Women’s track and field is kicking off its season with a fresh group of runners and an exciting racing schedule. This season, head coach Jake Stewart is focusing on individual achievements, in addition to team goals.
“A big priority for us in both seasons is just accumulating personal bests," Stewart said. "We kind of go into each season with an idea of how many we would like to get as a program.”
Stewart said in conjunction with personal improvements this season, a team goal is to send athletes to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Austin, Texas, in June.
“I'm excited to see what the group looks like that gets to the first round of the NCAA West Preliminary Round," Stewart said. "I think we'll have some athletes there. And that's a big step for us.”
Stewart has been the head coach of cross country, as well as track and field, for two years and has found his coaching groove.
“At this point last year, we were still trying to figure ourselves out, in terms of the relationship that we have as a program with a new coach, what the training looks like and how it's supposed to feel,” redshirt junior Aimee Piercy said.
Piercy, whose primary event is the 3,000-meter steeplechase, is eyeing individual improvement this spring.
“I'm always trying to push my limits and see how good I can be,” Piercy said. “I think that's what I really look forward to in racing and competing, is just trying to better myself, setting those high goals and striving to achieve them.”
The runners’ training regimens are individualized, with different workouts for specific events. Stewart said this means groups can train together while others train on their own.
“We've put an emphasis on pre- and post-run work, warming up, cooling down. We have a really good strength coach that we get a lot of work done with,” Stewart said. “So, other than that, just going out and running, we're trying to do things that we can do within reason to keep ourselves healthy.”
The training process has produced steady success for the program during each of Stewart's seasons.
“We saw [improvement] through our three seasons last year, cross country and indoor and outdoor, and there was gradual progression every season,” Stewart said. “I think that's still the case, but I think the expectations of what our improvement wants to look like has changed dramatically.”
For example, Stewart said last weekend's meet at University of Washington had four runners in attendance; the year before, there was one.
“We'll find little victories like that when it comes to the week-to-week competitive part of the season,” Stewart said. “It's very gradual. It's very pragmatic.”
Runners like Piercy have already set more than one major goal for the season.
“I just want to continue to improve looking forward," Piercy said. "I just missed the regional meet last year in the steeplechase, so I’m definitely aiming to go to that this year."
The 2020 rendition of these Zags is young, and the large class of freshman runners changes the team dynamic. Piercy said the new group of athletes is a positive.
“I think they really brought in a lot of new energy into the program,” Piercy said. “I think they've kind of rejuvenated us in a way because they're really excited to get out there and compete.”
Stewart said this year’s class of seniors is well-rounded and its leadership is essential for such a young team.
“They are a very thoughtful group, I don't think that there's any randomness to them,” Stewart said. “They put a lot of thought into what they want to say and how they want to carry themselves in their leadership positions. That's important when you have a very young team.”
Specific members of the team will travel to upcoming races in California,and a small group will visit the Penn Relays in Philadelphia this spring for the first time in program history.
With a variety of out-of-state meets, personal goals and opportunities to make it to nationals, women’s track and field has plenty of aspirations for the upcoming spring season.