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Anatomy of a track meet: Inside the Joe Banks Invitational

ONU hosted the Joe Banks Invitational on Saturday in the ONU Sports Center Field House. (Northern Review photo/Dan Knapinski)

Overlooking the Joe Banks Invitational in the ONU Field House on Saturday, things may have looked a little out of place if you’ve never seen a track meet before. The event itself pays tribute to 1941 graduate, assistant football and head track coach Joe Banks, who passed away in 2007. Banks’ memory is well-served on a day where 500 athletes take to the track. Josh Colbert (2nd from left) is recognized for his long jump national championship. (ONU Sports Information photo/JoseNogueras)

The ceremonies began with honoring last year’s national high jump champion, Ohio Northern’s Josh Colbert, who set a school record on his clinching jump last spring. More school records would go down from all teams competing at the invite. For ONU’s track & field athletes, it was nothing new.

“Prepping for this meet is a week-long project. We have to get the facility ready, the timing system ready and extra workers for the events that happen throughout the day. We complete much of the set up the night before, so the morning of is just putting the finishing touches on the meet,” said Head Coach Jason Maus.

The long jump pit is in the northeast corner, high jump mats go to the south end, pole vault is on the west side nearly touching the track and throwing events are smack dab in the middle on the north end. Oh, and everyone has to be careful not to get run over by the runners coming around the track either in races or warming up for events.

There are a lot of moving pieces to track & field meet, but inside in a confined area presents many more problems. How do athletes get and stay focused while so many different things are going on around them?

“You’d be surprised how little impact all the other events and people has on you when you’re in the zone," said junior Gabby Heck. "Once I’m in my mindset to compete I stay there. Even if I stop for a second to cheer on a teammate or have people screaming all around me I’m always able to get my head back where it needs to be when I step on the [pole vault] runway."

Senior distance runner Julie Puvogel adds; “Once people start competing, it becomes easier to focus because reality sets in and you realize your race is coming sooner rather than later.”

“It definitely isn't difficult for [Coaches] Maus and Gnatt to stay focused. They love what they do and get pumped when we perform well. They literally eat, sleep, and breathe track and field. Sometimes just watching them watch teammates do well gets you pumped and focused for your event,” said junior distance runner Margaret Sorg of how the coaching staff prepares.   

“Even though there is so much going on, the energetic atmosphere is really what helps keep my mind on competing,” said senior Catie Huber. Huber broke the school record in the 1000-meter run, finishing the race in 2:59.50 on Saturday; she was focused.

Although you stand with the other spectators, a nice mix of students and parents, you can clearly make out the cheering of those on the infield in the track. Cheering on teammates is just a small part of the team atmosphere that the meet provided on Saturday, as both men’s and women’s teams placed first among the dozen teams in Ada.

“Cheering your teammates is one of the most important things about the day besides your actual event. Cheering helps so much when you start slowing down or foul on a jump or throw. Just knowing that your teammates are there supporting you and interested in how you do makes you want to run faster, jump higher or longer or throw farther. Showing support brings the team together which is super important in track and field because there are so many different types of events,” added Sorg.

ONU posted several top finishers on Saturday, including:

-Freshman Matt Molinaro won the 800-meter in 1:55.58, marking the second-fastest time in ONU history.

-Sophomore Kase Schalois won the 5000-meter run in 15:49.21.

-Freshman Brandon Emert won the 500-meter run in 1:09.15.

-Senior Phil Farwig won the weight throw with a throw of 55 feet 1.5 inches.

-The team of Emert, senior Jon Roseler, freshman Conner Karg and senior James Rader won the 4x400-meter relay in 3:36.67.

-Senior Catie Huber finished first in the 1000-meter run, setting a new school record in the process.

-Senior Gabby Metzner earned first place in the 60-meter run with a time of 9.17 seconds.

-Freshman Kelly Andrews placed first in the weight throw with a toss of 49-09.75

-Freshman Emily Richards took first place in the 800-meter run, finishing the race in 2:20.53.

-Sophomores Rebecca Carman placed first in the long jump. Carman's leap was measured at 17-02.00.

Coaches seemed pleased with the performance of the team and the event as a whole this weekend, as this is the first of two home meets for the Polar Bears. The second is a last chance meet to qualify for nationals on March 7. The team will also host an outdoor invitational in mid-April.

“When I get done with a jump I immediately look for Coach Gantt. There may only be a few words said between us, but I know exactly what I need to do to improve on my next jump,” junior Julie Amos said of the communication between coaches and athletes.

“When you only have brief meeting periods with athletes, it is important to get across exactly what you mean in a timely manner. For me, athletes may have several technical issues, but I try to pinpoint the one to fix that will promote optimal performance, as well as create some excitement and pump them up for the event. However, I always try to waste as little preparation time as possible, so I get across the need to know information for improvement, and then I let them do the rest,” added assistant coach Kyle Armstrong on what he tries to communicate to athletes.

Trying to see every event at a meet is next to impossible, with your eyes darting across the entire room to catch runners doing their thing, jumping events and throwers flexing their muscle as well. Just as you watch a high jump event, you catch a sprinter out of the corner of your eye or a weight throw go up in the air. The starting gun for running events also gives you a heart attack nearly every time when you forget that it’s coming.

For the Polar Bears, this event was a step in the right direction for the remainder of the indoor season.

“Practice is all about learning, just like the classroom. Meets are like tests. There is nothing more exciting than watching hard work blossom into improvement. The athletes know immediately when it clicks. When they are excited and happy with what they have done, so am I,” said Coach Casey Gantt.

The Polar Bears passed this test with first place finishes for both the men’s and women’s team, but another test awaits next weekend at the All-Ohio Championships.

Senior Jon Roseler said, “When we show up to practice on Monday we are focused on the next meet.”

The only thing faster than these ONU runners is the time they spend reflecting on the previous meet. Onto the next one.

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