In a program already holding high expectations, mid-April and early May are crucial times of the year for the University of South Dakota track and field teams.
Runners, jumpers, vaulters and throwers are riding through a bumpy stretch of constant meets and end-of-the-semester school work, trying to keep their eyes on a conference prize.
“This is kind of our time to grind right now and get ready for conference,” sophomore pole vaulter Madison Mills said. “It’s really fun for us because track’s an individual sport, but conference is a fun time where we do get to be a team and compete as a team.”
Over the weekend, some athletes took strides toward conference in California with strong performances at the Mt. Sac Relays and the Bryan Clay Invitational.
Junior Kyle McKelvey finished third in shot put at Mt. Sac. First-year Dustin Valind finished second in discus at Bryan Clay and threw the second farthest throw in USD history. Senior Jeff Mettler finished with a Summit League best 5,000-meter run.
After an indoor championship this winter, men’s head coach Dave Gottsleben knows where his program stands and where expectations are.
However, he said, his team has run into a road block of injuries.
“We’ve had some injuries that have affected our depth incredibly,” Gottsleben said. “We need some kids to get fired up and get healthy. I got a little bit of this and a little bit of that, nick here and nick there. We need these guys to say ‘I’m just going to go for it.’”
The same has happened for the women, women’s head coach Lucky Huber said.
Despite a first place in pole vault at Mt. Sac from senior Bethany Firsick, the team is not where it would like to be, he said.
“Right now, we’re sitting at about fourth in the conference, and we’ve never finished that low,” Huber said. “We’re getting a little nervous about that. We need to get a little more confidence, and we need a little bit of luck with some of the injuries we are having.”
Huber said there are good things happening throughout the program — personal bests, school records and impressive performances. At the beginning of the spring season, Huber said he was looking at field events to come up big for his team.
First-year Danielle Waldner finished second in shot put, and Mills also finished sixth in pole vault.
Collectively, Huber said, the team needs more, and the Coyotes need to stay healthy.
“We have to head in the direction of some of our top performers and get better in the next couple weeks,” he said.
Mills said this time of year is unlike any other. She said all the athletes have something difficult on their plate to get through.
The team returned from a trip to California Sunday night, then had a meet in Yankton April 22 and will head to the Drake Relays for three days Thursday.
Mills said it’s a different kind of demand this time of year.
“There’s a lot of little maintenance things we all have to do,” she said. “In the fall we’re running every day, lifting everyday. Now it’s the little things that matter. Rehabbing your injuries, icing after practice, getting sleep, eating right.”