February 28, 2011

Familiarity Breeds Success for Tight-Knit Senior Class

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Being really fast is pretty fly. I don’t know if you have ever won a race, but those who have blown past their competition say there is nothing quite like it. The great ones admit it is all about hard work and practice, but just how intense is NCAA track and field?

This year’s women’s indoor season kicked-off with the Cornell Relays on Dec. 4 and concludes with the NCAA Championships on March 11-12, but the outdoor season begins the following weekend and concludes with NCAA Championships occurring June 8-11. Student-athletes bold enough to take on the cross country season start running in early September and cross the ultimate finish line only two weeks before the Cornell Relays.

“We’re in season all year-round, but with the success that we’ve had as a team I don’t know that we have to change so much.” said Lou Duesing, now in his 21st season as the head coach of the women’s track and field and cross country teams.

The 2010-11 squad backs coach Duesing’s word better than the previous 20: women’s track and field has its highest number of ECAC Championship qualifiers as it has had at this point in any season prior. Natural speed only gives a team so much energy. Chemistry, the kind that cannot be concocted in a lab, has vaulted this year’s Red higher than any other, and it starts with the leadership of senior co-captains Kim Lienhoop, Mecha Santos and Kim Standridge.

“As a captain there’s a sense to really, really help others, teach others if they need it, set really good examples at practice.  It’s constantly on my mind, some way that I can help somebody out,” Lienhoop said.

“It’s such a large team that the all of the seniors are leaders, the juniors step up to support the younger girls, and leaders step up in each grade, each event group,” Standridge added.

Standridge, an All-American, is already a six-time winner in five different intermediate and distance events this season.

Despite the presence of 14 senior leaders on this year’s roster, captaincy has its unique pressures.  When the co-captains were selected at the close of last season,  Duesing and assistant head coach Rich Bowman reassured their rising captains.

“Coach Bowman has always told me that my teammates chose me for a reason and that I shouldn’t change who I am because I have this new role. I have a responsibility and the only way I know [how] to do it [is] by example,” Santos said.

Neither Santos, who has three top finishes this season to her name, Standridge nor Lienhoop had set their sights on a captaincy from the outset.

“As a freshman I had no idea, I just listened to the captain, did what the seniors did, and tried not to look like a wimp at practice,” Lienhoop admitted.

Far removed from freshman fears, all three captains have carved their own niches to assure the team’s chemistry continues to grow.

“I’ve seen a lot of jumpers emulate what Kim [Lienhoop] does because she’s just so effective. The majority of the time she’s the last one in practice, last one in the weight room, but she’s also a fun-loving person and she’s easy to talk to,” Santos said.

Standridge acknowledged Santos’ personality as a fitting compliment to her speed.

“I think of Mecha as the spark plug. She just has so much energy and sass,” she said.

“She’s the funny one that people take seriously. She can quote every line of Kat Williams’ standup, but if she’s telling you to do something in practice, people won’t mess around,” Lienhoop added.

Standridge’s teammates have unofficially nicknamed her “Team Mom,” a role Standridge likely inherited from her own mother.

“Her mom is always there to provide us with goodies, like ‘Oh yeah, have some bagels!’” Santos said. “But Kim’s always very inclusive of everybody, and it’s a very nurturing feeling. She just cares a lot about the whole team.”

Standridge, who will continue to run with the team as a volunteer coach during the 2011-12 season, values her team’s familial energy.

“The clichés of teamwork, dedication, determination, seeing hard work pay off — I think it’s all true,” she explained. “We all become closer over the years, people on the team are my family, my best friends.”

Still eager to improve her heights and distances before season’s end, Lienhoop continues to value what she has gotten out of the team over any personal success on the track.

“It’s helped me get to where I’ve gotten to today — I’ve made friends for life and it’s been so fulfilling.”

Santos is also quick to point out the tremendous benefits of her track tenure.

“It has given me a sense of how to talk to different people everywhere I go, and just remaining so dedicated — if something’s not going my way I’ve learned to push through knowing in the end I’ll get better.”

The three co-captains each offer valuable lessons for the numerous up-and-comers. The Red’s 35 freshmen and 29 sophomores will have more opportunities to prove themselves with the addition of the 4×100, 1500, 400 meter hurdles, javelin throw and discus, among other events added to the outdoor season.

Santos sees her team hitting its true stride in the spring.

“We’ve always been a stronger outdoor team than an indoor team, and I’ve noticed that in the past the better we compete during indoor season, the better we compete outdoor,” Santos said.

Standridge is confident the Red will continue its impressive showing.

“Our coaches definitely try and look at the season as a whole and make sure that we’re peaking at the end of the springtime. We’ll continue to improve every week, that’s what we work towards,” she said.

No matter how the season ends, Santos feels the captains will leave their mark in their final semester as leaders of women’s track & field.

“All in all, this has been one of the best times in my life. I’m really going to miss it when I leave. This year has been great so far and I almost don’t want it to end,” she said.

Original Author: Jacob Kose