Track notebook: Northampton numbers bolstered by new recruits

  • Northampton’s Yelena Caldanaro competes in the 100-meter hurdles in a meet last season. STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer 
Published: 4/19/2023 5:27:51 PM

The Northampton track and field program has always had talent, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blue Devils have lacked some of the depth they’ve had in past seasons. 

Teddy King-Pollet and Rowan Hodgson decided to take matters into their own hands this season, leading an independent recruitment drive in an effort to bolster the team’s numbers. 

“We had a recruiting effort this year from some of our track guys to get other sport people to do track this year. Getting a guy like (basketball’s Silas Cole) over, some throwers, too, that we've had that are football guys do track for the first year this year,” Northampton boys’ head coach Eric Pfalzgraf said. “Teddy and Rowan did a hard campaign for spring. I think they kind of used the juice from nationals to be like, ‘Look, this is what we're doing.’” 

As usual, the Blue Devils will rely heavily on their distance and mid-distance runners, their bread and butter over the past few years. Athletes like King-Pollett, Jack Kamins, Jude Mourad and Davis Wheat make the Blue Devils a tough opponent, and they’ve gathered more talent in other events this year – Cole has been dominating the high jump, Smith Vocational transfer Juan Jose Adams Causton has also been picking up points and Ryland Breen has the sprints covered. 

The same is true for the girls side – their numbers are up this year, especially in the field events which has been a game changer for the Blue Devils in their meets. A lot of those newcomers have been upperclassmen looking for a new experience during their last year in high school. 

“I received a lot of new seniors that came from other sports that just wanted to have a positive experience in the spring of their senior year,” Northampton girls head coach Linda Rowbotham said. “They've been a refreshing, fun addition.” 

The girls will be led by distance phenom Norah Reade, who can handle anything from the two-mile to the 800 meter run. Kira French and Camilla Brewer are back, with French handling hurdles and Brewer taking control of the sprints, and both looking strong in their respective field events as well. Freshman Allie Sullivan has been another impressive addition, winning whatever event she tries from high jump to the 100 dash. 

After a couple of the boys relay teams qualified for nationals during the indoor season, the girls have their sights set on that for outdoor. The Blue Devils will try to hit a qualifying standard at the Steele Relays next weekend, an invite where they’ll face tough competition that can push them to new marks. 

“I noticed some of the girls really want to achieve some standards so they can go to nationals, so they're looking to potentially do that. I think that the likelihood of that happening is strongest in a relay,” Rowbotham said. “When we go to Steele Relays, we're going to be setting them up so that maybe that can (happen). They have that dream and we want to help them to fulfill it.” 

Early injuries, low numbers plaguing ’Canes

Like Northampton, Amherst has stars in its midst that have shown what they can do during the indoor season. At the Division 3 state meet, Gazette Boys’ Athlete of the Year David Pinero-Jacome won the 1,000 meter state title, Logan Alfandari finished sixth in shot put, Tamar Byl-Brann placed seventh in the mile, and the boys’ 4x800 relay finished third.

The girls track program has just 20 girls on the team, severely limiting its ability to put together relays, and putting them in a tough spot if injuries happen throughout the season. The injury bug has already struck, taking out sophomore star Moriah Luetjen who had a breakout freshman season. Luetjen suffered a stress fracture during indoor season that’s taking longer than expected to heal up, and it’s not clear when she’ll return. 

“We can put a couple pretty decent people in every event, and that's more than I've been able to do some other years,” Amherst girls head coach Chris Gould said. “I'm excited about the team. I just wish I had more people.” 

The girls will rely heavily on top performers like distance/mid-distance runner Byl-Brann, Elizabeth Sawicki, who took up pole vaulting this year and could compete in multi-events this year. The one-two punch of Sanaa Johnson and Courtnegail Rose in the throws will also be key.

The boys are in slightly better shape – they have around 30-35 athletes, which has been around the team’s average, and have improved their depth in some of their events this year. Some of the new athletes are open to competing in different events, which gives boys head coach David Thompson some flexibility when it comes to filling events. 

“Some of these kids are young but they're excited to compete. It gives us a little wiggle room to be able to put them in different events,” Thompson said. “We need to figure out the best race for those guys to get into and compete in.” 

The Hurricanes’ bread and butter in track has always been their mid-distance runners, led by the Pinero-Jacome twins, David and Miguel. Both were nursing small injuries early in the year, but if they’re healthy come postseason time, they’ll be tough to beat. Add in Sam Woodruff, Diego Lopez, Kyle Yanko, and freshmen like Owen Platt and Nico Lisle who stepped up during indoor season, and they could be a force in relays. 

The other big hitter, of course, is Logan Alfandari, who has been a star in the throwing events. He placed sixth in the shot put during indoor season and hasn’t missed a beat. He’ll team up with Moniha Krouch in the throws. Thompson also mentioned that Marcielo Aquino, a basketball player, has shown promise in the long jump early in the year. 

Sanford still up in South Hadley

Though Jonas Clarke took his remarkable talents to Harvard at the end of last season, South Hadley still has a superstar in its track midst – senior Emma Sanford, who earned the Gazette’s Girls Indoor Track Athlete of the Year thanks to a couple of indoor championships and top performances at the All-State meet. 

The Tigers aren’t the deepest team, and Sanford likes competing in multi-events, so she’s going to be a heavy hitter. She’s not alone, helped along by teammates like sprinter and jumper Abigail Gelinas and thrower Lexie Scott. All three have made impacts early for their team, and will be relied on often throughout the season. 

Also exiting last year was girls head coach Nick Davis, who is still involved with South Hadley track but stepped down from the head coaching job because of work obligations. Taking his place is “Coach K” Kathleen Labrie, who’s been with the Tigers track program for a number of years. 

The boys team is low in numbers and rebuilding a bit this season. One athlete to watch will be hurdler Jameson Webber, who’s been picking up valuable points for the Tigers already this season. 

Life after Vecellio

Jack Vecellio was an athlete to remember – the senior was a co-winner of the Boys Track Athlete of the Year in 2022 along with South Hadley’s Jonas Clarke, and he’s continuing his track career with Clemson after winning a state title in the pole vault last season.

It’s rare to have that type of athlete in the area, and while Vecellio is gone, the Redhawks are still looking to make some noise on the track this season.

Both the Frontier boys and girls track teams went unbeaten during the regular season in 2022 — the Redhawk girls also winning the Western Mass. Div. 2 title — and with how both have opened the season, it looks like the South Deerfield program will once again be a tough out this spring. 

 “We have a positive outlook,” Frontier girls coach Bob Smith said. “We will work to be the best we can be.” 

Caroline Crocker is coming off a winter season in which she placed second in the Div. 5 state meet in the 55 hurdles. At the Western Mass. Div. 2 outdoor meet a season ago, Crocker pulled out a first-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles while Hannah Mackin took third in the mile and Abigail Howard earned second in the high jump (5-0). Mackin and Howard are also back this year on a Redhawk team that doesn’t lack in experience as they shoot for its second straight Western Mass. title. 

Replacing Vecellio on the boys side won’t be easy, but Frontier has plenty of experience returning as it looks to make a run at a Western Mass. title. Ian Burt, Ben Cachiguango and Adrien Pazmandy each won two events in the Redhawks’ opening meet against Greenfield and will be athletes to watch this spring while eighth grader Evan Hedlund competed at the Nike Indoor Track Nationals in March and placed fourth in the middle school mile. Erich Brown was second in the high jump at Western Mass. a year ago.

Eagles nesting at Mountain View

Easthampton track is home at last this season, finally finding a home surface. The Eagles have nested at nearby Mountain View School Track. 

The Eagles have more to be excited about than just their new home track – Giuseppe DeNucce Simms is going to be an athlete to watch this season. He’s a field event whiz, competing in disciplines from the discus to the long jump to the shot put – and winning all of them.

Hampshire impressing early

Hampshire’s track teams have some athletes who have shown that they are threats in multiple events this season. 

On the boys’ side, Jaiden Kudelka has been one of the best in both the 100 meter dash, triple jump and pole vault, while teammate Ayden St. Martin has proven himself adept at the high jump, long jump and 110 hurdles. Distance mainstays like Spencer Reese, Gavin DaFonte and Nick Brisson will help pick up points in the longer events. 

On the girls side, cross-country star Kathleen Barry will look to keep doing damage in the distance events like the two mile. Sicily Chase has looked strong in the 800 and Rylee Joseph has taken the lead in both the long and triple jump events while Kat Simmons is handling throws. 

Hannah Bevis can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.
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