If one is looking for an example of how much the COVID-19 pandemic has affected high school sports, one only need look at where the Manchester Essex winter track teams are at this point in time.
The Hornets normally begin their season before the holidays, near the start of the winter season. Practices and meets are held indoors – which is more than reasonable for a season that carries through into January and February.
This school year has completely changed the game for the winter track teams. Safety concerns pushed the teams’ season to the spring – the Hornets began regular season in earnest on March 29 against Ipswich – and also relocated them from the MERHS gym to the track outside. As a result, the indoor, winter track team is currently in the midst of a spring season that will be held outdoors.
With this in mind, Hornet co-coaches Nelson Desilvestre and Mark Dawson rallied the troops for an outdoor warm-up session the Saturday before the season opener against the Tigers. According to the coach, it was time well-spent.
“I felt we had a good turnout on [that] Saturday,” says Desilvestre. “The kids were impressed at what a track looked like up close and personal, and there were several athletes who broke in their spikes and were amazed at the difference the shoes made when they were running. It was a cool and very windy day. That coupled with nerves and general emotional stress that accompanies the first meet, I think it helped a little. The weather was a factor in terms of performances, but it wasn't outrageous.”
While the practice session was helpful, it also didn’t hurt that the team had a longer run-up time to the regular season than usual. This could prove to be beneficial going forward due to a shorter season and a more compact schedule.
“We usually run seven dual meets with one meet a week,” explains Desilvestre. “This year, we are only running five with two meets a week so now we are extremely compact. Also, under a normal year, we would only have 10-12 days of practice before our first meet, whereas this year it was five weeks. We were able to do more learning about baton handoffs and starting blocks. Also, we were able to get more training in without the rush of condensing things to fit in to a 10-day window.”
Both teams fell to the Tigers in the season opener but rebounded two days later to pick up their first victories of the season against Essex Tech: The boys team won, 59-24, while the girls won by a score of 41-33.
"I think 48 hours made a world of difference,” says Desilvestre. “We were more relaxed and understanding what was going on. Also, the competition was quite different. Ipswich is well-balanced, has some very good senior leadership and good coaching. It was a tough first competition to have, which is why we were happy with our performances. [Against Essex Tech], we showed that we have a lot of talent, versatility and incredible upside. There were a lot of excellent performances today.”
Eli Heanue was a double-winner for the boys, winning the mile with a time of 5:03.1 and high jump (5-feet, 4-inches). Wil Kenney won the 2-mile, Logan Patrick took the 600 (1:34.1), Jack Connor won the 300 (40.5), Fin O'Hara finished first in the 1000 (2:59.4) and Josef Vytopil was victorious in the shot put.
Second-place finishers included Nate Gardner in the hurdles (10.5), Cormac Edgerton in the mile (5:03.3), Cameron Light in the 600 (1:40.0) and Jack Newton in the 1000 (3:04.1). Josef Vytopil was third in the 55 (7.5)
Finishing in first for the girls’ team were Amy Vytopilova in the 300 (47.6), Mackay Brooks in the mile (6:15.5), Caroline MacKinnon in the 600 (1:54.6), Caelie Patrick in the 1000 (3:34.3) and Olivia Turner in the 2-mile). Maddie Curran was second in the hurdles (12.2), with other second-place finishes coming from Isabella Hadaegh in the 300 (48.5) and Sienna Crocker in the 600 (1:56.6). Third-place finishes came from Mercedes O'Neil and Liv Cahill in the 55 (8.0, tie) and Anya Bixby in the 1000 (3:46.7).
The Hornets were up by three heading into the final relay event, with the foursome of MacKinnon, Patrick, Sienna Corcker and Vytopilova finishing with a time of 4:48.3 to lock up the win.
"I would have to say that Caroline MacKinnon had the most impressive performance of the day in the 600,” explains Desilvestre. “Amy Vytopilova ran a strong 300, Caelie Patrick and Mackay Brooks looked strong. I give kudos to our seniors, Maddie Curran and Olivia Turner, for being great team members and going out to do events to help the team win. Without their efforts, the result could have been quite different. The same holds true for Nate Gardner for attempting the hurdles and giving us points. I also give high marks to Jack Morgan, Logan Patrick, and Fin O'Hara for their performances as well."
The track teams were slated to face off with Lynnfield on April 5, Amesbury on April 8 and Hamilton-Wenham on April 12.
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The MERHS winter track team held its first ever outdoor meet against Ipswich on March 29. The girls team lost 62-19, while the boys lost 52-29. While both teams suffered losses, there were plenty of encouraging performances to go around.
“On the boys’ side, we had a double winner in Eli Heanue, who was best in the high jump (5-feet, 2-inches) and the two-mile, which was not only a personal record, but also a top-10 all-time performance with a time of 11:10.4,” explains Desilvestre. “Cormac Edgerton smashed the freshman two-mile record with a time of 11:12.0 while coming in second. Wil Kenney was an easy winner in the mile (4:36.2) which was our only other win.”
Other key performances for the boys’ squad include James Wendell finishing second in the 600 (1:33.2) and Patrick Logan finishing second in the 1000 with a personal record (PR) of 3:03.1. A number of Hornets posted personal records and finished third in their events, including Emerson Kahle in the 55 (7.0), Fin O'Hara in the mile (5:16.8), Jack Connor in the 300 (41.0) and Charlie Lations in the 1000 (3:05.5). Josef Vytopil was third in the shotput with a measurement of 30 feet, while Nate Gardner and Sammy Heanue set personal records in the 600 (1:44.2) and shot (26-feet, 4-inches), respectively.
There were also impressive performances put in by members of the girls track team.
“On the girls’ side, we had freshman Caelie Patrick win the 600 (1:55.4) and fellow freshman Mackay Brooks win the 1000 (3:42.8),” says Desilvestre. “Our lone second came from Olivia Turner in the mile (6:31.1), while her sister Whitney picked up third (7:09.3, a personal record). Maddie Curran scored her first varsity points in the hurdles with a third-place time of 11.5.”
Other third-place finishers included freshman Mercedes O'Neil the 55 (7.9, a top-10 performance), Isabella Hadaegh in the 300 (48.3), freshman Anya Bixby in the 600 (2:08.6) and freshman Sienna Crocker in the 1000 (3:51.1).
Desilvestre states that he hopes this meet was a jumping off point for a young, inexperienced group as they prepared for the rest of the schedule.
“I am hoping that this was a launching point,” says the coach. “Now that we have set standards and a base, we can establish goals for the athletes to meet, and hopefully surpass.”