In four short years at the helm of the men’s track and field program, head coach Nathan Taylor has turned the Red into a perennial contender for the Heptagonal championship. Contending turned into winning during last year’s indoor track season, as the team won its first Heptagonal title since 1978. Even more impressive, the team repeated the feat in the spring.
“It’s a nice pressure to be defending champions, but to expect to win again would be unrealistic,” Taylor said.
Taylor understands that the Red will face stiff competition within the league. Penn and Princeton — boasting two national champion athletes each — consistently finish in the top two or three in the league and are the Red’s biggest competitors. Taylor is very familiar with Penn’s program, since he was the head assistant track and field coach there before moving to Ithaca. While this year’s team will feel the pressure of defending its title, Taylor is very confident that his unit will compete and score well throughout the season.
“We have a great returning senior class who all know how to score and win,” remarked Taylor. “There are about 10 members of this year’s team who believe they can make it to the NCAA championship and score there. It’s really not a pipe dream for them, which is very exciting.”
Taylor will rely on a core group of seniors this season, who represent his first recruiting class from four years ago. Some of the senior co-captains are weights Giles Longley-Cook, jumper Jason Hart, and sprinter Rahim Wooley. Other significant seniors include pole vaulter Travis Offner, jumper Tyler Kaune, and sprinter Mike Nanaszko.
The Red has an accomplished team of 22 returning members who scored in the Heps championship last year.
“There are guys on this team who have accomplished a great deal at Cornell thus far, and they are poised to continue it this year,” said Taylor.
The indoor season is one that is not as significant for the long distance runners. It is a time for the distance runners to get their mileage back up and prepare for the upcoming outdoor season.
“The key for those athletes is to do work that gets them competitive for May,” Taylor said. “But we have a very big and competitive team, which makes my decisions difficult. It’s a good problem to have.”
Two outstanding performances could be on the horizon for the Red this season. Junior middle distance runner Oliver Tassinari and senior middle distance runner and captain Aldo Gonzalez are shooting for school records and berths in the NCAA championships.
While individual accomplishments are important to any track team, and track coaches count on strong individual times to score points at meets, Taylor knows that a team needs stellar performances from not five or 10 members, but rather the entire 20 to 25-man deep team for a championship.
“I’ve been getting the team focused on our goals to be successful this year,” said Taylor. “I am a very process-oriented person and we have practiced very well thus far.”
When asked about the impact of his new freshmen, Taylor said that it is difficult for freshmen to make significant waves on a large scale. He said that it is hard for 18-year olds to be competitive with 23-year olds on a consistent basis.
Some new members who have shined thus far in 2003 are hammer thrower Joe Pucci and two Washington state champions, pole-vaulter Evan Whitehall and hurdler Kolby Hoover.
The Red men’s indoor team of 2003 boasts a team composed of a very healthy recruiting class, experienced seniors, and poised sophomores and juniors. Taylor has realized that, since the indoor squad is generally smaller than the cross-country team, he will have to cut some holdovers from the 2003 cross-country team.
“The unfortunate fact is that some members of the team will have to be cut on just a numbers basis,” remarked Taylor. “It is too bad, but it is the residual of being a really good track team.”