By CATEY McCANN

Staff writer

For many students, winter break is a welcomed pause to relax and shake off the stress of first semester. But for the men’s and women’s track teams it’s a daunting four weeks of individual training in the middle of the season.

Fortunately, neither team seemed to be too thrown off by the rift in the season. Both sides earned a solid fourth-place finish at the Joe Donahue Games in Boston, Mass., on Saturday. The meet featured nine of the top Division I teams in New England.

Looking ahead to conference, both teams agree that this season is all about striking a balance between talented younger athletes and seasoned veterans.

“So far, I think we are where we should be,” said Jim Boulanger, head coach of the men’s team. “We’re a developing team — a mix of seniors and a young group of freshmen and sophomores.”

On the men’s side, it’s athletes like John Prizzi, Kevin Greene and captain Jeff Moretti that Boulanger is looking at to set examples for the younger runners. John Prizzi returns from an All-American season last spring, when he was eighth in the country in the steeplechase. He’ll be focusing on the 3000-meter for this indoor season. Kevin Greene is back in action after a year of redshirting. After a close 4:02 in the mile last year, Boulanger hopes to see him hit the 4-minute mark — the “Holy Grail” for distance runners. Boulanger also said the team has leadership in Moretti, who has run well at the conference level in the 3000-meter.

From the junior class, the team is relying on sprinters Dylan Pelletier and Chris DeCarlo, who both placed top-10 in the 200-meter dash at the Donahue invitational. D’mahl McFadden has also been consistently strong in the hurdles for the team.

Boulanger is looking for big seasons from Drew Piazza, Chris Poggi and Mike Shanahan from the sophomore class. Piazza is returning from an excellent spring and summer when he was sixth in the country in the 800 at Junior Nationals in Eugene, OR. Poggi ran the fifth fastest time ever for the team in the 800 at 1:50. Shanahan, a local athlete from Dover, is currently the second leading thrower in New England.

From the freshman class, Boulanger sees Alex Tamulonis as a standout. The pole-vaulter just missed the freshman school record by two inches after vaulting 15’1” at the home meet on Jan. 17.

“We’ve got a good group coming together and they are finally learning about each other on the team,” said Boulanger. “We’re looking forward to championship season – hopefully we can be ready.”

Similar to the men’s side, the women’s team is learning how to adjust to a young team.

“We have a really big freshman class this year and they’re very talented so we’re trying to keep them healthy and help them adjust to their college track career,” said senior captain Jessica Salley. “I think it’s really been about balancing the veteran talent with the freshmen talent and figuring out how to make that combination useful in a lot of ways.”

Salley is among a handful of talented veterans that will be leading the team this year. Just two meets into the season she set a new school record in the high jump with a jump of 1.71 meters. Anne Twombly has multiple first place finishes and has already run an ECAC Championship qualifying time of 9:55.04 in the 3000 meter. Hurdler Virginia Lavallee and sprinter Morgan Costa continue to be strong leaders for the ‘Cats. 

Lauren Perrodin, Cassie Kruse, Abigail Kaplan and Laura Rose Donegan continue to take top spots for the junior class. Perrodin, a sprinter from Florida, has been leading the team in short sprints since her freshman year. Kruse and Donegan have also been standouts from the distance team since early on – both have already garnered multiple top finishes for the team this season. Abigail Kaplan has been strong in both the shot put and the weight throw, making her one of the top throwers for the Wildcats.

From the sophomore class, it’s Amanda Symanski and Alyson Messina proving to be the top scorers for the team. Messina was a standout sprinter for the ‘Cats in her freshman year, taking top spots in everything from the 400-meter to hurdles to relay teams. Symanski was another strong and consistent freshman last year, and took a top spot in the 1000-meter run at the home meet on Jan. 17.

Freshman Danielle Gajewski already has multiple top finishes to start her career as a Wildcat — including going sub-60 in the 400-meter with a time of 58.70 seconds, qualifying her for the New England Championships. Gina Conti, Kayla Farren, Riley Gilmore and Julia Shorter also prove to be pivotal players for this strong freshman class.

According to Salley, the team is excited about the talent on the team this year and is looking forward to a championship season.

“We have a pretty good team and a lot of people can double and triple in a lot of different areas,” Salley said. “We’re looking forward to conference. I think we have a pretty good shot at placing in the top three – if not higher than that. We have depth this year that I haven’t seen since I’ve been here.”

Moving forward, Boulanger said the teams are looking to shake off the rust from break and the stress from the first week of classes. With strong talent coming from both rookie and veteran athletes, it’s shaping up to be a transformative year.