Track and field ready to hit the ground running after not competing for a year

Then-junior+Asia+Smith+was+one+of+five+Aztecs+to+receive+All-America+honors+for+the+2019-2020+indoor+season.

Courtesy of SDSU Athletics

Then-junior Asia Smith was one of five Aztecs to receive All-America honors for the 2019-2020 indoor season.

by Marco Perez, Contributor

San Diego State track and field returns to outdoor competition on Feb. 25 when the Aztecs host the University of Utah for a dual meet. This will be the first time the track and field team will be competing outdoors since the end of the 2019 season.

The track and field team is aiming to win another Mountain West Conference championship. The Aztecs have won four titles in the last seven seasons, with their last coming at the end of the 2018 season. 

Preparation for this season has been unlike anything the program has previously experienced. Normally, the team has a complete fall and indoor season to prepare for the outdoor season. With the indoor season canceled due to COVID-19, the team has been able to put all of its focus into getting ready for the outdoor season. 

Head coach Shelia Burrell said the cancellation of the indoor season gives the Scarlet and Black an advantage. 

“Us not doing indoor is in our favor,” said Burrell. “That gives us more time to prepare for the outdoor season, and gives us more time to be able to focus our eyes on a championship and the postseason.”

Burrell and her staff have had to approach and plan for the season in ways that don’t just include the physical aspect.

“The biggest job that we’ve had as coaches has nothing to do with workouts,” Burrell said. “It has everything to do with motivation and mental health. Has everything to do with the uncertainty of the times and keeping those kids focused, engaged and happy. Keeping them happy, enjoying the sport and why they’re here has been our biggest job.”

SDSU is home to one of the top pole vaulting programs on the west coast. One cannot mention pole vaulting at SDSU without including Richard Fox. Fox has been an assistant with the program for over 20 years and has trained successful track and field student-athletes like Bonnie Draxler throughout his tenure. 

Junior pole vaulter, Alysia Allen was named to the All-Mountain West Conference track and field team during the 2019 season. She has been working with Fox since she arrived at SDSU.

“Coach Fox is one of the most encouraging coaches I have ever had, or worked with, in my life,” Allen said of Fox. “I think that brings out the success in his athletes.”

Pole vaulting is just as much of a mental sport as it is a physical sport. Allen said she gives Fox credit for helping pole vaulters stay strong mentally. 

“A part of pole vaulting that I think is different from other sports is the mental aspect,” Allen said. “I think he really helps his athletes with that mental part and pushes us to the next level. Obviously, he is a good coach technically, but I think it’s his assistance in the mental aspect that pushes us to be better in our sport.”

Burrell said traditionally, on a conference and national level, SDSU has had very strong pole vaulters. This squad is no different. 

“Honestly, I think that this pole vault squad I have right now is young,” Burrell said. “But as a group, is probably one of the top three most talented groups of pole vaulters we’ve had.” 

Another talented group returning in 2021 is the sprinters. The 4×400 meter relay team earned second team All-American honors for outdoor track and field in 2019, and first team All-American honors for indoor track and field in 2020.

Senior sprinter Jalyn Harris was part of both teams and is one of two legs that remain. She will also be running the 200-meter and the 400-meter this season. 

Preparations have been different for her and the other sprinters because of the pandemic. Their preseason started later than normal and the lack of indoor competition made it difficult to gauge how hard to train in the weeks leading up to the start of the season. 

“We were training a lot harder earlier than we ever have before,” Harris said of her training. “Knowing we had those two months taken away, we were trying to train as if we were in season already. Everything was getting pushed up and we were running a lot faster in practice.”

Given the higher intensity of practices, Harris said she and her teammates are ready for their first meet. 

“A lot of the girls are running faster times right now,” said Harris. “I’m dropping some fast times and with our first meet coming up, I think we should be prepared to run really well.”

Despite this year being different from all other track and field seasons, one constant has remained the same with track and field at SDSU for over 30 years: the Aztec code. 

“We have an Aztec code. We call ourselves women of excellence and our Aztec code is team before self,” Burrell said. “We are competing for each other and making sure that we are always striving towards a standard of excellence. That’s just part of who we are as Aztecs.” 

The team has been able to come together and unite given the uncertainty of the season. Allen said through all the stoppages, postponements and practices, the team used it as a bonding experience that has brought them all closer. 

“The team aspect is the most important part,” Allen said. “Feeding off of each other and the energy that we put out really changes competing, practice, everything.”

The track and field team’s first test is Feb. 25 in its dual meet against Utah at the Aztrack Sports Deck. The next event after that is the Aztec Invitational March 25-27.

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