Mansfield, Pa. – Last March, the 2020 Mansfield University men's and women's track and field teams could only watch as their scheduled meets began to dwindle due to COVID-19 concerns. Then, on the morning of March 13, they were told their season was over.
Athletes were forced to train at home over the spring and summer using backyards and high school tracks to get ready for their return.
Meanwhile, as the athletes were away, they were introduced to a new head coach in Jamal Johnson on November 30. An introductory period that had to be done through a computer screen made things difficult. However, fast forward 115 days and Johnson has the squad prepped for their first meet of the season.
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The Mountaineers kick off the 2021 outdoor campaign this Saturday, March 27 when they travel to Lock Haven University to battle in the Elliston Early Bird Open. Live video and results are being provided by the LHU Athletic Communication office.
Johnson takes over a predominantly young unit that has championship experience indoors, but has yet to compete in a collegiate outdoor season.
"I can tell the team is very hungry, driven and talented," Coach Johnson said about his group. "Our team is very close knit, they are one very close family and they've all accepted me like they've known me for the past five or ten years."
Both teams are poised and anxious as most of the track and field athletes haven't had collegiate outdoor experience and could surprise those in the very competitive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Johnson believes that could benefit the Mounties later in the season.
"We are an extremely small roster right now, but we realize our potential and our talent," Johnson said. "I think if we do everything we're supposed to do and that we stay healthy, we can definitely turn a lot of heads in the later part of the season. I think we'll surprise ourselves a bit too."
He continued: "We have an idea of what we're able to do, but that doesn't happen unless we do everything we're supposed to do - going to sleep on time, staying hydrated, staying on top of classwork, recovering the proper way, taking actual recovery days and rest days. All the things you're supposed to do instead of trying to keep pushing and pushing. Everything else will fall into place if we do that."
The women's roster has championship experience from sophomore field athletes Rylie Mong and Madison Fox. Fox cracked the podium at last year's PSAC Indoor Championships, finishing 8th and is looking to use that experience to bolster her performance. Mong is primed for a breakthrough season in the Pole Vault after finishing 12th during the last PSAC Indoor championships.
The Mountie women have new faces in the sprint events: freshmen Tegann Anderson, Magi Earnest and Anna Duncan.
Carly Daniels headlines a distance unit led by cross country head coach Mike Rohl that had a warmup event at the PSAC Cross Country Championship last weekend. Daniels' 125-place jump in that race and first to second year improvement has been a spark for this young group. She is joined by fellow sophomore Shelby Alexander, junior Rochelle Myers, and newcomers Aneisa Dodson, Emily Gerlach, Tedra Harrison and Bailey Morgan.
The men's roster features 16 athletes, five of which have championship experience. Sophomore Henry Polanco headlines the sprinters after a strong indoor season in 2020.
"Henry, a sophomore, only ran his senior year in high school so still has so much to learn. He is loaded with talent and very raw too," Jamal Johnson said. "I can't wait to really get outside and get block work going with him and full workouts with the rest of the team."
Polanco is joined by PSAC qualifier Terrance Quaker, sophomore Ramddy Melendez, and newcomers Victor Ortiz and Michael Beals. Donoven Cook and Sean Ringgold both return after dealing with injuries in 2020.
Junior Caden Fisher returns as the only Mountaineer male with experience in an Outdoor PSAC Championship, finishing 17th in the 110m Hurdles back in 2019.
The distance squad, also led by Rohl, returns sophomore duo Christian Tanner and Kevin Heeman who form a fantastic one-two punch. Tanner was used as the utility knife, competing in events from the 5K to the 4x400 relay. The pair is joined by sophomores Michael Grundon and Ben Chambers and freshmen Riley Transue, Abraham Calderon, and Simon Richards.