The SIUE track and field teams started their seasons victorious and are looking to continue their success after a nearly month-long break.
The first meet of the season was a dual meet against Southeast Missouri State University Dec. 8, where the Cougars edged out a combined victory of 139-138 behind a strong team effort. It was the first time they had won this meet against SEMO in the school’s history.
Although the women’s team lost individually, the meet displayed noteworthy effort by both teams, with 16 total first place finishes.
The Cougars’ well-rounded roster led them to at least one win in the throws, sprints, jumps, hurdles and distance categories.
Senior hurdler Bobby Kaluza achieved a new personal best and took first place in the 55-meter hurdles event, but said his freshmen teammates really impressed him.
“They’re really hardworking, so they’re really driving everyone else to make sure they stay on their toes and keep putting in the work,” Kaluza said.
Assistant Coach Joey Pacione also said he has been impressed with the new athletes so far.
“We have a few newcomers who seemed right away that they’d make an impact,” Pacione said.
Junior jumper Nichyria Byrd, of Chicago, took first place in the women’s long jump with a leap of 5.83 meters. She said she hopes to stay consistent with her technique throughout the season and continue to improve in her events. As a team, Byrd said everyone will be working toward their individual goals to prepare for the conference meet.
“Everybody just wants to compete better than they did last year and set personal records,” Byrd said.
After the SEMO meet, the team was able to take a few weeks off of practice for winter break, but Pacione said the athletes continued to workout individually. He added that the athletes have already had a large amount of time to practice so far.
“The throwers, jumpers and sprinters get the entire fall to train and prepare, so that’s the one big advantage that the sport of track and field has compared to others. We get a nice, long period to build into training and have uninterrupted periods of time to get better at the sport,” Pacione said.
After the break, the team will have four meets leading up to the conference meet at the end of February.
According to Kaluza, every indoor meet is used as a stepping stone to prepare for the conference championship.
“At each of the meets, [Pacione] might have us doing different events and his mentality is: if you can progress through these different events that he kind of throws you in every now and then, it’ll really prepare you mentally and physically in order to perform the way you need to at conference,” Kaluza said.
Pacione said the team is working toward the indoor conference championship, and he is anticipating some quality performances at the meet, which should lead to better results than previous years.
“For the indoor season, we have a few athletes that should have the opportunity to win conference championships, and hopefully on the back of some of those athletes scoring high in the conference meet, then we can be able to place high as a team,” Pacione said.
For athletes like junior thrower Nick Matthews, defending his conference championship is his final goal for the indoor season.
Matthews placed first in the weight throw last year and hopes to keep that title this year and help secure a conference championship for the team.
“With our throwers getting better, we finally have a relay team. Our sprinters are getting better, and our jumpers getting better … I think, overall, our goal should be to win conference this year,” Matthews said.
The Cougars will continue their indoor season this weekend at the Illinois Open at the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois.