This hasn’t been the best of springs from a training standpoint for the University of Maine track and field teams, but the Black Bears have somehow been able to work around it.
“The weather hasn’t been great, so performance-wise its always difficult to get good ones in and compete well,” head coach Mark Lech said.
The postseason will officially kick off for UMaine this weekend, as the Bears travel to Baltimore for the America East championships.
The two-day meet, which will be hosted by the University of Maryland Baltimore County, starts Friday and concludes Saturday.
Two of UMaine’s biggest weapons, distance runners Corey Conner and Riley Masters, will not be competing. Neither has competed this spring.
“They can still use some fine-tuning, too, on their racing, so I figured this’ll probably be a good time to sit them out now and give them a chance to recover from cross country and indoor and get some strength back,” Lech explained.
While both runners aren’t racing this spring, they’re sticking with their workouts.
“They’re still training right along,” Lech said, “and I think both of them, at least Riley I know, are going to run at the distance meet at Bowdoin (in June).”
Both Conner and Masters had lengthy cross country and indoor seasons, with Conner qualifying for the NCAA championships in both sports and Masters in the mile this winter.
Masters has been putting his down time to good use, as he’s coaching the middle school track and field team in Old Town.
His UMaine teammates have a strong shot to climb into the top five, and the Black Bears will be led by Jimmy Reed, the top seed in the 110 hurdles; T.J. England of Auburn in the triple jump, Justin Gagne of Biddeford in the throwing events and Jeff Ramos of Turner in the high jump.
“The guys, I think it’s going to be interesting because we have some people that are ready to go and perform well,” Lech said. “Numbers-wise, we don’t have a lot of depth.”
Even without Masters, the Bears have plenty of talent in the distance races, led by freshman Kelton Cullenberg of Chesterville in the 5,000, David Currier of Sidney in the 10,000 and York’s Alex Moser in the 1,500.
Cullenburg has a personal best of 15 minutes, 1 second this spring.
“I think he can run a lot faster than 15:01,” Lech said. “I think if he gets in the right race, he can go at least 14:40.”
Defending champion Albany and Binghamton are looming as the team favorites. Binghamton features a local favorite in Bangor native Casey Quaglia, the No. 4 seed in the 1,500.
On the women’s side, Maine features one of the conference’s top threats in Jesse Labreck of Oakland, who is a threat to claim gold medals in the 100 hurdles and the long jump.
With the combination of graduation losses and Conner not racing this spring, the Black Bears will likely have to hold or exceed their seeds to have a chance at the top two.
“I don’t think we have enough depth without Corey in there and losing a couple of people that we did last year,” Lech said. “I think the best that we could probably get is third.”
Labreck is the No. 1 seed in both the triple jump (20 feet, 2.25 inches) and hurdles (13.45 seconds), and she’ll also compete in the 4×100 and 4×400 relays.
Other key athletes include Alli Krous of Washington and Jessica Bond of Quebec in the javelin, Ceahra Miller of Maryland and Jillian O’Brien of Buffalo in the 100 and 200, Allie Conner in the 10,000, Allie Fereshetian of Turner in the 100 and 400 hurdles and Katherine McGeoghan of Massachusetts, a sister of former UMaine football player Phil McGeoghan, in the high jump.
Fereshetian, a freshman who enjoyed an outstanding high school career at Leavitt High, has adjusted nicely to the 400 hurdles, an event not contested at the high school level.
“I don’t think it has been that difficult for her,” Lech said. “I think because of the work that she did throughout the whole fall and winter, she’s got the strength to finish off that last 100 meters worth of hurdles.”
Albany is also the defending champion on the women’s side and is favored to repeat, with Boston University a threat as well.
Maine should battle it out with UMBC and New Hampshire for a top-three finish.