They had to deal with losing key players to injuries.
They had to deal with not having an indoor practice facility.
In fact, their only solace has been training on the outdoor track in often unpredictable weather.
And yet, this Hilltopper track team has remained close, ignoring the negatives and focusing more on the positives.
The men and women of the team kept a strong relationship — traveling together, eating together and practicing together. On top of that, they were supportive of each other, choosing to give out suggestions to enhance teammates’ performances, rather than criticizing them.
When the Hilltoppers face their Sun Belt counterparts at the championships tomorrow and Saturday in Jonesboro, Ark., they’ll keep that same mentality — as a team.
While it is every team’s dream to come out of the conference tournament No. 1, both the men and women are only concerned with each performer doing their personal best.
“We’re keeping with our overall philosophy: going out there to compete well and being prepared for our best effort,” head coach Curtiss Long said.
With the coaching staff and performers’ support and encouragement, it was easy for the athletes to do their best and improve each meet.
Take sophomore sprinter Brad Eickhoff, for example. In the last meet of the season, Eickhoff had his best performance as he recorded personal bests in the 55-meter dash and the 200-meter dash. At the end of the season, Eickhoff was a Top 10 performer in three categories.
Junior Matt Moore earned his first Sun Belt Field Performer of the Week last week when he had his personal best jump in the pole vault.
Freshmen thrower Kristo Galeta and sprinter Shanea Wilson also made it possible for the Hilltoppers to fare well in the conference.
Of course, consistent performers such as junior Jonathon Brown, sophomore Raigo Toompuu and the distance triple threat consisting of senior Olga Cronin, sophomore Cara Nichols and sophomore Bonita Paul were a huge factor to the team, but it was the “bubble” people who solidified Western’s run as tough competitors in the Sun Belt.
“It’s not like running offense or making your blocks,” Long said. “We’re looking at individual performance and have begun to see progress in people. ‘Bubble’ people have improved their performances, which is an indication that they are on the brink of running very well (in the championship).”
Long is confident that his team will do well in the championship, but he is unsure whether the men can top their second-place performance last season.
“It’s hard to do better, but our goals remain the same and will perform at a high level and find out what places us,” he said.
After placing fourth in the championship, the women’s distance team will give them a push.
“We should do well because we have some runners to help out,” Nichols said. “We could be top three this year.”
With Middle Tennessee State having to prepare on its indoor track and Arkansas State being the host team of the championship, Long said that they are a couple of teams to watch.
“Having that said,” he added, “I feel that our team is pretty well prepared.”
Reach Amber North at [email protected]