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Ohio’s Gaza Odunaiya throws a discus during the Cherry Blossom Track and Field Invitational on April 7. (FILE)

Track & Field: Ohio starts indoor season next week at Marshall Open

A last place finish at the Mid-American Conference Championships in May wasn’t the fairytale ending coach Clay Calkins had envisioned.

After mustering a mere 29 points at the MAC Championships in Buffalo, Ohio placed 12th overall, 107.5 points behind the victorious Akron Zips. The crushing defeat put an end to the season, sending the Bobcats home for the summer.

Upon returning to Athens, the Bobcats were given two weeks without practice to ease the team into adjusting back to campus. Calkins, entering his 16th season at the helm, explained just how important proper preparation and remaining healthy is for his squad, which lost multiple runners for the entire season due to injury a year ago.

“When practice begins, we try to build a nice, wide base for the kids in order to come into the indoor season strong, fast and healthy,” Calkins said. “Our girls also have to take care of themselves away from the track: sleep, hydration, eating a good diet. As coaches, those things are out of our control, so we try to emphasize how important all the little things are.”

The Bobcats’ coach also highlighted the increase in depth his roster gained this season compared to last. That depth, Calkins said, begins with a core of veterans returning for Ohio, particularly distance runners. More than half of its roster also runs for Ohio’s cross country team and competed in the fall.

“The cross country runners are coming off of their season, so their level of fitness is really good at the moment,” Calkins said.  “Hopefully, that can transition into solid performances in the distance events, such as the 3K, 5K, 800 meter and mile.”         

This level of experience at such an early part of the season is a major advantage for the Bobcats,  said assistant coach Ali Wayner, who focuses primarily on distance runners. Wayner acknowledged the offseason conditioning that the team engages in over the summer helps transition her distance runners into both the cross country and track and field seasons.

“They already have this (amazing) mileage under them,” Wayner said.  “We can go right into track season, ready to crank up the intensity for our half-mile and mile runners. Because they have all of summer and all of fall training underneath of them, it allows us to go right into our (track and field) training.”

Perhaps the only part of this team that lacks experience is the throwers. Senior Gaza Odunaiya returns as the lone upperclassmen, while a solid combination of freshmen and sophomores complete the squad for throws coach Nick Pero. 

“For the freshmen, some of the technical aspects (of throwing) can be a little challenging,” Pero said. “Especially if they’re learning a new event, that can always be challenging to a young, less-experienced runner.”

Pero said his unit is young, which isn’t new to him. Last season, the team had three seniors to compliment Odunaiya but still consisted of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Despite the inexperience, Pero is confident his throwers are properly motivated and conditioned to immediately contribute at meets.

“It’s nice to have some fresh new faces, to kind of start over with a lot of different things,” Pero said. 

A fresh start could be what Ohio is looking for this winter. The Bobcats can begin the turnaround Dec. 7, when they travel to Huntington, West Virginia, for the Marshall Opener.


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