With less than two weeks of practice under their belts, the young Lakeland Union High School track teams faced their first competition last night with more questions than answers.
For boys’ track coach Kevin FitzPatrick and girls’ track coach Gary Kmiecik, the first few indoor track meets will go a long way in answering the questions they have about their young squads.
“The foundation of our team right now is our sophomores. They’re a really talented group. We have a couple seniors who will help us this year like they did last year and maybe a junior or two,” FitzPatrick said. “But our sophomores are really our core. We really don’t know what our freshmen are like. We’ll see on Thursday.”
He said finding which kids will be able to compete in what events is a season-long challenge.
“It’s a big puzzle and every meet that we’re in is part of that puzzle. We’re going to find kids we knew nothing about who could do something really special. Or we’ll say after Thursday, ‘you need to try this event or that event,’” Fitzpatrick said. “We treat the season as leading up to the (conference) championship. Throughout the season we’re just trying to figure out who goes where, we’re not worried about wins and losses. We’re just trying to put the pieces together to win a conference championship.”
And obviously send as many people to state as possible.
“It’s going to be tough this year, being in D1. This is the smallest this school has been since I’ve been here, but the way the WIAA does things, it’s based on your attendance the year before. This year I think we’re the smallest D1 school and last year we were the biggest D2 school,
Kmiecik, like FitzPatrick, is still getting a rough idea who can do what and is hoping Thursday’s meet will help him make some decisions.
“As far as where some of the girls will go, it all depends on who is healthy. We’re a little dinged up with injuries here or there. I won’t let them compete if they’re hurt. The season is too young and we want to win conference. I think we can finish in the top three, but in my heart, I want to win it. I’m going to do everything I can to win it, but I have to keep the girls healthy,” Kmiecik said Tuesday.
In fact, Kmiecik expected not to have a lot of girls compete Thursday just because of the injuries, many which are lingering from winter sports.
“There will be more that compete at the T-Bird Invite next Saturday,” he said.
Kmiecik said that finding the right balance of players and events is a puzzle.
“It’s like trying to put the right pieces into the puzzle. And it will be that way right up to conference,” he said.
The girls’ team does have a little more talent than in previous years, Kmiecik said.
“We have something we haven’t had much of for a number of years – we have a few kids who can sprint. I’m not saying they’ll be conference champions, but we will be able to compete in relays,” Kmiecik said.
For the girls, repeating their Great Northern Conference title may well hinge on how well the sprinters finish.
“I don’t care at the conference meet if we win first place in the sprinting events, the 100, the 200, the 400, the 4x100, the 4x200 or the 4x400, as long as we can place. If we can finish in the top three or four, I’m happy then because we’re getting points,” Kmiecik said.
For FitzPatrick, the first meet will be a chance to see how well his athletes are in shape.
“The first meet always comes up way too fast. A lot of these kids are coming off winter sports, they’re coming off hockey or basketball, so that definitely helps. The ones who took the winter off, to come in and have a meet seven or eight days in is a pretty tough thing. But, again, we look at the long haul and where we want to be in May and June,” Fitzpatrick said.
Overall, FitzPatrick is content with the number of athletes who have tried out this year.
“We’ve got some pretty good numbers this year. We’ve had teams in the 50s, this year we are in the high 30s. It seems we have a pretty committed group this year, so that’s exciting,” he said.
In distance events, FitzPatrick can tap into a talented cross country squad who will make the team competitive at the longer distances.
For the Lady T-Bird athletes, Kmiecik said it’s still too early to tell who will fit where.
“We have transfer students and freshmen, but I think we can compete. We only have eight returning letter winners and 24 girls came out, so this will be a rebuilding year,” Kmiecik said.
Both coaches wanted to single out the assistant coaches who help hone the team’s edge in practice.
“You can have 200 kids on your team, but without assistant coaches, what good are they? We’ve got good assistant coaches, our strength is our assistant coaches,” Kmiecik said.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.