Strengthening the team off the track
By Tyler Urke
With their bellies full of pasta, the women of the Western pole vaulting team were getting ready to have some fun on a Thursday night. They had worked hard in practice all week and were ready to blow off some steam like any college student would.
“Let’s put pole vaulting videos on the TV, guys!” junior Rachael Roberts said.
They spent the next 30 minutes analyzing opposing women pole vaulter’s uniforms, hairstyles and sponsorships. As if that wasn’t rowdy enough, afterwards, the Vikings got down to business, breaking down the techniques they saw and comparing styles.
The women’s indoor track and field season is underway, and the Vikings are focused on growing closer as a team and developing a young roster. Western has 49 female athletes on its track team, 21 of whom are freshmen.
Assistant coach Ben Stensland said he’s excited about a number of freshmen, but he’ll have to wait and see who develops.
“A big part of this season is gaining competitive experience,” Stensland said. “I’m excited to see where we’re at and see where we can grow from.”
Stensland said he has noticed a difference in the team chemistry already, which is important to the coaching staff. The eighth-year coach said its clear how many of the upperclassmen have taken the underclassmen under their wings and shown them the ropes. It happens every season, but he said it’s more evident with this group.
“I think we have a really unique team chemistry,” Stensland said. “You hear a little bit more about team activities and a stronger desire to be a close-knit group.”
Part of the commitment to a stronger team chemistry stems from a new Western track and field mission statement. The statement reads: “Our love of the sport drives us to be purposeful, accountable and confident in order to support ourselves and our team. By reflecting on our successes and failures, excellence will be an outcome on and off the track/field. We are Viking Track and Field!”
The statement has an accompanying graphic with four steps circling the word excellence in the middle. The four steps are process, unity, performance and evaluation, and each step has words next to it such as support and confidence.
The process of building the mission statement began last fall and required multiple meetings. The entire track team sat down in groups and came up with about 150 words and phrases regarding what they felt was important to them and the team.
Group leaders and team captains then took similar words and put them into thematic categories. After four separate lengthy meetings, they presented the mission statement to the team the day before winter quarter started.
“It’s something people can rally behind,” Stensland said. “It makes it so much more tangible when you know what direction you’re going. It’s neat to see them go through that process and take ownership of their program.”
The Vikings have big shoes to fill this year with the departure of graduates Brittany Grant and Bethany Drake. Grant and Drake were two of the three women who qualified for the 2017 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida in May.
Drake’s expertise with the javelin earned her three-time All-American honors and national championships in 2014 and 2017. She was nominated for the NCAA Woman of the Year in 2017, reaching the top 34 among Division II athletes.
Stensland acknowledged how important Grant and Drake were to the team, but said he’s excited to see which athletes step up.
Stensland said one athlete to keep an eye on is senior triple jumper Jasmine McMullin. McMullin is a two-time Great Northwest Athletic Conference indoor and outdoor triple jump champion. She represented Western at the NCAA Division II Indoor Track and Field Championships in 2016, where she finished 11th.
McMullin said she hopes her experience at nationals will help her this season. She admitted the large stage was intimidating her first time around.
“It was really cool, but it was kind of overwhelming,” McMullin said. “I think this time around I’ll be more relaxed if I make it to nationals.”
As for the pole vaulting videos and team dinners, those will likely remain a staple for this group.
“I really do feel that our team revolves around food sometimes,” Stensland said.