Mascoma track and field pondering its potential

  • Gabe Rock, left, of Enfield, N.H., and Opal Shinnlinger, of Canaan, N.H., sit on the bleachers near the football field where their track and field team practices at Mascoma Valley Regional High School in West Canaan, N.H., on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Shinnlinger finished first in both the discus and shot put events at the NHIAA Division III State Track and Field Championship while Rock finished first in the 110 meter hurdles and second in the 200 meter dash. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 6/15/2021 9:29:22 PM
Modified: 6/15/2021 9:29:27 PM

WEST CANAAN — When she needs to practice throwing heavy objects around, Opal Shinnlinger has been limited to the parking lot at Mascoma Valley Regional High School.

Like many small schools with growing track and field programs, Mascoma is learning how to excel without dedicated facilities. Shinnlinger and recent graduate Gabe Rock bore that out last month when they recorded the first individual state championships in school history.

Shinnlinger swept the girls shot put and discus at the NHIAA Division III state meet at Gilford High School on May 25; Rock prevailed in the boys 110-meter hurdles the day after that. They represent the biggest successes longtime coach Tom Werner has had since helping found the Mascoma program as a club back in 2004.

“The kids don’t complain about it; they go where they need to go for practice,” Werner explained last week. “We work together as a team. We stretch before exercising and gather them together, then split off for the rest of practice. I get a lot of walking in. I do like to check it all out, wandering around the entire area.”

Shinnlinger is evidence of the notion that a small school need not have track facilities to succeed.

Her father, David, recruited her to join him with Thor’s Stone Athletic Club, the group run by retired Dartmouth College track coach Carl Wallin for periodic throwing and weightlifting meets. That, in turn, has helped Shinnlinger quickly improve through two years at Mascoma, even if one was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I feel like since we didn’t get a season last year because of COVID, I’ve been working extra hard to make this season be really good, since we didn’t have a season last season,” she said recently.

“We don’t have anything. I usually just throw off the parking lot into the field. Since my dad is the wood shop teacher, he made a shot put toe board throwing thing, so we’ll sometimes run off that. And I do winter track as well.”

The work paid off at D-III states. Shinnlinger never trailed in the shot put, delivering a winning toss of 36 feet, 7¼ inches with the second of her six attempts. Her winning discus heave of 107-3 came in her final try. Shinnlinger was the only athlete in D-III to top 100 feet with the discus, and she did it four times.

“Really, it was amazing the difference from two years ago to now in her throwing,” Werner said. “She had that focus on the discus and shot, and it really paid off.”

Rock added to the championship haul by winning the 110-meter hurdles at D-III states in 16.46 seconds. He also placed second in the 200 dash (24.35). Both advanced to the NHIAA Meet of Champions with their state results; Shinnlinger had the best day there, earning second in the shot and fourth in the discus.

Even without a dedicated facility, the Royals have plenty of space to work out. Rock did his hurdles training on the football field under Werner’s gaze. David Shinnlinger guided throwers. Werner’s daughter and Mascoma’s head girls track coach, Elizabeth Werner, specialized in sprints, starts and relays. Another former Royal, Ben Jones, coached the distance runners on the nearby Northern Rail Trail. An outdoor volleyball court served as a sandy landing area for practicing long jumps.

Joel Breakstone has about a dozen years invested as co-coach at Thetford Academy, another program lacking in facilities but very successful thanks to healthy numbers. He pegs the Panthers’ success, something Mascoma can emulate, to building a track culture.

“You want to get kids excited; track is a sport where you need numbers to be successful,” he said on Tuesday. “Part of it is generating excitement to get kids to come out and know they’ll have fun. It’s a place where all are welcome. You’re not cutting kids from the team. And the beauty is they can all have personal records and see steady improvement.”

Werner expects the Indian River School’s middle-school track program to grow, providing Mascoma with a necessary feeder. Rodney Brown, Mascoma’s athletic director, will be active in the used landing pad market this year; buying one would signal the school’s intent for its track and field program to grow.

The athlete work ethic is already there.

“I’m just going to keep working on getting PRs and beating them next season,” Opal Shinnlinger said. “My goal is to do better at MOCs, just try to go further.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at or 603-727-3226.

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