Track and field teams hope to continue tradition of excellence

When it comes to the topic of men and women’s track and field here at St. Thomas one word comes to mind: dominance.

In 27 consecutive seasons the men or women have had a relay team reach the national finals. For the past 24 years of the outdoor championships, the women have won the title 22 times and have captured 13 top-10 NCAA Division III team finishes in the past 22 seasons.

Coach Joseph Sweeney said he is proud of the team’s past achievements and is looking for more of the same this year.

“The theme for this year is overcoming obstacles, but striving to continue the tradition of success,” he said.

This will be difficult to do with limited practice space and frigid weather conditions, but the team has found a way to keep a sharp competitive edge. The sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers, and vaulters trek 3.5 miles to the YMCA on Lake Street at 7 a.m. daily. The long distance runners have been practicing year round and also go to the YMCA once a week. The throwers travel to a warehouse in Mendota Heights. This inconvenience has not slowed the progress of the team.

Senior All-American Kelly Russ was recently named the MIAC Indoor Track Athlete of the Week. “It is a great honor to win the award because there are so many strong and competitive track athletes,” Russ said.

Russ has good reason to be excited about the rest of the season as well.

“We have worked very hard to have a successful season thus far,” she said. “We have a strong, deep team, and I think that will pay off for us at the end of the season.”

The men’s team has been equally dominant, winning the MIAC indoor team championships for 25 straight years and the outdoor team title 22 times in 26 years. In 2008, the men snatched fifth place in the NCAA outdoor tournament and took a clean sweep of the conference outdoor and indoor titles. To top it all off, coach Steve Mathre was named the 2008 NCAA Region Coach of the Year.

Past successes have helped the men expect excellence from themselves and their teammates, but it may be a more difficult task this season. The team lost some key seniors to graduation, but sophomore Guy Priem believes those roles can be filled.

“Our new captains and some bright-looking freshmen have been stepped up to fill a void that was left by those seniors from last year,” he said.

Priem added that outstanding freshmen contributing can help this year’s team be more rounded and become “a different kind of team.”

Both are in action today in Duluth, Minn., with the women’s team races at the St. Scholastica Invite and the men at the Lake Superior Challenge.

Kristian Kircher can be reached at

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