LEXINGTON, Va. — Entering the 2018-19 season, the Washington and Lee men's track and field team is in the unique situation of attempting to defend one conference title, while trying to regain one that was lost last season.
The Generals have won two straight Indoor ODAC Championships, after claiming the 2018 title by four points, but the squad ended up 16 points shy of winning its second consecutive outdoor championship last spring.
W&L had 16 newcomers on the 2017-18 roster, and Norris T. Aldridge Men's Track and Field Head Coach Brandon Uhl believes a key to this season's success will be the extra year of experience from that group.
"Our sophomores this year should have a better understanding of how long the season really is," Uhl said. "That group was a bit stronger during the indoor season, and now should be in a better place to perform at a high level all the way through the end of outdoor season."
A crucial part of any sustained growth by a group or individuals comes down to the leaders on that team. The Generals' captains this year, seniors Cooper Baird and Drew Pranka, and juniors Donovan Fiore and Jay Roberts, are primed and ready to help this team achieve its goals of winning two ODAC Championships and sending individuals to the NCAA Championships.
"Our captains each have very different strengths, and this allows us to implement things at a faster pace," Uhl explained. "They are able to show the rest of the team how you need to work every single day, and really, that has been a trend for us over the last 3-4 years with our captains."
This group of captains not only has the leadership qualities a coach wants to see, but has also performed at the highest levels during championship meets.
Pranka will anchor the hurdles for W&L, and he enters the season holding the school record in the 60m hurdles (8.45) and the 400m hurdles (53.50). He has also earned All-ODAC laurels seven times (including five runner-up finishes) in his career and all-region accolades three times. Pranka has also scored in the pole vault five times in his three years.
"Drew is such a staple for us in the hurdles and the pole vault, but we also have sophomore Jack Teagle coming back in the shorter hurdles, senior Albert Del Cristo in the long hurdles, and first-years Joe O'Connor and Dalton Grauer will look to have an impact in those events," Uhl stated.
Teagle made an impression in a variety of events in his first year on the team, as he earned All-ODAC laurels in the indoor high jump by taking second at the ODAC Championship. At theoutdoor meet, he scored in the high jump (seventh), 110m hurdles (seventh) and as a member of the 4x100m relay that finished third.
The high jump has the potential to be one of the strongest field events for the Blue and White, as sophomore's Ellis Robinson and Daniel Kuntz return in the event. Kuntz garnered Third Team All-ODAC laurels in the indoor high jump in 2018 and finished fifth in the event at the outdoor championship.
Robinson was ninth in the high jump at both the indoor and outdoor championships, but scored in the long jump at both meets. Sophomore Josh Breece will be looked on to have more of an impact in the long and triple jumps, as he took eighth in the triple at the outdoor championship in his first season.
"Our core group in the jumps has an opportunity to put up a lot of points at the conference meets," Uhl noted. "And then adding O'Connor in the vertical jumps and first-year Nick Greenberg in the horizontal jumps should just make us that much stronger."
The throwing events, specifically during the indoor season, won't bring as much experience back as the jumping events, but is still headlined by Roberts, a two-time All-ODAC honoree and a recipient of all-region laurels
"Roberts serves as the centerpiece, in both indoors and outdoors, for our throwers," Uhl said. "But we will also have a couple other guys we will try to work in to some events such as seniors Max Schlott and Alex Cantrell in the javelin."
Fiore is the top sprinter returning to the team, having earned six All-ODAC citations last season, including two wins in the 4x400m relay as the anchor leg, and then four runner-up finishes in the indoor and outdoor 200m and the indoor and outdoor 400m.
"Fiore has been a staple in the sprints for us each of his first two years and will look to continue that this season," Uhl explained. "With Fiore as our anchor, our 4x400 relay team, whatever group that ends up being, has a goal this year to try and qualify for nationals, whether that be indoors or outdoors."
The sprints group also has senior Carter Huffman, who Uhl described as being a consistent presence for the team all four years. Huffman returns after scoring in the 400m at both the indoor and outdoor championships last season, as well as being on the winning 4x400m relays.
Sophomores Micah Wilson and Alexander Caines were the other two legs of the first-place finishing relays, and with a year under their belts, are looking to contribute more points this season in the individual sprints.
"Wilson has a chance to add some more points to the team this year. We've seen early signs of improvement from him this fall," Uhl stated. "We also add two talented first years to mix in the short sprints in Anthony Kim and Doug Dracon. In the longer sprints, Caines will extend out to the 800m and will be joined by sophomores Danner Butler and Miles Oliver, along with some of the runners coming over from the cross country team."
On the distance side of things, the W&L cross country team just won its fourth straight ODAC title this past October and those 12 runners are looking to extend that success over to the track this winter and spring.
"We always rely a lot on our distance group to get a large number of points for us," Uhl noted. "A healthy Baird could really give us a big boost, as we didn't really have him last year. So being able to bring him back to what we already have from that crew could be huge."
Baird only competed at one outdoor meet last season, taking seventh in the 800m at the ODAC Championship, and did not compete at the indoor conference meet. But he's just a year removed from taking second in the 800m and third in the 1,500m at the 2017 Outdoor ODAC Championship.
Along with Baird in the mix, seniors Alex Dolwick and Hank Patrick, and junior Austin Kinne each received All-ODAC accolades last season for their Top 3 finishes in various events at the conference championships.
Sophomores Daniel Cope and Freddie Marx, and first-year Ethan Bernstein each earned All-ODAC honors in cross country this fall, and first-year Drew Woodfolk garnered all-region laurels. With that group, along with seniors Joe Carmody and Patrick Hunter, sophomore Christian Hanna and first-year Nick Watson, the Generals will look to have multiple point scorers in each distance event this season.
All told, the Blue and White enters the season with 35 athletes on the roster, which is close to the size coach Uhl thinks is the best for his program.
"Having a roster of around 40 is the ideal number, as long as the quality of those 40 is high and we have the right event balance," Uhl explained. "Ultimately, we want a large percentage of our roster to be in position to score points for the team at the conference championship."
The race for two more ODAC Championships begins this weekend, as the Generals open the season at the Roanoke Bast-Cregger Invitational on Friday and Saturday.
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