever, but the teammates that are here, do a great job letting each other know they have each other’s backs.”
Wilbur Cross seniors Margo Pedersen, who competes in the 1000 meters for the girls team, and Deven Cue, who competes in the 300 for the boys team, see the March dual meets as an opportunity to prepare for the upcoming outdoor season. At the Thursday dual meet, Cue won the 300 (37.71 seconds) and Pedersen was second in the 1000 (3:13.68).
“Usually you are using these dual meets to prepare for the state meets,” Pedersen said. “But there are no postseason meets so we are using the opportunity to use these meets to prepare for the outdoor season. It’s better than just having a practice. The difference now compared to before COVID-19 is you have to get used to things like no fans and wearing masks when you are in a race. There is also a heightened awareness to be sure everyone on the team is following the protocols. We’re always on top of that.”
Cue looks at the current dual meet season as glorified practices.
“It’s great they worked hard to get to where we are today to have these competitive meets,” Cue said. “But it’s late in the season, it’s a different atmosphere and I’m looking at these meets as more like competitive practices to get ready for the outdoor season. That’s my focus right now.”
Sacred Heart Academy girls coach Pat Redding said having the competitive meets is an opportunity to get the veteran runners back on the track and running in a meaningful race.
“It is also important to expose the freshmen and the first-time girls to indoor track,” Redding said. “It can be an overwhelming experience for the young athletes. I miss the fans because there is nothing like it in track and field, to have a packed field house, running your races with standing room only, or a crowd roaring when an anchor leg or miler kicks at the end for a photo finish. But the protocols have made the meet into a controlled environment, an environment the athletes have become all too familiar with this past year.”
Aliya Cameron, a senior on the SHArks girls indoor track team who competes in the 55 hurdles and high jump, is using the dual meets to prepare for the Myrtle Beach of Champions, an out-of-state meet in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina from March 25-28. At the dual meet on Thursday she won the high jump (5 feet, 8 inches) and the 55 hurdles (9.0).
“I miss the cheering fans because they really get your adrenaline going,” Cameron said. “I miss that intensity. But they have done a great job running these meets, there is no chaos with these indoor meets. These meets help me a lot to prepare for that Meet of Champions event coming up.”
Notre Dame-West Haven coach Omar Espinosa said the competitive dual meets are important when it comes to improving times and distances, along with getting freshmen familiar with the track meet process.
“You don’t have fans here to motivate you, but it’s helpful to have these dual meets,” said Max Bothwell, a pole vaulter for Notre Dame-West Haven who has committed to Merrimack College. “For the first time in a while you can start posting competitive times and distances on the Internet for college coaches to see.”
Bob Davis, the Floyd Little Athletic Center indoor track coordinator, said all the dual meets in March have run smoothly without any problems.
“It’s been going well with cooperation and support of all the coaches,” Davis said. “A lot of thanks has to go to Erik Patchkofsky who been supportive in allowing us to put everything together so we could have a competitive dual meet season.”