The only Elon University team to win a Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) championship is ready to defend its title.
Bur before the women’s track and field team goes for back-to-back outdoor championships, the team must mentally prepare itself for the long indoor season and entire outdoor season.
“We definitely deserved to be there, but we’re not entitled to anything,” said head coach Mark Elliston. “The girls are excited about what they’re capable of, and they see the potential. They’re definitely doing what it takes to get themselves ready.”
The biggest difference between last year — Elon’s first season in the CAA — and this year are the team’s expectations for itself.
“I don’t want to say it was a surprise, but we didn’t realize we had a chance of winning until way later on in the season,” said captain and senior Sydney Griffin. “From the start of practice this year, we knew we had a chance to win this again. It makes every practice a little bit more special because there’s a different aura. Everyone’s working in mind of the goal.”
Currently, Elon is participating in the indoor portion of its season, along with seven other CAA schools in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC). The indoor season is considered a winter sport, running December- March.
The qualifying standards for the ECAC championship meet at the beginning of March are tough. One of the captains, senior Megan Kirschling, tries to focus on improving gradually throughout the whole season instead of trying to peak during the championship meets.
“For me, it’s a little bit of both,” Kirschling said. “You obviously want to continue to get better, and it’s a long season — we’re competing until May — so you always keep that in the back of your mind. In qualifying, you have to hit a certain mark, so you may need to go big, but at the same time you take all of the little accomplishments along the way.”
Griffin has a different approach.
“It’s definitely about the time,” Griffin said. “I want to see improvement, but this isn’t the time when we should be ready to go our fastest. You have to keep in mind that there’s things you want to improve, but you know there’s more to come.”
The competitive environment around the team has been fostered for years by Elliston, who’s in his 10th season as coach. The practices have become a shining light for the program, even though they can get “heated.”
“They’re very strong, very aggressive,” Elliston said. “It’s getting them ready to compete at the highest level. It’s so easy to back off, but they’ve got to push through the discomfort and pain to run with their teammates to bring out the best in themselves. It all starts in practice.”
While track is an individual sport, there can be a level of competition in practices that is overbearing and hurts teams, which Griffin experienced at her high school. But she said the community around the team at Elon has made it extremely enjoyable, which Kirschling agrees with.
“Everyone is on the same page for what we want, and we know the way to get there is by putting in the work, challenging each other and getting after it,” Kirschling said. “Our team is so close, and the way we go after it in practice … that’s the person who’s going to be with you in the hard times and in the box. It’s a good atmosphere to challenge each other in.”
The seven other CAA schools (Drexel University and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington do not have women’s track and field teams) along with three men’s track and field teams will all descend upon Elon’s small campus for the championships at the Jerry and Jeanne Robertson Track & Field Complex May 6-7.
“Obviously you want to do a good job as a host,” Elliston said. “We want to host a quality championship meet, and we’re looking forward to that as a university.”
But when it comes to the meet itself, the team knows the other CAA schools have Elon in mind as they prepare for May 6-7.
“The CAA is good competition — each team is getting better each year, and everybody is gunning for it,” Kirschling said. “It’s gonna be a good meet. I’m excited.”