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Track standouts clearing the pandemic hurdle

  • Thetford Academy senior Grace Davis, of East Thetford, Vt., warms up during a workout at the Hanover High School track on Thursday, April 30, 2020. The high school spring track season has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Kennedy Mullen, 16, of White River Junction, is a junior at Hartford High School where she jumps and runs on the track team, plays basketball and field hockey. Mullen was photographed for the Valley News Athletes of the Year at the newspaper office in West Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Thetford's Tad Darrah, center, chases Vergennes' Wade Mullen, right, during the boys 800-meter run at the VPA Division III state track and field championship on June 1, 2019, in Windsor, Vt. Darrah won the race in 2 minutes, 1.29 seconds, breaking a 20-year-old school record in the process. Darrah will compete at Franklin Pierce University this autumn. (Linnea Spelman photograph)

  • After working out at the Hanover High School track, Thetford Academy senior Grace Davis, of East Thetford, Vt., changes out of her spikes on Thursday, April 30, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/4/2020 9:06:51 PM
Modified: 5/4/2020 9:06:43 PM

THETFORD — Not having a pit where Grace Davis can practice her high jumping is … well, the pits.

With the closing of Vermont schools now a month in the past and the spring competition season history, the Thetford Academy senior has been doing what track and field training she can. In a perfect world, that would mean — among other things — leaping over a bar and landing on a soft mat, then getting up to do it over and over and over again.

Unlike many other athletes, however, the lack of a spring campaign hasn’t been fundamentally damaging to the Quinnipiac University-bound Davis. She can look forward to a future in the sport in college, one that could become the present very soon.

“So far, it’s a lot of different training,” Davis said in a phone conversation last week. “I do Zoom calls and workouts with friends, but the Quinnipiac coach will give us a training plan for working out this summer. Even if we don’t have high school track, I’ll do the high school program that the coach sets every week.”

A number of Upper Valley track standouts have found the prospect of a college future has eased the disappointment of a senior high school campaign lost. That group includes Davis’ teammate at Thetford, Tad Darrah (Franklin Pierce), Hartford star Kennedy Mullen (Trinity) and Hanover competitors Anna Stafford (Roanoke) and Christine Aman (Bates).

NCAA rules prevent coaches from directly working with incoming recruits until their high school seasons conclude. As an alternative, runners and jumpers have stuck with their high school routines, as much as the pandemic will permit.

For Aman, that involves running seven days a week, either on the road or on the Hanover High oval. The Marauder senior will compete in the 800 meters and mile at Bates.

“I think (the Bates coach) wants us to (train), but I haven’t gotten a specific workout plan,” Aman said last week. “She’s been in contact with us, but I’m still working with my high school coaches to replace what I’m supposed to have. I’ll get (a college plan) this summer.”

Track and field seemed best suited to work around delays to the spring sports calendar. Athletes make state meets by hitting qualifying standards, so even one competition is theoretically enough to make the grade. The NHIAA canceled spring sports on April 16, with the VPA following suit on Thursday.

Darrah has been content to follow what Thetford co-coaches Emily Silver and Joel Breakstone prescribe. A late bloomer who didn’t take up competitive running until his sophomore year at TA, last year’s 800-meter champion at the VPA Division III state outdoor meet expects to run middle distances and cross country at Franklin Pierce.

“If I didn’t have college to look forward to, I would be really disappointed, that’s for sure,” he said. “But that gives me something to work on in the absence of not having a high school season. It gives me a reason to keep training and keep working hard.”

For Hartford’s Mullen, the lack of facility access is a nonissue since her school, like Thetford, has no outdoor track. (It does have a landing pit for her triple jump workouts.) Mullen won four events both at last spring’s VPA D-II state meet and this winter’s D-II indoor championship. Training is important, but entering Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. will require a mental adjustment, too.

“I need to realize that I’m kind of a big fish in a small pond right now, and I’ll be a small fish in a big pond next year,” said Mullen, who expects to compete in the triple, 400 and 800 at the NESCAC school. “I’m trying to come to terms with that right now.”

Still, the area’s seniors are losing something in terms of development without their usual high school practice routines, Breakstone said. As the most experienced and physically developed of high school athletes, they’re the ones most likely to set the standards for others to achieve or surpass later.

“The Graces, the Kennedys, the Tads of the world are reaching their peaks,” the 12th-year TA co-coach said. “If you look at most of the records in states and schools, they’re usually set by seniors. They’re the strongest. That’s when you do your best. That’s a missed opportunity. I feel so disappointed for them, that they don’t have that chance.”

Stafford won’t get to snag a Hanover High record in the pole vault, a goal of hers since her freshman year. However, she has learned something useful given the freedom to now focus on her imminent years at Roanoke.

“When I heard I’d lost the opportunity to get that (high school) record, that was heartbreaking because I’d used it to motivate myself for years,” she said. “Knowing I have that college season allowed me to focus on my future more. It turns out the college record is the same (as high school), so I can still go for that. It’s where my visions are.”

Training ties to performance. For Davis, both could come with a financial benefit.

Davis is receiving a partial athletic scholarship at Division I Quinnipiac that’s tied to her results. Her personal high jump bests, both indoors (5-feet-4) and outdoors (5-5), exceed the Bobcats’ current school records. Davis said she can receive boosts in her scholarship if she can continue to improve.

Even though the coronavirus pandemic robbed her of a possible girls basketball state championship, Davis at least got the bulk of her winter campaign in. Not so for spring.

So the future now becomes the priority.

“It’ll be a lot different; the school is bigger, and Thetford is small,” Davis said. “The track program is all girls. I’ve met with them all, and I’m so excited to train with them. I love my Thetford team and coaches, but I will be in touch with a more well-rounded program (at Quinnipiac) with a lot more training specializing on the high jump.

“I hope to become a lot better.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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