UP track picking up the slack

By The Beacon | February 29, 2012 9:00pm

Senior Jared Bassett (right) and sophomore Stephen Kersh (left) going the distance during the University of Portland’s Pier Park Invitational in January. Though the track team has strong distance runners, their roster is gradually becoming more well-rounded (Photo courtesy of portlandpilots.com)

By Jason Hortsch, Staff Writer -- hortsch12@up.edu

As winter slowly marches on toward spring, the UP men's track team looks ahead to the beginning of its outdoor season. While mostly known for its successes in distance running, the program also boasts throwers and sprinters, something the casual Pilots fan may not realize.

With much of the attention focused on distance running, the rest of the track team has been slowly transforming into more and more of a complete team, an assessment 21-year Coach Rob Conner agrees with.

"We are for sure more well-rounded than in years past," Conner said. But, he also noted, "We don't have the infrastructure to support a full track team."

This gradual rounding out is not just in terms of events and results, though. Senior Jacob Lampe, a high jumper on the team, has also noticed a stark increase in the overall team aspect of the program.

"My freshman and sophomore year, we didn't have the community setup – the coaching staff or the team," Lampe said. "It's nice to come out every day to come out and have people working hard next to you."

Another cause of the recent transformations has been the hard work of many assistant coaches, most of whom are new to the program.

"We've been fortunate enough to have people in the community who have been willing to coach at a part-time level," Conner said.

Lampe agreed, noting that the new coaching staff has been instrumental in retaining team members.

"We have two new sprints coaches, John Marcus and Joaquin Ortiz, and Coach (Todd) Wojchik for throws, and have gotten a lot more participation," Lampe said. "All the new coaches are great and really know their stuff."

Sophomore Michael Buker, a sprinter, agrees with Lampe.

"They've had a gargantuan impact," Buker said of the coaches. "They've helped draw people in, and having them be legit coaches who know their stuff is great. I can't stress how important it is."

Since the WCC does not sponsor a traditional end-of-season conference championship meet, the sport can tend to breed a decidedly individualistic attitude – which any athlete knows can be cancerous for a team. Despite this, the UP track community has managed to foster a culture of teamwork.

"We all just come in and work hard every day," Lampe said. "We try to push each other. It's all individually focused, but as a whole we can improve. It's a very supportive community, even though it's small."

Buker agreed, noting that working in specific event groups makes it easy for team members to help each other out.

"I think there is a hunger to do well," Buker said. "If one day someone isn't feeling it, someone else is there to pick up the slack."

With just an indoor track and limited facilities, the school is not a draw for top-level track and field athletes. Instead, the team often must turn toward students who have been drawn to UP for some other reason to fill out its roster.

"We have some high-level track athletes who have come for the academics," Conner said.

Lampe was one such athlete.

"I wanted to go to a school where I could do track," Lampe said. "I wasn't quite good enough to go to a D1 school, so this was a great fit for me. I could do track, and it had awesome academics."

Of course, the track and field team isn't known for its sprint and field events, but for its distance runners. Usually boasting an excellent distance squad, this year is no different, with senior Jarred Bassett leading the pack.

"We're very excited for him to go to the NCAA meet and become a two-time All-American, and eventually make the Olympic Trials," Conner said of Bassett.

Bassett himself is also ready for the opportunity to compete, especially with the Trials happening so close to home.

"The Trials will be in Eugene this summer, and it has always been a dream of mine to compete at the Trials, especially when they are so close to my home town of Coos Bay," Bassett said.