Track & field preview 2024: Not happy with last year’s performance, Northampton boys seeking redemption

Northampton’s Theodore King-Pollet runs the  two mile at the PVIAC Division 1 track and field championships last year in Agawam.

Northampton’s Theodore King-Pollet runs the two mile at the PVIAC Division 1 track and field championships last year in Agawam. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Amherst’s Elizabeth Sawicki competes to a first place finish in the 400-meter hurdles at last year’s PVIAC Division 1 track and field championships.

Amherst’s Elizabeth Sawicki competes to a first place finish in the 400-meter hurdles at last year’s PVIAC Division 1 track and field championships. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 04-12-2024 5:58 PM

The Northampton boys team entered last year’s Western Massachusetts outdoor track and field championships with lofty expectations.

The Blue Devils felt they had plenty to not only compete with their peers, but win the whole thing. And following a disappointing effort that saw them finish in the middle of the pack, they are hungry to redeem themselves this spring.

Northampton had a strong indoor season where it grabbed second place at the PVIAC Championships. Riding the legs of Teddy King-Pollet, the Blue Devils’ long-distance stud, carrying over the success of their indoor efforts seems to be the main goal – according to head coach Eric Pfalzgraf – even despite the low number of athletes participating in field events.

“We’re coming off a pretty good indoor season where we had a lot of good individual performers,” Pfalzgraf said. “I’d like to be competitive again in Western Mass. as well. I think we’re stretched a little tight for field events, but I know our distance is gonna be good. It’s been our bread and butter over the last couple of years, so I know we’ll get a lot of points there… We definitely want to improve from our finish last year because last year, we were feeling real good for no good reason. Then we got our butts kicked at Western Mass. We don’t want that to happen again.”

The key to turning in a good result at Western Mass? Performing best at the right time.

Throughout the regular season, Northampton wants to use its dual meets as stepping stones for the big stage. If each athlete can improve little by little, they should be primed for strong outings come the end of the year.

“I want my top guys to get PRs throughout the season and peak toward the end,” Pfalzgraf said. “Hopefully we can put it all together toward the end of the season.”

Pfalzgraf isn’t the least bit worried about his top guys. The first-year head coach says his upperclassmen are “really plugged in” and “confident they can string together a good season.”

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The question isn’t about those upperclassmen, who are multi-skilled and very dedicated. King-Pollet, a senior, won the two mile (10:03.99) at the PVIAC championships over the winter. Another senior, Davis Wheat, was an All-State cross country runner in the fall and a national qualifier in javelin last spring. Pfalzgraf called Wheat “very versatile,” as he can do whatever the team needs either on the track or in the field.

Elsewhere, Silas Coles is a name to keep an eye on this spring. Injuries cut the senior’s spring season short in 2023, but he’s expected to make a big return at high jump and should be competing among the best in the region. Juan Jose Adams Causton is Northampton’s best sprinter, and he can also make some noise at long jump.

The Blue Devils are loaded with senior talent in 2024 as they have 12 on the roster this year.

“I’m excited to see their growth as the season progresses,” Pfalzgraf said. “I think we have the right group to be successful, so we’ll see how it goes. They’re a fun group to be around.”

Part of Pfalzgraf’s plan for the year is to bring along the younger talent as well. He isn’t as worried about his dozen seniors as he is his underclassmen.

Northampton has 19 freshmen and 11 sophomores on the team, some of whom don’t have much live-meet experience.

From a team perspective, the Blue Devils need their youth to step up if they plan to avenge their finish at Western Mass. this season.

“The question is can we develop our young guys, because we have a lot of freshmen who have potential to fill in some of our depth as the season goes along,” Pfalzgraf said. “If we’re gonna compete, we need them to be there by the time Western Mass. comes around.”

Northampton’s girls team also had a successful indoor season, and they’re hoping that will translate to the outdoor world as well.

Camilla Brewer and Eleanor Lewis lead the Blue Devils’ sprinting unit, while Odessa Gianesin is a promising mid-distance runner who also shined in the 400 hurdles during Northampton’s dual meet with Minnechaug earlier this week. Brewer excels in the 100 hurdles as does Lewis, who also competes in the 400 hurdles.

Northampton girls head coach Moira McDonald, like Pfalzgraf, is also in her first year leading the charge. The hope for the Blue Devils is simple, build a strong team bond and improve each and every day.

“We have strength in all areas, and everybody is really good at cheering for each other and building each other up and holding each other accountable,” McDonald said.

Veterans leading Eagles attack

Between the boys and girls track teams at Easthampton this spring, there are over 30 middle-schoolers participating for head coaches Lisa Ritchie (fourth year) and Ryan Hanna (first year).

The Eagles certainly have an influx of youth on hand, but they’ll be leaning heavily on the shoulders of their terrific junior and senior classes. Last spring, the boys finished second in the Suburban League while the girls finished third. Both teams feel they have the opportunity to repeat – or improve on – those marks in 2024.

On the boys side, Easthampton is led by do-it-all senior Guiseppe DeNucce-Simms.

DeNucce-Simms competes in a variety of events, both field and track. He throws both the discus and the shot put, jumps both the long and triple jumps, and even hops on the track to sprint the 100m dash and 110m hurdles. Ritchie and Hanna each expect a monster season from one of the more prolific track athletes in Hampshire County.

Maxwell Dopp (400, 800, 4x400 relay) and Nelson Gomez (high jump, long jump, triple jump, sprints and 4x100 relay) are also names to watch.

Addison Barr headlines a talented Eagles girls team with her long-distance running prowess. After competing in the two mile at Western Mass. a year ago, Barr is expected to add in the 400, 800 and mile to her rotation of events as well. Lily Cohen, Ria Patel, Katherine Talbot and Julianne Markee should also contribute at a high level for Easthampton this spring.

Young South Hadley striving for success

It’s a rarity when it happens, but it seems to be the theme over at South Hadley High School – and they make it work.

Both the Tigers’ boys and girls have zero seniors on their track and field roster this spring. The girls basketball team had only one senior on the team, yet they won a Western Mass. title and made it to the MIAA Division 4 state championship in the winter. The boys basketball team had only two seniors and still made both the Western Mass. and state tournaments, and won a state tournament game.

Youth doesn’t seem to have any effect on South Hadley’s athletics teams, and that may be the case again out on the track.

The girls are led by Emma Levrault, Abby Gelinas, Mikayla Weaver, Gwen Marion, Addison Hill and Allison Fleury. Hill, a seventh grader, stands in rare air. She qualified for New Balance Nationals for her excellent long distance running, and will compete in both the mile and two mile for South Hadley.

For the boys, Jameson Webber headlines a hungry group ready to make a name for themselves in the area. Webber grabbed seventh place in the 55m hurdles at the Division 5 indoor track state championships over the winter. His sprinting coupled with Nathan Hutchinson’s (mile, two mile) long distance skills packs a strong one-two punch. Elsewhere, Micah Litovich, Ari Alatalo and Matt Gillis are expected to have strong seasons for the South Hadley boys.

“We hope our athletes have fun and achieve the goals that they set for themselves,” head coach Suzanne Williams said. “We hope to qualify as many individuals and relays for Western Mass. and the D5 state qualifier as possible.”

Large roster, large goals for Redhawks

The Redhawks once again have one of the largest rosters in the area, as they look to defend the Intercounty League crown on both the boys and girls side.

At the Div. 6 state meet a season ago, Evan Hedlund placed eighth in the two mile, Ben Cachiguango came in 11th in the 110 hurdles, Adrien Pazmandy took fourth in the pole vault while Aiden Dredge placed second in the javelin. Amory Maxey, Aidan Valderrama, Jack Storm and Luke Howard are other athletes to keep an eye on on the boys side.

On the girls side, Sylvie DiBartolomeo came in 22nd in the 2 mile, Hannah Davis placed 26th in the 100 hurdles, Nicole Plasse took 20th in the 400 hurdles and 10th in the long jump, Micky McCarthy took 21st in the shot put while Lilly Novak placed 12th in the discus and 23rd in the javelin at the Div. 6 meet last spring.

Amherst, Holyoke girls with standout individuals

Approaching his 30th season with the ‘Canes girls team, head coach Chris Gould (29th season) has a roster of 35 athletes this spring – one with just one senior.

Zola Higham is the lone Class of 2024 participant, and 17 of the 35 are freshmen. The ‘Canes are led by Moriah Luetjen and Elizabeth Sawicki, two of the many athletes Gould believes have the opportunity to bring home some hardware later on in the year.

In a time where high school athletics numbers are declining around the state, Gould hopes to create an environment that keeps everyone engaged and connected to allow them to succeed at each meet.

“We want to enter the postseason healthy and poised to compete at the highest level,” Gould said. “Keep our roster numbers high and engaged. Cultivate the energy and talent to produce a team that can compete on a high level.”

As for Holyoke, Matt Benoit begins season No. 5 with the Purple Knights.

Holyoke is young, but there is certainly no shortage of talent. Siobhan Armstrong, Jaylene Moquin, Veronica Colon, Kayshaly Garcia and Leilany Figueroa provide tons of flair and versatility to the Purple Knights.

That leaves Yasani Thompson, the sophomore sensation who took Western Mass. by storm in the indoor season – capturing first in the 55 meter and 300 meter races, while also anchoring Holyoke’s 4x200 relay team.

“They are individual state-level competitors and relay runners,” Benoit said. “They’re all aiming for school records in their respective events and relays this season.”