Members of the Lehigh track and field team practice their pole vault runs at Goodman Campus on April 13. The track and field team has raised the bar to finish the outdoor season on a high note. (Walker Wadsworth/B&W Staff)

Track and field raises expectations for remainder of outdoor season

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Though Matt Utesch has been coaching both men’s and women’s track and field for over 20 years at Lehigh, he said this season’s group is unlike those he’s seen compete in the past.

“The culture on this team is very different this year,” Utesch said. “It’s really about track first with this team, and that’s something I’m extremely proud of.”

The track and field team has competed at eight meets since the outdoor season began in mid-March and has broken personal records at each. Coming into the season, Utesch said he was expecting his group of runners to continue to push themselves and their boundaries both in and out of races.

Utesch said he is impressed with the dedication of the talented team, something he attributes to its captains.

“It’s very hard to lead a group of people that big,” Utesch said. “With so many different skillsets and areas of competition, it’s remarkable how this year the whole group has really come together.”

Senior distance runner and captain Patrick Reilly agreed with his coach and said he’s proud of his teammates for how far they’ve come together.

“I think having this dynamic, this culture, has really elevated our performance,” Reilly said.

While Utesch praised his captains for their performance and impact on the team, he’s also taken note of a few younger standouts.

Utesch said he sees freshmen thrower Brittany Curtin, distance runner Sean Brown and sprinter Samuel Tapera becoming important parts of the program because of their contributions to the team early in their Lehigh careers.

“Track and field is obviously a numbers- and time-based sport, so you generally have an idea of who’s going to perform well coming from high school to college,” Utesch said. “Because of that, it makes it really impressive what these athletes have been able to accomplish.”

As the season progresses, the team’s fast times will put the Mountain Hawks in the running to improve their rankings and win awards moving forward, something junior hurdler and captain Noreen Byrne said many athletes are hoping to accomplish.

“We want to put ourselves on the podium in the end, and in order to do that, we have to put ourselves in the best position possible,” Byrne said.

While the team has five meets left in the regular season, the Mountain Hawks are looking forward to competing in the outdoor Patriot League Championships and improving their overall standings from years prior.

Junior mid-distance runner and captain Maura Henderson said each year the team sets the bar higher for its performance at the championships. This year is no different.

“I think it’s reasonable to always want a top-half finish in the league at the least, and this year’s team is no different, but I think our expectations are even higher this year,” Henderson said. “I know us women are going to push for that top-three finish at the least.”

Henderson said the men are also gunning for a top-half finish in the league to conclude the outdoor season.

Utesch said the team is at a point where placing in the top half of the conference is more of an expectation than a goal.

“Even with that, I know that our women certainly have a chance to make it up into the top three or two, and our men can certainly strive to finish above average,” Utesch said.

The team is making its final push of the long season to end on a high note. The seniors especially are looking to make their last few performances their best ones.

“It’s incredible to imagine how, four years ago, I was getting set to come here, and now I’m pushing to finish my running career here,” Reilly said. “I just want these last few races to help add to all the incredible moments I’ve had on this team.”

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