In the past, the first dozen or so track and field practices of the season have required athletes to wear track shoes – the lightweight running shoes with sharp, little metal spikes on the sole.
Not for speed, really. Just to stay upright on the layer of compact snow and ice that covered the field awaiting the season’s big thaw.
This year the thaw happened so far in the past it’s a distant memory.
Aside from a few late flurries on the first day of practice – a seasonal Post-It note from Mother Nature reminding one and all that it is, officially, still winter – to say that it has been unseasonably warm for the start of spring sports is an understatement.
Warm weather settled into the area throughout much of February. Enthusiastic high school runners have been jogging through neighborhoods and piling up miles and miles of road work for weeks before the actual start of spring turnouts.
“In 30 years of coaching, I don’t remember ever getting this kind of a start to the season,” said East Valley girls track coach Shane Toy. “We have hit the ground running. We’re doing everything. All of our throwers are out throwing; they’re not inside lifting. Our jumpers are out jumping; they’re not inside working on plyometrics.”
Toy said that his athletes were “chomping at the bit” and excited to get outside and get a jump-start on the season.
“We’re young this year,” Toy said. “We lost some great seniors from last year and we have some good, young athletes coming along behind them. I have a great group of freshmen who have never competed in track.”
The head start Toy and his Knights enjoyed last week had a major payoff: being able to put the young freshmen through workouts on the track and being able to identify their strengths. Already the sprinters are working with sprint coaches, middle distance runners are working with their specialist coaches and throwers are into their throws.
That’s about two weeks ahead of any other season.
Simulations are great. And when that’s all you can do because of weather restrictions, it at least moves an athlete forward in their preparation for the first meet of the season. Being able to practice outside, on the track, at the high jump pit and the shot put ring is much better.
When you’re doing the former while warmer areas of the state are doing the latter, you’re steadily falling behind.
This year, across the state, everyone will be on the same page.
“I really think that’s going to make a big difference when we get to big meets like the Pasco Invite,” Toy said. “Before, the teams from the Tri-Cities and Yakima were always a couple weeks ahead of us and we were trying to play catch-up. I think it will be interesting to see what happens this year.”
Putting together a track and field season is a lot like building a house. Before you think about where the ceiling might be, you have to lay a solid foundation.
“That’s just it,” Toy said. “We’re building a wider base for our kids.
“We’re usually trying to push them a little bit as we get ready for the first meet of the season. When it comes to a relay, you’re just hoping you can get the baton around the track. We’re already working on things like that this year. We’re going to be much better prepared for our first meet this year.”
That first meet of the season for East Valley will be the Howard Dolphin West Valley Invitational on March 21.
East Valley has a number of big meets on its schedule and Toy is eager to see how things pan out with everyone on equal footing.
The annual Pasco Invitational, the meet most track enthusiasts look to as a gauge of what to expect at the state meet, is April 18. The annual Mooberry Relays will be April 25. Central Valley brought back the Strandberg Relays last year to rave reviews, and it will be May 2, two weeks before the Class 2A district meet.
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