By Ryan Adams ’19 / Sports Information Intern
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – With the Eastern Connecticut State University track and field indoor winter season having been in the books for nearly a month, the Warriors have been gearing up for outdoor competition, which unfolds Saturday at the Ursinus College Invitational at Collegeville, Pa.
Prior to the outdoor season – which consists of five invitational meets prior to the Little East Conference Championships April 27 -- we thought we’d look back upon the indoor season, which wrapped up (for those individuals who did not qualify for New England competition) at the Feb. 16 Little East Conference Championships, where both teams placed fourth out of eight schools. This year’s LEC showing was a big improvement over the span of a year for the men’s team, where last year it placed last in a seven-team field. This year, the women repeated their fourth-place finish of a year ago.
“In general, I thought we had a great indoor season,” says seventh-year head coach Kathy Manizza. “A lot goes into our pre-season; the team bonded with a lot of activities and built a sense of team spirit. Although everyone is competing individually in our sport, we still need to be supporting each other and working together as a team to be successful.”
A lot of great performances came out of this indoor season on both sides. Manizza talks about numerous athletes that exceeded expectations in the indoor season, among them senior Chidebe Ndibe (West Hartford) in the long and triple jumps, juniors Mike Braley (Oxford) and Kevin Russell (Berlin) in the 600, freshman Ryan Escoda (Newtown) in the mile and 3,000 and freshman Christopher Weir (Norwich) in the pole vault. On the women’s side, some names include senior Samantha McKosky (Deep River) in the mile and 4x800, junior Rachel Osak (Portland) completing a hard double in the 5,000 and 3,000, junior Hayley Brodeur (Old Saybrook) in the 400, and freshmen Manar Enany (Fairfield) in the throws.
The cross country team’s No. 1 runner throughout the season, Escoda closed out a great indoor season by running his way to an LEC Rookie-of-Year-Award while posting some of the top times in program history. Some other awards that came out of this season include a few LEC individual champions, including Ndibe in the long jump, McKosky in the mile, and the women’s 4x800 relay of sophomore Lauren Bresson (Roxbury), and seniors Haley Knox (Bristol), Christina Gosselin (Old Saybrook) and McKosky.
Unfortunately, there were some injuries that did occur throughout the season that impacted the team points wise when it came to the championships time of the season. McKosky went down with an injury the month leading up to LEC meet. Unable to run, McKosky was only able to bike, aqua jog and do her rehab so she could come back healthy. Despite that, she was able to pull off a surprising performance for some, as a repeating champion in the mile and being able to anchor the winning 4x800 relay, as well. Injury also hampered a record-breaking freshman season for the men’s team for Rahman Oteng (Accra, Ghana), who went down with a hamstring injury in the middle of the season which kept him out of conference championships. He can be a big part come outdoor season scoring some good points for the team in the sprints. He set the school record (6.96) at the Smith College Pioneer Invitational in the 60.
When asked about injuries that may keep athletes out of outdoor competition Manizza responded that “We’ve really got to protect our sprinters’ hamstrings. It’s such an explosive event. We just have to be careful, warm up really well, do our hard sprints on warm days and protect their legs as much as we can.”
Some athletes have also chosen to sit out the season due to injury, so they can take the time to recover and get back to full health. Those individuals include McKosky (in the outdoor season), sophomore Brian Balkus (Ashford) and freshman Jorich Swift (Mansfield), who both enjoyed productive cross country seasons.
In view of their strong finish (fourth) in the LEC indoor meet, is it possible to expect further improvement outdoors? “I think it’s realistic for the guys,” notes Manizza. “We were missing our freshman sprinter (Oteng), and (graduate student) Nick Afragola (Killingworth), a team captain, didn’t have a great day, so hopefully, he’ll be back on his game for outdoor. With Chidebe jumping stronger and stronger on a weekly basis, we are very excited to see what the men’s team can do,” added Manizza, who believes that the men are capable of moving up to second or third place finish at the outdoor meet.
After losing a number of seniors last year – and with McKosky saving her final outdoor season for 2020, it may be tougher for the women to equal their second-place finish at last year’s outdoor meet, but it is not out of the question. The team has great depth with its roster with multiple athletes in some of the same events. Gosselin, a tri-captain, and junior Samara Johnson (Lebanon) have the ability to make up the points in the mile lost from McKosky’s absence. Coach Manizza mentions that, “hopefully we can stay in that third or fourth spot.”
This weekend the Warriors will be breaking new ground, so to speak, with their visit to the Ursinus Invitational. To make the program’s first regular-season overnight trip in recent memory possible, Manizza noted, “We fundraised to help pay for a meet out of our normal competition (geographic) range. The team wanted to compete against new teams that we don’t see on a weekly basis.”
Having new competition will give team personnel the chance to see where stand among a different group of teams. The Warriors look to make an impact and have some great performance at their first meet of the season at the Ursinus College Outdoor Invitational.