Local squads gear up for Saturday’s Western Mass. Div. 2 track meet 

  • Frontier’s Alena Maes-Polan competes in the pole vault during their meet against Mohawk Trail on Monday in Buckland. PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

  • Greenfield’s Liviu Mihailicenco runs to a first place finish in the 100 hurdles during the track and field meet earlier this season in Greenfield. PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Jack Vecellio competes in the pole vault during the track and field meet earlier this season in Greenfield. PHOTO BY DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/20/2022 8:33:06 PM

Excitement has never been higher for the Western Mass. Div. 2 Track and Field Championship on Saturday at Mohawk Trail High School. 

It marks the first Western Mass. meet in three years, as the 2020 season was lost to COVID and last year athletes went straight to the Central/West meet. Thus, many athletes are competing in the first big meet of their careers, hoping the big competition brings out the best in them. 

The meet is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. in Buckland. 

“We’re going to go out and compete,” Frontier boys coach Walt Flynn said. “The young guys are going to see what it’s like to run with the big dogs. It’s great to have Western Mass. back again. It’s how we measure ourselves. It’s a yardstick on how we measure with the other programs in our area.”

The one element nobody can truly prepare for is the weather, and Saturday’s meet will be far different than any other this season for that reason. It’s been an unusually cool spring this far but that’s set to change, with Saturday projected to be the hottest day of the year so far. 

The heat will be something all athletes will have to adjust to, with coaches preaching hydration to assure their runners, jumpers and throwers can still compete at their peak performance.

“It’s been a cold season,” Flynn said. “You have to take that into account. It’s going to be at its hottest when we get to the relays and that might force us to rethink our relay teams, as our relays have kids who have been doing other events throughout the day. Will they be recovered in time? That will be a game time decision. It’ll be tough for the distance guys – this is an extreme swing of the pendulum for those guys. The sprinters, as long as they mange themselves with their water intake, they’ll be fine. The distance guys, there’s only so much you can do. You haven’t had enough time to acclimate. It’ll be the guys who have been the smartest and taken good care of their body that’ll do well.” 

Frontier enters coming off Intercounty League titles on both the boys and girls side. The Redhawks had 14 boys and 20 girls qualify and are looking to build on a successful season. 

For the boys, Jack Vecellio enters with the top jump in pole vault (16 feet, 2 inches) as well as the third fastest time in the 100 (11.54) while Ian Burt comes in seeded No. 3 in the triple jump (40-11). 

With a mix of experience and youth, Flynn is eager to see how his team does on Saturday. 

“We have a lot of kids with zero big meet experience,” Flynn said. “It’s going to be fun to see how they respond to that situation. We have guys like Jack Vecellio who has a ton of big meet experience and other guys who have none. It’s going to be great to see Jack compete in this setting as well as the guys who haven’t done it before. ”

For the Frontier girls, coach Bob Smith has been trying to get his young team ready for big meets like Western Mass. all season. 

“We’re as ready as we can be,” Smith said. “We got them to the George Steele Relays earlier this year and to the Ole Saybrook Invitational last Friday to give them big meet experience. There are a bunch of people who will be competing for the first time at a Western Mass. meet but others like Abigail [Howard] and Caroline [Crocker] where it won’t be their first rodeo.” 

Abigail Howard comes in with the top mark in the high jump (5-2) and the third fastest time in the 800 (2:35.45) amongst qualifiers. Caroline Crocker has the fastest time in the 100 hurdles (15.44) and the third longest leap in the long jump (16-0.25) and Alena Maes-Polan came in at second in the pole vault (9-9). The Redhawks also enter with the third fastest time in the 4x800 relay (11:31.11).

“I’m really excited to see what Alena does in the pole vault and what Abigail can do in the high jump and 800,” Smith said. “I’m excited to have Sophia Leone in the sprints and like our 4x800 team. I’ve got a good core of people throwing. Sadie Ross is a rock I can depend on in the javelin and in discus while Lilly Novak has been doing outstanding. Caroline Crocker does everything so I’m really looking forward to this meet.” 

The Greenfield track teams have multiple athletes in positions to make a run at a Western Mass. title. On the girls side, Tess Rancourt comes in with the second best toss in the shot put (37-1) while Lillia Kachelmeyer is seeded No. 2 in discus (103-5). 

On the boys side, Liviu Mihailicenco has the top qualifying high jump (6-10) and second fastest time in the 110 hurdles (15.54) while Theo Popusoi comes in with the fastest time in the 400 hurdles (59.14) and is seeded second in pole vault (13-6). Keegan Doty-Smith enters as the No. 3 seed in the pole vault (10-6). 

“You never know with a championship meet like this,” Green Wave boys coach Stu Elliott said. “You just always hope for the best. We ask them to do the best they can and see how things go. I’ve learned to manage expectations. We have a very young, inexperienced team. Our older athletes are inexperienced. It’ll be good experience for them. Most haven’t been to meets like this.”

While it might be a mostly experienced team, seniors like Popusoi and Mihailicenco have plenty of big meet experience which should help on Saturday. 

“We’ve had Liviu and Theo for a long time,” Elliott said. “I always hope for the best for all our athletes but particularly them. They put a lot of energy into our track team. We’ll miss them next year. They’re great leaders and marvelous kids.”

The Pioneer girls had a stellar spring, finishing second in the Intercounty League with its lone loss to Frontier. With eight girls and one boy competing on Saturday, the Panthers are hoping to show that the regular season was no fluke. 

“If it wasn’t for letting Frontier back in the league, we would have been the champions,” Bell said. “This is a really young team. In spite of everything — COVID, our facilities — they’re doing really well. This is the best Pioneer team I’ve coached.” 

Pioneer eighth grader Nina St. Clair comes into the meet with the top qualifying time in the 100 (12.84). Despite the bright lights of a Western Mass. meet, Bell doesn’t think his young team will be bothered by the pressure. 

“I’m hoping they go out and have some fun,” Bell said. “I don’t think anything seems to phase these kids. This bunch goes out and competes and tries to have as much fun as possible.” 

Mahar’s Sienna Moore comes in as the favorite in the pole vault, coming in with the top qualifying jump of 10-8. Senator coach Sarah Woodward is expecting big things from her senior on Saturday. 

“We’re just trying to get her to be more consistent,” Woodward said. “Hopefully she PR’s, that’s the goal. We’re trying to get her more comfortable going over those heights. We’ll see what she can do tomorrow.” 

Moore will be one of 10 Mahar girls competing on Saturday, with the Senators sending 10 boys to Buckland as well. 

“We’re focusing on going out there and doing our best,” Woodward said. “The heat is something I’m a little worried about. We haven’t had that weather all year so we have to make sure we stay hydrated, stay smart, stay out of the sun as much as we can and be ready to go. The kids are excited. It’s more competition so I’m hoping to see a lot of PRs to move into states.” 

Athol, Mohawk Trail, Franklin Tech and Turners round out the local schools who will be competing on Saturday. Eight Bear boys and two Athol girls qualified, eight Franklin Tech boys qualified, six Warrior boys and five Mohawk Trail girls will compete and two Thunder girls will be in action. 


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