To call this an unusual season for the Hopkinton High School girls outdoor track and field team would be an understatement. Even with pandemic-related restrictions largely in the rearview, the Hillers came into the year with a large roster replete with athletes who had never really competed in spring track and less time to get everyone acclimated to their events.
For a novice track athlete, it can be hard to figure out which event is the one in which she or he will excel, so coach Jean Cann and her staff had to come up with ways to sort out who might have a chance to stand out as a sprinter, hurdler, distance runner and everything in between.
“The interesting part for us is we have some sophomores who didn’t do indoor track so they are new because we did not have outdoor track last year,” Cann said. “Couple that with the freshmen and we have two classes we have to get to know.”
Even for those who were part of the indoor track program, the freedom to try different events was not part of the experience because COVID-19 protocols meant pods of athletes had to stick together without intermingling.
“If they were in the throwing pod, we couldn’t say, ‘Come and try distance running for a day,’ ” Cann said.
The coaches started the season by having athletes try out different exercises, like jumps or sprints, to get a sense of what someone’s gifts might be. It was helpful to have the weather cooperate for the most part. Cann recalled a couple of days over the winter with the track and turf field covered in snow and having to run repeats in the bus loop or find any suitable space for a workout.
Not that there have not been any hiccups with the delayed spring season.
“We came to practice one day and saw a tent set up on the track for Town Meeting,” Cann said.
But in a year of unpredictability, the Hillers have had a number of athletes on which they have been able to count for both scoring and leadership.
Kate Powers began the year by breaking her own school record in the discus with a heave of more than 140 feet. The distance was not only the top throw in the Tri-Valley League, it was at least 50 feet farther than her next closest competitor. Powers also picked up early victories in the shot put.
Teammate Hailey Tolson did not miss a step after a strong indoor season, scoring wins in the dash and long jump as well as anchoring a victorious 4×100 relay team. Olivia Jones has returned to top form after suffering some setbacks with injuries, winning the 800 handily in the season-opening meet.
“We are going to look for big things from her,” Cann said.
Autumn Tumbleton and Katie Callery also scored season-opening wins in the mile and 2-mile, respectively, and Sowmya Karthikeyan captured a win in the 400 meter hurdles. Shelby Jones, Grace Prucher, and youngsters Bethel Flanagan and Stephanie Johnson are among the many other promising athletes on this year’s team.
The talent and commitment have Cann setting the bar high for her team and trying to make the year as normal as possible, even though the spring started with the Hillers needing to do things like figure out how to bond as a team without always physically being together.
“We would like to win all of our TVL meets and give the seniors the best experience possible since they didn’t get their junior season, and I think we can do that,” Cann said. “This whole year has been about flexibility and rolling with things.”