While they really kicked off the season in December 2019 at the JDL Early Bird Invitational, Charlotte 49ers Track & Field begins their 2020 schedule on Friday, Jan. 17 and Saturday, Jan. 18 at Virginia Tech.
Though not nearly all of the team competed at JDL, those who do have one indoor season meet under their belts so far performed quite well. The team finished with many of the athletes near the top and several first-place finishes over the weekend.
"We were there during final exams, which is not usual each year, so we didn't compete a lot of people but the ones who went had a really good start, so we were excited," Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Bob Olesen said. "You know, that's a flat track with kinda tight turns, so we didn't run anybody in any of the long sprinting races. So those short sprint races went very well and we're especially glad to see our freshmen start out really, really strong."
Though it's taken seriously as a weekend of new competition, this first meet back after Christmas break is also important for evaluation purposes. Between coaches seeing where everyone is and how they perform in the meet, the athletes themselves are preparing to take note of what they do well and what they see that they can improve upon. This is especially true for those who didn't go to JDL and will be competing for the first time this season.
Redshirt senior and pole vaulter Keon Howe who is among the top-five collegiate pole vaulters, says that he and his fellow teammates have set goals for the season both as groups and as individuals. But first thing's first, to do their best this weekend and stay healthy.
"A lot of the runners who didn't compete at JDL, this'll be their first meet, but they've been preparing all through this time and you know, they feel like they're ready. And getting to this first meet, it's hard to be honest with yourself in your performance because you can't please everybody," Howe said. "Everyone is not gonna have their best performance ever. But it's all about hitting the small steps and hitting those goals that you set along the way and not ignoring your weaknesses. So I feel like for this first meet, it's important to recognize what went wrong and recognize what you can fix by conference."
While performance is always important, being that this weekend is mostly about evaluation and preparation, it's necessary to look back a little and think about what's worked well for the team. The Niners intend to keep putting forth their best effort and always going the extra mile in order to keep progressing in Conference USA and the postseason.
“The last few years we finally kind of hit our stride in the conference and we're winning some championships. I think that kind of word is getting out there and men's team has been really strongly ranked regionally ahead of some of the power five schools in the area. And so, you know, we're kind of hoping that that reputation is getting out there a little bit and we can bring in these talents and people like this,” Olesen said. “I think internally for us to see them go through that fall training and start out strong kind of tells us that we're on the right track as far as what we do with our training and taking somebody talented and making them into a contributor in Conference USA."
In the past two indoor seasons since 2018, the men won the C-USA Championship in 2018 and placed second in 2019 while the women finished third in 2018 and second in 2019 after having been projected to finish sixth in 2019. While the men have hovered around the top-two conference spots fairly consistently up to this season, the women have had a little bit different of a journey rising to the occasion. Even so, both the women and the men have lost a few key athletes that they'll have to adjust for.
"On the guys end, you know, it's about, ‘Okay, you know, don't get cocky because we lost this (graduated seniors) and we're expecting you to put in your part,’ as everyone just works their way up. While the girls, they had that upset, you know. So now that they really have something to prove...and they're driving really hard," Howe said. "And I just think that that dynamic between the guys and the girls, like we both had the same goal, but we got there different ways. And I really love that about this team, that it's two separate teams but at the same time, you know, we cross over and support each other all the same."
Especially following the increasingly impressive and consistent indoor seasons from Charlotte Track & Field, as mentioned before, the program is beginning to bring in even more talent in underclassmen and hopes to continue and develop that kind of quality recruiting.
Howe says that something getting freshmen can be "like rolling dice." With any sport and with every athlete there is always room for improvement, but as a freshman, no matter how talented, it may often be that some freshmen come in quite mature and prepared for how things work at the collegiate level and at certain programs. Other may need a little more time to get adapted and begin to develop but either way, the rest of the team both hopes for them to "hold their weight" but also want to support them and remind them not to put the world on their shoulders.
Another challenging mental battle coming with the beginning of this indoor season has been to stay focused and not get too cocky simply because of 2019's performances.
"The biggest thing for us is just to make sure no one gets comfortable because it's easy to win a championship and say, ‘Hey, we're all champs’ and go off the ego for the rest of the season. So we make sure that we're aware being first means that everybody is looking at your numbers. Like everybody knows what they're aiming for. You know, it's easier to win when they don't see you coming," Howe said. "Being champions, we all have to hold each other accountable for like, you know, what did you contribute last time? What are you going to contribute this time? So you know, all the people who have contributed anything to even get to that conference level. We're just talking about things that we could do better to ensure that we can make that happen again."
Howe, who is hoping to continue his pole vaulting professionally following graduation, has spent his past seasons working more on technique, form and things such as setting height goals for himself. Now, he just wants to see how much better he can do.
"I'm excited just to see how high can I really go because I feel like everything else has been pretty planned," Howe said. "Now that, you know, it's my senior season, it's my last season and I'm trying to make a mark. I'm literally just going to go for it."
Matching up against teams such as Virginia Tech, Virginia, Wake Forest, VCU, North Carolina, Elon, Tennessee, Howard University, Duke, Pitt and Liberty, Charlotte will take on some more serious competition over the weekend.
Following the meet at Virginia Tech, a few members of the team will travel back to Winston-Salem, N.C. to participate in the JDL January College Kick-off on Sunday, Jan. 19.