A Magical Finish

Even when their better judgment tells them otherwise, track coaches can become bogged down in minutiae to the point of obsession.
As championship meets approach, they can spend countless hours squinting at their computer screens, scouring internet sites such as milestat.com for their opponents’ previous results, then performing a comparative analysis to predict how their teams might fare when the moment of truth arrives.

There’s some wisdom in the process, of course, because knowing the opposition helps coaches strategically place athletes in events that will maximize point production.

When the number crunching becomes all-consuming, though, the exercise can be counterproductive.

“I’m super superstitious,” said Beth Kondorossy, Collegiate’s track and field program leader and head girls team coach explaining her aversion to overthinking the competition. “So many things can happen on the day of (the meet). I just like to go out there feeling confident about our preparation and confident that the girls will show up and compete.”

Which explains the excitement Coach Kondo (as well as her athletes and coaching staff) felt on two magical May Saturdays when the Cougars won their first League of Independent Schools outdoor championship since 2010 and first VISAA, Division I title since 1995.

“It took me by surprise,” she said, “because we didn’t have many meets prior to the championships, and they were dual meets (rather than multi-team meets or highly competitive invitationals) so we couldn’t really get a glimpse of where we stood. I’m not sure that’s bad. Maybe less is more.”

The Cougars claimed their championships thanks to strength and depth across all event groups, dedication to excellence, and strong team chemistry, the same formula that led to dual titles in ‘93, ‘94, and ‘95.

On May 15 at Woodberry Forest, they won the LIS by amassing 219 points (113 in running events, 106 in field events). In the six-team meet, St. Catherine’s placed second (160) and Norfolk Academy third (54).

Eight Collegiate athletes won seven league titles: Lauren Lucy (pole vault, 11-6, which equals the school record she shares with Ashley D’Ambrosia); Gabi Deglau (discus, school record 115-4); Eliza Stone (high jump,5-0); Audrey Fleming (100 hurdles, 16.88); MK Myers (800, school record 2:22.73, and 3200, personal best 12:17.79); and the 4x100 team (Olivia Nolt, Lucy, Micaela Allen, and D’Ambrosia, 51.21).

The Cougars went 1-2-3-4 in the pole vault (Lucy, D’Ambrosia, Charlotte Smith, and Abby Mayr, respectively); 1-2-3-5 in the high jump (Stone, Carrington Miller, Harper Hailes, and Allen); 2-3-4 in the long jump (Lucy, D’Ambrosia, Fleming); and 2-3-6 in the triple jump (D’Ambrosia, Nolt, Stone). They also placed two athletes each in the shot put, 100 hurdles, 100, 300 hurdles, 800, 200, and 3200.

Most of the field event competition was complete by the time the running events began, so early on, the Cougars were sensing victory.

“Leading up to the meet, I was knee-deep in (logistical) details, so I wasn’t focused on the other teams,” said Coach Kondo, the LIS Coach of the Year. “That made it much more exciting than having this expectation (of winning) going in. I actually enjoyed it more living it moment-to-moment and thinking, ‘We’re going to pull this off.’”

The VISAA championship, contested a week later under toasty, 90-degree-plus conditions at Sports Backers Stadium with many track alumni in attendance, followed much the same script.

“The captains did a little talk before states saying, ‘Yes, we won LIS, but there’re other schools coming in with their top athletes. We can’t stop the momentum,’” said D’Ambrosia, a ’21 graduate, co-captain, and Washington & Lee commit. “It was so exciting winning LIS that people wanted to keep it going. The captains also talked about every place matters and if everybody could move up one place, it would increase our score so much. Everybody was working more for the team than as individuals. That made it so much more fun and exciting to win together as a group.”

In the 15-school competition, Collegiate scored in 16 of 17 events and amassed 165 points followed by St. Catherine’s (134), Paul VI (85), Norfolk Academy (50), and Catholic High (40).     

The Cougars accounted for 92 points in the field events. Deglau won the shot put (34-8) and discus (109-4); Lucy claimed the pole vault (11-6); and, based on points, D’Ambrosia was honored as outstanding field event performer on the strength of second place finishes in the pole vault (11-0) and triple jump (32-11) and third in the long jump (personal best 16-2).

Fleming won the 100 hurdles (personal best 16.74) and 300 hurdles (50.06) and Myers won the 3200 (12:28.70) shortly after placing second in the 800 (2:28.35). 

“I knew we were very strong in field events and could score well in some of the running events,” Coach Kondo said. “We also picked up a lot of fourths, fifths, and sixths. Kids supporting each other all the way through made that happen and made them able to pass those last couple of people in races on the track.”

To say that this was a different type of season is an understatement.  In the past, track athletes have convened as a unit at the beginning of practice each day to promote cohesion and team spirit, then broken into event groups. This year, because of Covid protocols, the various units have trained separately with little contact.

By late season, though, restrictions had been relaxed, and the championship meets seemed like old times with athletes running about the infield and lining the fence surrounding the track encouraging, cheering, and sharing with one another the joy of the team-bonding experience. 

“It’s so crazy that we missed a year,” Coach Kondo said, “but it seemed like we picked up right where we left off.  We got so much done in a shortened season, and with only three regular season meets, we had pretty healthy kids. We learned some things that might be worth continuing in future seasons.”

The end of the school year is always a whirlwind, and three weeks later, when they actually have quiet time to reflect, Coach Kondo (as well as her team and coaching staff) continue to process the storybook ending of the 2021 track season.

“I walk around campus,” she said, “and people are saying, ‘Congrats,’ which is very nice. It hasn’t totally sunk in, but we won the league and the state in a crazy time. That’s pretty incredible.”
    ~Weldon Bradshaw