2021-22 Gazette Girls Indoor Track Athlete of the Year: Emma Sanford, South Hadley

  • South Hadley’s Emma Sanford, shown here this spring competing in the 100-meter hurdles, was tabbed as the Gazette’s 2021-22 Girls Indoor Track Athlete of the Year. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer 
Published: 5/3/2022 7:13:10 PM
Modified: 5/3/2022 7:11:38 PM

Still only a junior, Emma Sanford has become a Swiss Army knife of sorts for the South Hadley track program. She can do just about any event you throw her in – high jump, hurdles, sprints, you name it – and she excells at all of them. It’s hard to believe that just three years ago, Sanford was new to track as a sport – until she reached eighth grade, she was a gymnast. 

“When I was in eighth grade, I stopped (gymnastics) because I (wanted) to play high school sports and I knew that I wouldn't have time for both,” Sanford said. “So I made that decision, and I'm very happy I made that decision.”

Her teammates and coaches surely are, too. Sanford was tabbed as the Gazette’s Girls Indoor Track Athlete of the Year for 2021-22.

This past indoor season, Sanford cleaned house at the MIAA Division 5 Indoor Track and Field Championships, winning the high jump with a leap of 5 feet, 4 inches while also coming in second in the 55-meter hurdles (8.85 seconds). She also qualified for the New Balance Nationals, where she competed in the Rising Stars 60-meter hurdles (9.51) and the Championship high jump (1.54 meters). She also placed third overall in the state pentathlon. 

But while Sanford is just in her third year of the sport, she competes like a seasoned veteran. She credits some of her gymnastics background with helping her juggle multiple events and trusting her coaches – that’s why she gravitated toward high jump in the first place, because it felt somewhat familiar to gymnastics. But as she’s grown and learned more about life on the track, she’s found that she prefers competing in her new sport.

“Gymnastics is great, but it's really hard on the body. And I think track, you have the individual stuff that you get to do, but then it's also still a team sport and the atmosphere is great and I don't get injured as much,” she said. 

Besides the atmosphere, Sanford is also grateful for the relationship she has with her coach, Nick Davis. Because Sanford competes at such a high level, she would often travel around to larger, high-level invitationals to compete along with teammate Jonas Clarke and Coach Davis. 

“He's so knowledgeable about everything and any time I get a little discouraged or anything, he's really helpful and telling me how to fix things or just being encouraging altogether,” Sanford said of Davis. “He gives us really hard workouts sometimes but it's really nice because it helps us improve and you can also joke around with him and everything.” 

Those hard workouts are given because Davis knows he has to challenge Sanford – her technical skills and ability to pick up something new quickly means she can handle a tough tasks. More than her physical talent though, Davis has been impressed with the junior’s maturity when it comes to working at practice. Sanford is very aware of how she’s feeling and won’t push herself to a breaking point just for the sake of finishing a workout.

“She's more than happy to come into practice and say ‘Hey, this is how I'm feeling today. This has bothered me, that's not bothering me,’” Davis said. “There's no fear of her coming in and just pushing through an injury because she wants to make sure that I'm happy with how everything's going.”

It helped that Sanford got a chance to learn from one of the best during her freshman year. Former South Hadley high jump champion Lindsay Marjanski was a senior when Sanford joined the team as a freshman. When she first started learning the mechanics of the event, Marjanski was right alongside to offer pointers and tips.

“She was so helpful. I learned a lot. She took me under her wing and just everything that she had learned, she told me,” Sanford said. “She just kind of walked me through everything.”

Her success this season is all the more impressive considering how hard it was for the Tigers to train for indoor events, particularly specialized events like the high jump and hurdles. South Hadley’s weight room was out of commission this past winter, and Sanford didn’t have access to a high jump pit at practice – all adjustments had to be made during competition. But despite all hurdles — both literal and figurative — Sanford still made it to nationals, her first time competing at the historic Armory Track in New York City.

“Jonas (Clarke) had been there before and Emma had never been there, so it was cool to see her eyes kind of get really big when we walked in for the first time,” Davis said.

It’s likely that Sanford will make a return trip next indoor season. For now, she’s focused on bettering her outdoor marks, and is also starting to talk to college coaches to see if she could continue her track career once she graduates from South Hadley. Until then, Sanford will continue to lead the Tigers in all of her events – and maybe she’ll even add a couple of new ones to her collection.

FIRST TEAM All-STARS: ​​​​​​

■Caroline Crocker, junior, Frontier

■Kira French, junior, Northampton

■Abby Gelinas, freshman, South Hadley

■Esme Marini-Rapoport, senior, Northampton

■Lauren Marjanski, sophomore, South Hadley

■Grace Plumer, senior, Hampshire

■Norah Reade, junior, Northampton

■Brie Salomao, senior, Hampshire

■Lily Shimpach, senior, Northampton 

SECOND TEAM All-STARS: 

■Bella Alcaraz, senior, South Hadley

■Quincy Biddle, senior, Northampton

■Josie Fosnot, freshman, Frontier

■Kaiah Gregory, senior, Northampton​​​​​​

■Claire McFarland, freshman, Frontier

■Bianca Peura, junior, Frontier

■Nicole Plasse, sophomore, Frontier

■Kendall Reynolds, senior, Northampton

■Anajisa Robinson, senior, Amherst

■Summer Sobieski, junior, Frontier


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