The University of Maine Field House has been the hub of UMaine athletics since its inception. Saturday afternoon’s track meet between UMaine and the College of the Holy Cross marked the last event held there in its current layout.
The Field House is scheduled to be renovated at some point in the coming year as part of a $5 million gift from New Balance, who has also agreed to assist the university in its continued maintenance of the New Balance Student and Recreation Center and the renovation of the Memorial Gym on campus.
While both the men’s and women’s teams were focused on the task at hand, for some, Saturday’s meet was more than just another competition.
“There’s absolutely some nostalgia involved,” UMaine junior thrower Justin Gagne said. “I mean we all had our first meets here of course as freshmen. At least my class, our first home meet was here and our first meet ever was here. So we’re always going to think about that. But you know a lot of kids have parents [that were on] the team who competed back in the day. It’s kind of nostalgic for their parents to come here and see them compete one last time before we renovate everything.”
Gagne, who holds the school record for shot put, finished first in the event on Saturday with a throw of 18.11 meters. He paced a strong performance by the Black Bear men, who edged out the Crusaders in 13 of the 17 events on their way to a 109-69 victory.
UMaine head coach Mark Lech said that although renovating the Field House may be bittersweet for some alumni, the improved facility conditions that will come with the renovation “can’t be anything but a positive thing.”
“I think just from the point of view of kids coming in here every day and seeing a brand new place, it’s going to add something to their experience here,” Lech said. “We’re trying to make it as user-friendly as possible.”
Although the Black Bear women fell to Holy Cross by a final tally of 100.50-79.50, UMaine did manage to come away with some solid performances. UMaine won six of the 17 scored events, including first-place finishes by sophomore Robyn McFetters in the weight throw, freshman Jaclyn Masters in the pole vault, junior Rachel Wilkinson in the mile, junior Ashten Hackett in the 55-meter hurdles, and freshman Shannon O’Neil in the 400-meter dash.
Senior distance runner Corey Connor led a come-from-behind victory for UMaine’s 4×880 yard relay team as well. The team finished with a time of 9 minutes, 48.26 seconds — more than 2 seconds faster than Holy Cross’ relay led by senior Kathleen Brekka.
“The meet for the guys was good, a little rough for the ladies,” Lech said. “There’s been a bout of sickness going around, so we probably didn’t have at least 40 points that we could have. That hit us pretty rough, but overall I think the season’s been going well.”
The Black Bear men had some other notable wins in addition to Gagne’s dominance in the shot put on Saturday. Junior Frank Del Duca took the long jump and the 55-meter dash, sophomore Alex Moser finished first in both the one mile and the 1,000-meter run, junior James Reed – who holds the school record in the 60-meter hurdles – took the 55-meter hurdles and the 200-meter dash, and sophomore Jake Leithiser finished first in the 400-meter dash.
“Because it’s an individual sport, it’s not like you have a Michael Jordan on the team that you can say, ‘Okay get on my shoulders, give me the ball,’” Lech said. “Everything is individual. But at the same time, yeah people look to those performances [as inspiration]. Especially people that are in the event with them.”
UMaine will participate in the Valentines Invitational held at Boston University, Feb. 8-9. The women get started Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. while the men finish up the event the following day at 10 a.m.
Both Lech and Gagne are hopeful their squad will do well the rest of the season.
“I think on the ladies’ side, because we’ve had some illnesses, I’d say we’ll probably be in the middle of the pack in the conference [at season’s end],” Lech said. “I think for the guys, I’m trying to shoot for third or fourth. I think that’s feasible.”
“I think we can really do well at conferences,” Gagne added. “Right now our main focus as a team is conferences. We’ve gotten a lot of good performances from a lot of kids this year, [and] I think we’re going to make a pretty big impact, [especially] with BU not competing at it this year. It opens up an opportunity for third or second if everybody performs like they can.”