Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor
Berry’s track and field team is set to host its annual Berry Field Day Invitational this weekend, the team’s final event before the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) championships later this month. Taking place over two days, the meet will include sprints, relays and long-distance running, as well as throwing and jumping events.
Luke Syverson, track and field head coach, said a lot goes into organizing the event.
“Obviously it’s a little bit different than a lot of sports that we offer in that we have to do a lot of the work,” Syverson said. “As a coaching staff, we do all of the work for [the invitational], so setting up the facility. Usually college meets have a number of different colleges come, anywhere from as little as six to as many as twenty, so it ends up being a little bit bigger event with a lot more logistical things that have to be taken care of. That’s why we typically only do two, it’s a lot of work that goes into putting on a big invitational, but it’s great obviously for our kids because it’s a chance to compete on our track in front of their home crowd, and for us we have an incredible facility that we’re really proud of and thankful of for our alumni and people who donated to get Valhalla built, so it’s kind of a labor of love in a way.”
For sophomore Kya Wiggins, who competes in the 4×100, 4×400, 400 and 200 meter races, closing out the pre-championship season at home is a satisfying end to the regular season.
“It means a lot, because we started the first meet of the season in February at Berry and it’s like we’re coming full circle running here again for our last meet before conference,” Wiggins said.
Given the restrictive spectator policies in place due to COVID-19, the Berry Field Day Invitational will also be the first opportunity for families to attend a track and field meet this season, something junior Braden Jarvis, who competes in the pole vault, long jump and triple jump, was keen to highlight.
“Especially after this whole year and really just not having track for a long period of time, it means a lot to us as a team,” Jarvis said. “And just as an individual, it’s amazing to have my parents come and watch me, so it’s really a blessing.”
Junior pole vaulter Eva Proels agreed that parents being able to come was exciting and also said that competing at home gives the team a mental edge.
“For me it’s being able to compete on our own track and on our own equipment,” Proels said. “Just being able to be in the place where you put in all of the work every single day that you put into your event, and then being able to utilize your space in competition, so it’s like trusting the equipment and knowing where you are and being able to visualize success. You visualize success every day at practice in your space and then being able to go and do that in a meet with your space is the best feeling, so home meets are definitely awesome.”
With this advantage, Berry will be hoping for a strong showing in what has already been a good season. Berry currently has several athletes topping their disciplines, including Jarvis and Wiggins, who were both named SAA athlete of the week earlier this season. Jarvis currently leads the men’s pole vault rankings with a 4.40 meter jump, while Wiggins holds the best time on both the 200 and 400 meter races for women, with 25.83 and 58.22 seconds, respectively. Other leaders include sophomore Bradshaw Lathbury in the men’s 10k, freshman Connor Cole in both the men’s 110 and 400 meter hurdles and junior Jared Ogle in the men’s hammer throw.
For Proels, this success is down to the team’s dedication since they returned in the fall.
“Preseason was difficult in the fall with all the COVID regulation and all the uncertainty, but we pushed really hard to have meetings and we were allowed to have practice,” Proels said. “We were allowed to and so that really helped us to stay cohesive as a team and really be ready for hitting the ground running in January and, luckily, we were able to take off. So far, we’ve had really great meets as a team and we’ve been improving as a team as a whole since the very first meet of the season. It’s been just really exciting to see that everyone has been improving together and all the practices that we were able to put in in the fall, even when we didn’t know if we were going to get to compete in the spring, just really came to fruition this season.”
Unlike other sports, however, these performances do not determine winners come the end of the season, according to Syverson.
“So our sport is a little goofy,” Syverson said. “It’s not like the SAA where you have a regular season schedule and you’re trying to win a certain number of games to qualify for the conference championship. In our sport, we’re kind of chasing times and marks. So, while the meet is scored and we take pride in trying to see how well we can do each meet, it doesn’t have any impact on what we later on in the season. For example, we’ll still go to our SAA championship at the end of April at Rhodes, but all the teams can come and enter five people per event, and it’s regardless of what you do earlier in the season.”
Syverson said that, still, these performances are not meaningless, as they do determine qualification for the national NCAA tournament.
“So for right now we’re trying to chase marks that have kind of national importance, we’re trying to qualify for the NCAA championships. At the end of the season they take basically the top 20 people in the event and those are the people that move on and qualify for the NCAA championships.”
As a result, each athlete will go into the meet with their own personal objectives. Jarvis said he will be looking to match a jump he managed in practice which would see him break his personal record on the pole vault.
“For this weekend’s meet, I really just want to go out there and compete, and a lot of my friends are coming and my parents are coming, so it would be really cool to PR again and actually hit 15 feet in a meet,” Jarvis said. “So that’s my goal for this weekend.”
Proels and Wiggins said they looked f o r w a r d not only to competing in their events, but also to cheering their teammates on along with what they hope will be a sizable home crowd.
Syverson also said he hoped Berry students, faculty and staff would come out in numbers.
“We’re just excited to be able to host again,” Syverson said. “With people not being able to watch athletic events, the more that we can host on campus the more fun it is for our athletic community. The track lasts all day long, so it’s kind of easy to come and go and watch their friends or the people that are in their class compete and leave and come back. So there’s something for everybody kind of going on throughout the meet and so I just encourage people to come out and watch and enjoy the day outside.”
The Berry Field Day Invitational will begin tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. with the hammer throw and the triple jumps, followed by all three long-distance races between 5 and 9 p.m. The second day of the event will start at 9:30 a.m. with the discus throw and will close out at 4 p.m. with the 4×400 meter relays. All events will take place at Valhalla Stadium, Williams Field, Clark Track or Dickey Field, with a full schedule available on the Berry Athletics website.