Measuring Up: The Essex Invitational, New England Championships Qualifier
Story and Photos by Ralph Epifanio
Competing in a state bounded by two major watersheds Champlain and Connecticut this meet’s athletes came from places with such colorful names as the Green Mountains and White River Junction; the Northeast Kingdom and the Region of Islands and Farms; winter ski centers like Killington and Stowe (can you hear the sound of music?), and summer vacation paradises like the Champlain Valley and Smuggler’s Notch. They trained on hills and in valleys; ran lonely country roads and alongside busy commercial routes; some could boast ultra-fast, rubberized all-weather tracks on which to congregate, and others, well, have track. Equipment ranged from colorful, up-to-date spikes to more conservative, all-purpose flats. To most, it was the last meet of the season, likely the last meet of their lives. To a privileged (and very talented) few, this meet was a stepping stone to the promise of even greater glory: their respective state meets, and thence the hope of an illustrious college career to follow. But to six athletes in each event, this 30th of May, 2015 was a date with destiny: an automatic bid to the 2015 New England Championships at the Thornton Academy, in Saco, Maine, two weeks hence.
Weather, or not?
A forecast of doom and boom the thunderous kind was not lost on the meet’s timers, who identify themselves with the state’s area code (802, for anyone reading this from beyond cowopolis). Pretty much on overdrive from the moment he set foot on the track, Pavel Dvorak made a meet opening pitch for entries “reporting in on time,” and “keeping the running events moving.”
Alas, the National Weather Service’s or whoever else you count on for prognostication “70% chance” was closer to the wind speed than the chance of precipitation. “Desert-like conditions” was the new reality. Ask the sprinters who sped to record-setting results on the zephyrous-aided final straightaway, and they will insist that conditions were perfect; ask the distance runners, who went both ways, and they might argue otherwise, as their tale was written from a different perspective, one that this interviewer did not have to coax. (Hey, stop that stray straw hat from blowing away!) Of course, Jonathan Livingston Seagull* and his pals
They call the wind Alec
It may be that Alec Eschholz is always in a hurry because he has so many events to win (in this meet the 110 hurdles, the 200 in 22.48--and the 300 hurdles), or it may also be that he is so very talented that each hurdle is just another step in the right direction for him. In any case, when he was on the track, he seemed to create his own micro-climate. Whoosh!
I caught up to him…wait, that’s not accurate. I intersected his path between the 110s (where he had just shattered the overall state record with a 14.08) and the 300s (where he was the defending meet, D1, and state record holder. Fortunately, he did not mistake me for an 11th hurdle.
Alec: “Every meet I try to come out and run my fastest. That’s chasing my own personal bests, but even in practice I do my best.”
In light of his electrifying HH finish, when asked which of the two hurdle events was his “favorite,” Alec’s answer was surprising.
“I’d say the 300. The IMs are my strongest event. When I was younger, I was a straight 400 runner, so that is still there.”
Alec is, if anything, modest to a fault. In all, he has at one time or another won at least 14 different track and field events: the 55, 55 hurdles, the 100, the 110 hurdles, the 200, the 300, the 300 hurdles, the 400, the 400 hurdles, the high jump, the long jump, the shot put, the discus, and the javelin. So far, in four years of high school and counting he has accumulated 11 state titles: the 2014 and 2015 indoor title in the 55 meter hurdles; the 2013 and 2014 title in 110 hurdles; the 2012, 2013, and 2014 title in the 300 hurdles; the 2012, 2013 and 2014 outdoor title in the high jump, and the 2014 indoor high jump…and he has this year’s outdoor meet still pending.
Outside of high school, Eischholz was the 2013 New England USATF Junior Olympic Champion in the 110 hurdles (15.91), the 400 hurdles (56.39), the open 400 (51.0), and the javelin (152’4”). In his 2014 trip to the New England Championships, he won the 300s (38.54), and placed third in the 110s (14.68). In two weeks’ time he will return to the New England Meet to better both those times (and a place in the latter).
In a repeat of 2014, Alec recently threw in a 400IM “training run” at the New York State Eddy Games (2nd in 53.50; he won the 110s in 14.37).
“It definitely helped. A couple of members of our (Mt. Mansfield) team and I went to the Eddy Games in Schenectady and I did the 400 hurdles. That last 100 meters in the 400 IM was a bit of a change from the finish in the 300 IM. It makes you stronger; prepared me for the shorter 300, so I am able to push through it.”
With two weeks left in his senior season, how does a high school legend wish to end his career?
“I’d like to repeat as state champion in both (hurdle) events and leave with times that will be remembered.”
Hasn’t he already done both?
Running against the wind
While Alec was gleefully setting records on the backside of that wind, a horde of distance runners was running head-on into that same wind on every other straightaway. Beating both wind and the competition were six different athletes in six different events. Attrition was high.
In the Girls 1500, freshman Rena Schwartz’s anything-but-tactical race prevailed over both the headwind, and sophomore NCU’s Avery Ellis (second in 4:57.69).
“If I’m feeling good after two laps, I just take the lead,” clarified Schwartz. “I don’t like sprinting at the end. I just went for it.”
Rena’s time was 4:52.23, a ‘tweener between her first 1500 of the year (4:54.30 on April 28th), and her best (4:49.80 at the NVAC Freshman-Sophomore Meet on May 23rd).
In the 3000, Ellis ran with the opposite plan.
“I knew that she (Schwartz) pulls ahead, so my plan was to stick with her and pull ahead (at the end),” Avery explained. “At some point I was a little too far away, but I tried to draft off her when I could.”
Buried deep in the 3000 crowd, the dynamic duo went several laps before it was one-on-one for the win.
“The wind really slowed us down…and it was hot,” she emphasized. “Our team brought a cooler full of ice and a misting fan to cool us off. Although I usually try to start kicking before the 200, today I only started catching her at 100 meters. I just let my body go numb and gave it everything. It was pretty close.”
Close, in this case, was about a third of a second: Ellis prevailed in 11:00.38; Schwartz was second in 11:00.75. That matchup will continue for at least two more years.
“She’s Division 2, and I’m Division 1, but we’ll see each other at the New England Meet. I don’t know what all the competition will be like, so I’ll just try to do the best I can and get a good timefaster than my PR, which is 10:38.52 (at the June 7, 2014 Vermont State Championships).
In the boys 1500, William Moore (Bellows Falls) came into the meet with a previous PR of 4:13.78, a time that was only sixth best in the 2014 Essex Invitational. (Sean MacDonald won that one in 4:05.95.) Despite the wind, however, Moore ran five seconds more than MacDonald, but in 4:08.80.
The 3000 meant twice as many trips through the “air tunnel,” a fact that allowed winner Isaac Mears (Montpelier) to be grateful for his time; 9:06.84.
“In reality I am not a good pacer,” he admitted. “I run uneven splits. My strategy was to run as fast as I can, but the wind and the heat slowed me down.”
“Sam Brunnette (North Country) and Sam Nishi (Harwood) took it out. Sam Merriman won it last year (8:52) and Nishi was fourth (9:05.84). I think I ran 9:11(.78).
“The D3 record is 8:58 (Jamie Moore in 2013). I was hoping to get it, but I was a little off here. I hope to get it at the state meet.”
Although the 800 meant fewer trips around the track, it too was “slow.” Winner Warren Yacawych (Northfield) explains.
“I think I ran a 2:03 (.55), which is just barely a PR” it was 2:03.68, at this year’s Colchester Meet “but I’m proud of how I ran. As I came around the first turn, a whole wave of runners came up and boxed me in. I knew I had to move up, but the wind was really, really bad on the backstretch, so I was happy how it turned out.
“I just want to give a huge congratulation to Danville’s Riley Fenoff for leading that race. He did a fantastic job after running another race (the 1500) only a couple of hours before. He’s such a talented freshman.”
The girls’ 800 winner was Haley Kennedy, a senior at Lake Region. She finished in 2:24.18, a five second PR over her 2014 Essex time (2:29.27).
In this meet-without-a-wind-gauge, running anything shorter than a 400 was like a quick trip to heaven. Ask sprinter Ahmed Noor, formerly of Kenya (pre-2004), and now a Burlingtonite (is that a word?). Shooting for a sub-11, he just missed with an 11.05, which is still a PR. (He ran his previous best, 11.15, at last year’s State Meet.)
“I came this close,” he said, emphasizing with a two-finger measurement. “I slipped off my blocks, I think, because I got up too fast. If I work on my blocks I can run 10.99 at the States (D1). “
Ahmed also ran the 200, but in that event he ran into the Alec Express.
“I didn’t start off as fast as I should have. By the 100 I was chasing him. If I had started out faster, I would have beaten him.”
Chasing Alec, however DID earn Noor a 200 personal best: 22.58.
“But I think the State Meet is more important. I think I have a good chance to win…all of them: 100, 200, 4 X 1, and 4 X 4.
The only thing that beat all-around athlete Olivia Dexter (U32 sounds like a sub, but isn’t) was exhaustion.
“My biggest challenge was trying to balance all of my events: the 100, the 200, the long jump, and the triple jump,” explained the senior.
“She set the school record in the long jump, 17’ 1 ¼”, last week at a U32 home meet where they are holding the State Meet next year,” interjected her coach, Bob Dunkel.
In this end-of-her reign final stretch, Olivia won the 100 (12.36, a PR), the 200 (26.12), came in first in the triple jump (35’ 1/2”) and second by ¼”-- in the long jump (16’ 10”).
Winner of the girls’ triple jumps was freshman Grace Cook of St. Johnsbury, who hop-step-jumped 33’ 10 ¾”.
Senior Kayla Gilding (South Burlington) came into the meet with a 56.49 400 best (set way back in her freshman year), but was happy to settle for a winning 57.43. After all, she already owns the meet (57.43 in 2012), 2014 Essex title (58.11) and the D1 state record (that aforementioned PR).
“I tied the state record my freshman year. I wanted today to be the last time and to go for a (new) record. I had a light schedule, but with the wind and it was hot I have to be content with my time.
“It was very challenging today with that wind,” Kayla continued. “I got out in the first 200 and felt pretty good. But when I to the back stretch it was like I hit a wall. Mentally, it really gets into your head. That wind was really, really tough. In the final stretch it was at my back and it helped push me all the way home.”
Kayla, whose 16’ 10 ¼” LJ earned her a second win, is headed for Dartmouth next fall.
“There are no athletic scholarships there, but track really helped me to make that college possible. It was one of my choices.”
Another college-bound senior who is happy about her choice of a secondary education is Lake Region’s Emily Close.
“I’ll be attending the University of Southern Maine for nursing,” she said. “I’ll probably be doing the heptathlon and decathlon; the 300 hurdles, the 400, the long jump, 4 X 4, etc. George Towle, the coach, wants me to do multi-events, and also the pole vault…and hurdles in small meets.
Emily’s light schedule in this meet no doubt contributed to her winning, personal best time of 15.63, but she is quick to point out that there was more to it.
“Last year I did the 100 hurdles for the first time, but it was in four steps (between hurdles). I got a taste of it, so this winter I learned how to three-step in the 55 meter event with the help of Coach Langmay and the boys from the St. Johnsbury Academy. Besides my Dad, I have to give them the most credit for my improvement this year. The event is very technical and they helped me tremendously.
“At my first meet this year I ran a 15.77” Colchester on April 4th “and then lowered it here.”
Although Emily Close was the defending champion in this meet’s 300 hurdles (her lifetime best is 47.49), she chose to sit this one out. 2015’s winner was Katherine Cowan of St. Johnsbury (48-flat).
Up and away
If we were to submit to anthropomorphisms, we would certainly have to view the pole vault as the most temperamental event of track and field. Where else is an athlete more susceptible to such things as the choice of equipment, failure of said devices, and “above” all else--the winds of chance?
Let us seek two experts for their opinions.
Lyndon Institute’s Jack Brown: “When I’m in a situation where there’s a lot of wind, I ask the official for a little more time (between jumps). It really paid off today, so I’m glad I asked.”
GPV’s Kathryn Bassett: “Based upon the number of competitors…you may have less (or more) time. At 9’ 6”, I had thirty seconds to let the wind die down before I initiated a jump.
“I skipped 10’ and jumped at 10’ 6”. I made it on my second attempt. Then I skipped from 10’ 6” to 11’ 4” and tried for the overall state record.
Brown: “Most of the time I feel rushed, but today I told myself to be patient.”
Bassett: “Today I chose not to do any other event. I had more jumps in me, but in playing around with poles (lost that edge). There is an art to switching poles. It is best to surrender to whatever circumstances there are (and just jump). A coach has to step in then and help you decide.”
Brown: “I’m just going to see how I feel. If I am motivated and have enough adrenalin, then I’ll decide how high I can jump.”
Bassett: “There were some vaults that came down to the wind, and others that came down to my mindset. Who knows? I skipped 10”, but 10’ 6” which is what she cleared “is a PR.” And her second straight win at this meet.
Brown: “I’d like to finish my senior year with a 14’ 6” or maybe a15 footer.”
Both jumpers set PRs, and Brown tied the meet record.
The boys and girls high jump was won, respectively, by Noah Lamos (6’ 3”) and Sade Hankey (5’ 1”).
Christian Holway (Burlington) won the triple jump with 43’ 4”.
Circling around success
Unlike most track and field events, there is very little pressure involved in throwing inanimate objects as far as you can. If anything, it helps to relieve stress. Angry? Nervous? Tense? Tired? Just toss all those emotions away; the farther the better!
If anything, South Burlington’s Phil Lyons was, if anything, experiencing negative stress.
“I had some PRs in practice going in (to this meet),” he explained. I’ve been throwing further all week: 43s and a few 45s. The technique was there, all I had to do was get the height, the angle of elevation. Out of nowhere I got a quick release. I was throwing far, but I was flat. I just had to get the elevation, or the angle.’”
On his last, winning throw of the finals, Jack found just the right angle and his shot came down 46’ 1” from the toe board, just shy of a 2 ½” best.
Lyons also qualified for the New England Championship with a fourth place throw of 136’ 2” in the discus.
On the girls’ side, Windsor’s Katie Comstock was a double winner: 39’ in the shot and 122’ 3’ in the discus.
“I had thrown 35’ 4” coming in from the preliminaries, so I was in fourth,” Katie commented. “I tried to stay relaxed. I did some step-backs, moved my feet faster, and worked on improving my finish. It worked, and I threw 39-even, a PR by four inches.”
She repeated that skill in the discus, winning that, too, in a nearly two foot best of 122’ 3”.
The boys’ winning throw in the discus was made by Taylor Garner of Mount Mansfield: 145’ 2”.
Travvis Ferguson won the boys’ javelin throw with 178’ 7” and Erin Hudson won the girls’ javelin throw with 113’ 8”.
4 X 100 Girls: Champlain Valley (Lindsay Kimball, Sadie Otley, Sierra Moran, and Malina Carroll) in 51.38
4 X 100 Boys: Champlain Valley (Zach Akey, Richard Baccei, Ethan Cote, and Tawn Tomasi) in 44.71
4 X 400 Girls: St. Johnsbury (Quaashie Douglas, Katherine Cowan, Quinnae Outerbridge, and Bettina Hammer) in 4:14.03
4 X 400 Boys: Lyndon Institute (Travvis Ferguson, Jaime Monteverde, Ashton Rodriguez, and Jack Brown) in 3:31.76
4 X 800 Girls: Burlington (Georgia Essig, Eva Paradiso, Sophie Watterson, and Katie Barker) in 9:36.61
4 X 800 Boys: South Burlington (Joseph Staples, James Gregoire, Brandon Moran, and Sean MacDonald) in 8:16.35
Team points were not compiled in this meet.