Eddie Arnold used to have a temperature rule when it came to the outdoor practices he conducted for his Southampton girls winter track and field team. If the thermometer dipped below 32 degrees, he’d take the team inside the school and have them do workouts on the stairs, run the hallways, or do strength and conditioning training in the weight room.
That won’t be happening this year.
It’s one of many things that is radically different about the 2021 high school winter track season, a show that will try its best to go on in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While basketball players and wrestlers are still indefinitely sidelined because they are deemed “high-risk” sports, track, swimming and bowling teams were given the green light to conduct their seasons, and started practice on January 4.
Typically, winter track meets are conducted indoors on the weekends, with meets at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood that usually feature a large number of teams from across the county. To mitigate the COVID-19 risk, all meets will be conducted outdoors this season, and in a style more similar to the spring track season, with only two or three teams present at each weekend meet.
Practicing outdoors won’t necessarily be anything new for the teams, but the removal of the option to go indoors on occasion and to compete indoors means the athletes and coaches have to be even more adaptable than ever when it comes to both preventing injury and tempering expectations.
Arnold, who has been at the helm of the girls winter and spring track programs for many years, said he has a simple philosophy for this unprecedented season.
“It’s about the athletes first, and winning second,” he said. “We just have to be very thankful that we can be out here. It’s not about us and our egos, it’s about the children.”
In a normal season, Arnold, like most coaches, would try to strategically place his top performers in multiple events to maximize scoring opportunities in an attempt to win the meet. Asking certain athletes to do multiple events, or, for instance, expecting one distance runner to run both the mile and 2-mile race, isn’t likely to happen this season, he said.
Instead, Arnold said he will try to have the athletes simply focus on personal improvement in their events from week to week.
“I want the kids to be competitive within themselves, and not put pressure on them to win,” he said.
Despite the many changes, which of course includes mask requirements and social distancing, Arnold said the athletes are happy to be donning multiple layers of spandex and cold weather gear and getting their heart rates up, even on days when the now defunct temperature rule would have sent them indoors.
“The girls are into it,” Arnold said. “They’re out there in the cold, but morale is up and they’re following all the guidelines.”
Because he is trying to focus on personal improvement for each athlete, Arnold declined to name specific students who he expects to lead the team this year. As of earlier this week, Arnold had 18 girls who had come out for the team, but he expected more to join and said he welcomes anyone, regardless of their experience or fitness level.
Tony Dottin is once again leading the boys team. Senior Griffin Schwartz is the team’s captain this year, and will be strong in the 600- and 3,200-meter races. Dottin also expects junior Billy Malone to be strong in the middle and longer distance races, and said junior Harrison Gavalas and sophomore Evan Simioni would lead the team in the 55-meter dash and the 300-meter race. Schwartz, Malone, Gavalas, and Maxwell Murch will team up to make a strong 4×400-meter relay team.
Southampton is set to start the season with a dual meet at Center Moriches on Saturday, January 17, at 11 a.m. The boys will host Babylon on the same day at the same time.
Hampton Bays and Westhampton Beach
The Lady Baymen, under the guidance of head coach Kevin O’Toole, will kick off the season with a road trip to Elwood/John Glenn High School in East Northport on Saturday at 11 a.m.
O’Toole will rely primarily on four seniors and a junior to lead the team this year. Seniors Heilyn Ovares and Cassidy Moore will stand out in the 300-meter race, while senior Adasha Lopez will compete in the 55-meter dash, and senior Saorla Scully’s top event is the high jump. Junior Sam Coulton will focus on the shot put.
The boys team, led by Andrew Arbocus, will start the season at home against Glenn on Saturday at 11 a.m.
For Westhampton Beach, second-year captain and senior Jake Mecca, whose premier event is the shot put and discus, will lead the boys team. Head coach Jack Ryan said Mecca has “led by example,” and commended him for helping guide some of the younger athletes through a season with unprecedented challenges. Junior Gavin Ehlers and sophomore Maximus Haynia give the Hurricanes two strong distance runners, and Ryan expects continued leadership from them in that area as well.
For the girls team, several strong athletes return, including seniors Maureen Duffy and Jackie Amato, two lacrosse standouts who will help the track team score points in the long and middle distance races. Anabel Vellosa will be another reliable performer in middle distance races, while Valarie Finke will specialize in sprints. Oceane Ode, who has been a top performer for the indoor and outdoor track team for the past few years, is skipping the indoor season.
The boys will start the season at home on Saturday at 11 a.m. against Rocky Point, while the girls will visit Rocky Point on the same day at the same time.
For East Hampton girls track coach Yanina Cuesta, practicing outdoors in the cold isn’t necessarily the biggest challenge — it’s finding a way to conduct practice safely and in accordance with the new guidelines that has required some extra creativity.
During the first week of practice, Pierson athletes Penelope Green and Hannah Ramundo were unable to attend practice because their district was in virtual mode for the week. This week, the scenario was flip-flopped, as Pierson students returned to in-person instruction while East Hampton went virtual for the week. Cuesta tried to set up a “virtual” workout, but ran into some difficulties, unable to combine athletes from two districts into a single meeting. Despite those early challenges, Cuesta is happy to have a season with the team, and is eager to get the entire squad together on the track next week.
“I expect good things from all the girls that have come out,” she said of her squad, which counts 14 girls. “They’ve all progressed so much in just the first week.”
East Hampton will start the season on January 23 at Kings Park at 11 a.m. The boys team will visit Sayville on January 17 at 11 a.m. for their first meet.