Track looks to hit the ground running

Published by Joe Skillicorn, Date: April 14, 2022
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Slippery Rock women’s and men’s track teams will look to add new personal bests to their records as they begin to move towards the business end of the season, starting with a visit to Bucknell University on Thursday.

Coach John Papa, who will step down at the end of season, has been impressed with what he has seen from his athletes so far in the outdoor portion of their season.

“We are really excited because many of our athletes are achieving personal bests and competing at a very high level,” Papa noted.

Papa is also quick to praise The Rock’s strength in depth for both the men’s and women’s teams, believing it is an advantage they hold over other programs.

“On the national level, our throwing on both the men’s and the women’s has been very good; That area is particularly strong,” Papa mentioned. “In terms of conference, we have some athletes looking to score some points in the distance running, sprints, hurdles and jumps.

“We are a very well-rounded team [as] some other programs only have athletes good in a handful of events, [where] we have good quality athletes in nearly every area.”

As The Rock enters a number of big competitions coming up at the end of April, Papa is looking for big characters who can guide some of the younger athletes. He is confident that fifth year senior Dalton Anderson can live up to the task.

“He’s been competing in the heptathlon but his main focus now is the javelin,” Papa said. “He’s going to be right at the top of the conference and more than likely he will make the cut and make it to the national championships.”

Papa continued by sharing that “[Anderson] provides a lot of great leadership.”

“He’s a fifth-year senior athlete so he has that extra sense of maturity,” Papa said. “That’s definitely rubbing off on the younger athletes.”

Due to Papa being in his last year as head coach of both track teams, recruiting has shaped up differently this year, with Papa being more focused only on the distance running with other events being handled by assistant coaches Bill Jordan and Tabitha Bemis. Despite continuing to be successful, Papa notes that things haven’t been so easy as they have been in previous seasons recruiting.

“I am continuing to recruit distance runners, but it is difficult,” Papa shared. “We have a nice group of distance runners coming in to bolster what we already have [and] we’re going to be ok there.

“[However] I am glad they were not all like this, as this was not as productive as it usually has been.”

Both track teams travelled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina over spring break to take part in competition. Papa believes through participating, his team have been given an edge moving in to the latter stages of the season.

“Sometimes it takes one or two competitions to get in the groove,” Papa said. “We were able to get that first one out of the way early on so we could have our meets back here and really look to hit the ground running.”

The Rock is set to compete at Bucknell University over the weekend. The men’s track team will send 26 athletes to participate while the women will send 31 athletes. Dan Hyatt, Bryan Dworek and Taye Lynch will all be looking to impress, while senior Jason Goodman will compete in his first decathlon.

On the track for the men’s team, Brenden Lewis and Devon Navaroli will both participate and be looking to score highly for The Rock. Lewis currently ranks 2nd in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) in the 110-meter hurdles while Naravoli currently ranks 5th in the 1,500 meters.

In the women’s events, Marianne Abdalah, Morgan Donatelli and Rachel Veneziano will all participate on the track, hoping to continue their fine form. However, all eyes will be on Skylar Sherry, Cecily Greggs and Trinity Clark. All three athletes are currently ranked in the top 16 nationally in their chosen events.

Clark, a senior from Kane, Pennsylvania has overseen an impressive outdoor season so far, including bettering the NCAA provisional qualifying time. However, Papa is keen to make sure things are not taken out of context early on.

“When you compete at a high level, you are not going to be at your best every single time [and] the weather also has a lot to with our sport,” Papa shared.

There will be mixed feelings for athletes and supporters come the end of the season, as Papa will finally say farewell to the track after a staggering 35 years of coaching at Slippery Rock University. However, there is also an air of excitement around the athletic department as a new face will look to be appointed. Despite the length of Papa’s stint and his accolades to show, Papa however insists he will have no say over who his successor will be.

“I have no jurisdiction over who will or won’t be hired,” Papa said. “I’m out of the loop, but I am confident the committee will make a great choice on the next person to be hired and to represent the track teams here at Slippery Rock University.”

Both the men’s and women’s track teams will be in action when they host the all-day invitational at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium on April 21. The PSAC championships begin on May 12, while the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) division II national championships get underway on May 26 in Allendale, Michigan, running through to May 28.

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