NORTON, MA- With a core group of experienced athletes returning, Wheaton College men's track & field co-head coaches Marc Mangiacotti and Paul Souza look for veteran leadership to bring the team together and produce what could be one of the top teams in Division III during the 2010 seasons.
"The upperclassmen set the tone for the team, so it's tremendously important to have the younger athletes looking up to them," said Souza, now in his 16th year guiding the program. "Coaches can try to manufacture enthusiasm, but it really comes from the older guys. If they impart that in the younger athletes, some really amazing things can happen. We've had less talented teams place as high as fourth at the NCAA Championship, so these guys could be in the top five if everyone performs at the level they're capable of."
A school-record seven student-athletes competed at the NCAA outdoor meet last spring, and six of those Lyons return. The squad also sent a pair of relay quartets to the championship for the first time. As recently as 2005, the team carried 14 athletes, a number that has more than doubled this year to 29, and the foundation appears to be in place for successful campaigns, according to the coaches.
"The expectation is to get as many people to nationals as humanly possible, and there's no reason why we can't have more than we did last year," said Mangiacotti, who begins his second year as a head coach and his sixth overall. "The guys feel exactly the same way." Mangiacotti said he hopes the leaders of the team are able to impart to the younger athletes the importance of performing at a high level not only during the regular season but also come time for the NCAA Championship. Noted Souza, "Once you get there, anything can happen."
Mangiacotti and Souza are joined on their staff by 11th-year assistant coach Paul Carr, who is also the school's head cross country coach, and first-year assistant Ed Delgado, who was Bridgewater State College's head coach for 23 years until 2007. Delgado, who was Mangiacotti's college coach, has put his broad knowledge of the sport to work in a multitude of areas, and Souza appreciates the opportunity to have him on staff. "Having Ed Delgado here as an assistant coach is a huge benefit to the program. He brings a wealth of knowledge, and I love working with him. It's an honor to have him in this program."
A trio of senior captains will be looked toward for leadership in 2010, with Merzudin Ibric (Revere, MA/Phillips Academy) and Howard Powell (Brooklyn, NY/Boys and Girls) each serving their second stint and pole vaulter Michael Latner (Torrance, CA/West) earning the honor in just his third year at Wheaton.
"What we do is look for people that lead with a hard-work ethic and communicate well; carry themselves very well on and off the track; do well in the classroom; do well on the track, in practice and at meets," said Mangiacotti. "Those are the type of people we want being leaders here because they lead people in the right direction. You don't have to score points at big meets to be a leader and have the team's respect."
Ibric has qualified for all-conference laurels five times as a sprinter, played a role in a pair of school marks last spring, and competed in two relays during the 2009 NCAA outdoor championship after earning All-America indoor honors in 2007. A sprinter and hurdler, Powell holds a pair of school marks and has twice been all-league in the 110-meter hurdles. After running to an All-America finish in the 55M hurdles as a sophomore, Powell took part in a pair of races at the NCAA meet last May.
Sprinter Mark Cimino (Danbury, CT/Danbury) and distance runner Miles Souza (Norton, MA/Saint Sebastian's School) provide experience during their senior seasons with the Lyons. Cimino, who had a hand in two school marks last year and was a 2008 NEWMAC All-Conference athlete, competed in the 4x100-meter relay at last spring's NCAA outdoor championship. Souza completes his track & field career after also running for the cross country squad all four years.
Sprinter Mark Williamson (Vienna, VA/James Madison) is Wheaton's most decorated junior, as the 2008 NEWMAC Rookie of the Year has already earned five all-league finishes and set a pair of school records in addition to competing in a pair of events at last spring's NCAA outdoor championship. Joining Williamson in the sprinting corps is classmate Raiyan Banaji (Mumbai, India/American School of Bombay), who has competed for India's junior national rugby team in additional to earning NEWMAC All-Conference relay laurels.
Rounding out Wheaton's junior class is a trio of cross country athletes, including distance runners Nick Kacher (Waltham, MA/Waltham) and Natan Levy (Fort Lauderdale, FL/Pine Crest School). During the cross country campaign, Kacher was the Lyons' top finisher six times, including at the NCAA New England Championship and the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) meet. Classmate Colin Fahey (Waltham, MA/Weston), who will run middle-distance events, and Kacher each ran a leg for school-record-breaking indoor and outdoor 4x800-meter relay quartets last year.
Sprinter Cailean Robinson (Newton, MA/Phillips Exeter Academy) headlines a six-athlete returning sophomore class after earning All-America honors in the 55-meter dash during the 2009 NCAA indoor championship, competing in two events at the outdoor national meet, claiming a pair of all-conference finishes and playing a role in three school marks. Middle-distance runner Jason Browne (Brooklyn, NY/Boys and Girls) aided school records during the indoor and outdoor 4x800-meter relay, while classmate Kyle Ricci (Warwick, RI/Bishop Hendricken), a sprinter, helped the outdoor 4x400 relay set a Wheaton standard.
Also a member of the cross country team, sophomore Sean Astle (Fairfield, CT/Fairfield Ludlowe) will run distance, Max Enos (Westford, MA/Westford Academy) is a jumper and sprinter, and Kyle Souza (Wellesley, MA/Wellesley) is the team's lone thrower.
The program welcomes 13 new faces, including three sophomores. Sheldon Allen (Dorchester, MA/Charlestown), who will compete in sprint and hurdle events, joins middle-distance runner Ezra Citron (Bellingham, WA/Bellingham) and sprinter Miles Ketchum (South Lee, MA/Monument Mountain Regional).
Freshman distance runners Jake Dunn (Bethlehem, PA/Liberty), Karl Mader (Northfield, MN/Northfield) and Michael Richard (Chicopee, MA/Holyoke Catholic) were all members of the cross country team this past fall, while classmate Cecil Jeffrey (Framingham, MA/Rivers School), an all-conference midfielder for the soccer team, joins the squad as a sprinter.
Freshmen Shawneil Campbell (Brooklyn, NY/Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment), David Christensen (Springfield, MA/Commerce) and Ben Miklovich (New Gloucester, ME/Gray-New Gloucester) are all slated to be sprinters, while Cameron Souza (Norton, MA/Saint Sebastian's School), Miles Souza's brother, will jump under the direction of his father.
Adding a new dimension to the team is a pair of combined-event athletes in freshmen Sam Fear (Bath, ME/North Yarmouth Academy) and Brandon Holmes (Highland Mills, NY/Monroe-Woodbury) after Wheaton last had a combined-event athlete in 2004. "They felt like this would be an opportunity to get some individual attention from each of our coaches because we have a smaller team," said Mangiacotti. "Adding people to that combined-events area only makes our team better, especially because they do so many different events that when we go to certain meets they'll be able to score points in various areas besides the combined event."
Wheaton will compete at six meets prior to its first regional championship in late February, as the Lyons kick off their indoor season at the Dartmouth College Relays on Sunday. Included in the season-opening run is the Wheaton Invitational in Beard Field House on January 23.
"We call the early meets every year 'test days,'" said Souza. "They're really an opportunity for us to try some things; as far as the relays, different combinations; as far as the field events, we handicap the athletes, might make the long jumpers run from a half approach. We put a little bit of extra pressure on them because when you get to the national meet it's all pressure, and you have to be able to deal with and respond to that."
The indoor NCAA Championship takes place at DePauw University in Indiana on March 12-13, with the outdoor slate starting the next weekend. Wheaton heads to the NEWMAC Championship at Springfield College on April 24 before the NCAA's outdoor meet occurs May 27-29 at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.
Mangiacotti and Souza put emphasis at the NEWMAC Championship on their athletes performing well, with an eye toward team-based success at the NCAA Championship. "When we look back at NEWMACs, we don't look back at team placement, we look back at regional and national qualifiers, records we set and personal bests people had," said Mangiacotti. "We're not going to win the championship with 29 men on the roster, not when other teams have 60 or 70. At NEWMACs on the men's side, you have to have some quality but you also have to have a lot of quantity. However, we have a lot of high-quality student-athletes but not a lot of quantity, and that's why we're more successful at the regional and national meets." Illustrating Mangiacotti's point precisely was the 2002 squad taking fourth at the NEWMAC competition before also placing fourth nationally during the NCAA Championship.
When all is said and done, Souza hopes the veteran leaders are able to bring the team together. "Youth is a great thing; it's also a scary thing," said the co-head coach. "You're hoping the younger guys will get it and the older athletes will impart the right kinds of things to them. If the upperclassmen are all on the right page and have bought into the program, then the younger guys will follow suit. If they know why they're doing what they're doing, then they do it with conviction."