Sprinting through the outdoors

Changes between seasons provide new opportunities for women’s track and field

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Junior Emily Mulhern is returning for the outdoor season after being injured for the indoor season.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

When most seasons end, whether in triumph or heartbreak, teams will have months to prepare for their next competition. Track and field athletes only have days.

   “Track and field and cross country is the most unique sport that there is in the entire NCAA, and no one can argue that, because our student athletes are expected to compete in two or three championships,” track and field program director Bryan Fetzer said. “Two or three NCAA championships or ACC championships in one single year, and no other sport is ever even asked to do more than one.” 

Time between seasons is limited. This year, top college athletes gathered in Texas for the indoor track and field NCAA Championships March 10. The Cavaliers’ outdoor season started less than a week later, when Virginia kicked off competition March 16 at the Hurricane Invitational in Miami. Especially on the women’s side, the team underwent significant changes in that short period.  

The ACC Indoor Championships in February saw the Virginia men’s team place sixth, while the women’s team placed ninth. Though noting some standout individual performances during the indoor championships, the coaching staff seemed unsurprised that the team’s winter performance was weak compared to expectations for the team’s outdoor season.  

“Us not having an indoor facility definitely plays into it,” Fetzer said. “When you don’t have certain things, it kind of makes some things difficult. But, you know, we’re ready for outdoors.”   

And ready they are.  

Although cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field tend to overlap significantly, spring has marked a period of major transition for the women’s team. With those changes come new opportunities for a team that has been considered historically less competitive than their counterparts on the No. 23 men’s team. 

“We have nine young ladies that didn’t even compete indoors that we feel are ACC scorers, NCAA qualifiers outdoors,” Fetzer said. “So that’s a massive part of the team.”

Some of these athletes were redshirted for developmental purposes. Freshman sprinter Halle Hazzard did not compete in any indoor events for that reason, but she has quickly made an impact this spring. Hazzard finished with the fourth-fastest freshman time in U.Va. history in the 100m dash in Miami. That performance was followed up by a first place finish in the 100m dash in Richmond, and a second place finish in a 4x100 relay at the Cavaliers’ recent home meet.             

Another freshman sat out the indoor season not to train, but to participate in another sport entirely. Khyasia Caldwell-Adams, who has made a splash with two first-place finishes in the long jump this season, spent her winter on the Virginia women’s basketball team.  

“It’s not really like playing two sports at the same time, it’s like going from one season to another, so you don’t really get a break,” Caldwell-Adams said about the transition to spring. “I think basketball opened by eyes a little bit more. You have to work for your spot in basketball, so in track, you have to work to be one of the best. Going from basketball, it taught me how to kind of survive on my own and just work well with others.”   

Any tension between self-sufficiency and working together is resolved in track and field, where athletes on the same team might compete against each other but their scores are awarded to a shared team. Caldwell-Adams has become part of a dominant Virginia group in the long jump, alongside junior jumper Mia Barron. The two captured a 1-2 finish at the team’s recent home meet against Georgetown, Bucknell, and Maryland.   

The landscape of the outdoor season is also wildly different for this Virginia team because the group participates in several events outdoors that it does not contest indoors.    

“We focus very heavily on the field events,” Fetzer said. “There’s a lot of hammers, javelin, discus, 400 hurdles, 4x1 that aren’t indoor events, that we feel we have some pretty outstanding young ladies in.”

The women’s team has performed a high level in these events this spring, recording first-place finishes that were not even possible indoors. Graduate student Caitlin Mautz placed first in the javelin at the season opener and second at the team’s recent quad meet at home. Sophomore Angie Knight was also an NCAA qualifier in the 400 hurdles last season, an event that is not part of the indoor season.  

With more events aligned with the team’s strengths, and strong athletes prepared to compete for the season, expectations are high for this outdoor team. Beyond its changes season to season, though, Fetzer noted transformation in the women’s team over the past couple years.

“Some of our older individuals that have sort of been there, done that — [Holly] Sullivan, [Bridget] Guy and Barron — have had success at a very high level in the ACC, and I think that our women’s team has definitely started catching their groove and being in a better place … We were really young the past couple years and we’re still young overall, but I think when you get some key individuals who buy into what we’re trying to accomplish — that’s a key for success.”

Junior Emily Mulhern, who was injured for the indoor season, said she has also felt a sense of optimism surrounding this year’s group.

“The women’s team has big goals this year and we are all collectively working towards those goals,” Mulhern said. “Everyone is very supportive and uplifting.” 

They’re prepared to make an impact.    

“I’m excited, because we’re going to shock some people this spring, and in the next couple years we’re definitely going to shock a lot of people, and get better,” Fetzer said. “And, you know, I think we can definitely reach the level where the guys have been the last couple years.”

The men’s and women’s track and field teams will have another chance to shock the ACC this weekend as they host the seventh annual Virginia Challenge at Lannigan Field.

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