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Indoor track has unprecedented record-breaking season

Laura White
Senior Olivia LaBelle runs a 8.68 second 55-meter hurdles at the Northeast Invitational on Jan. 13, 2024; LaBelle finished first in her heat and second overall, securing her number four in the state.

The boys’ and girls’ indoor track teams are experiencing a season of historic proportions, made exceptional by not only the teams’ successes but also by the record breaking achievements that can be attributed to the experienced coaching, the team mentality and the dedication of incredible athletes.

For the first time in 45 years both teams won the Division I District E Championship where the boys’ team was led with first place finishes by seniors Stephen White, Chris Kardos, captain Joseph Lamburn and junior Miles Lipka. The girls’ team had first place finishes by seniors captain Olivia LaBelle, Brigid Purcell, Olivia Guckian, captain Kate DiTullio and junior Arianna Gentile.

The student athletes have broken a total of 15 records this season alone as of mid February. LaBelle has set records in the 800-meter (m), 4x200m relay, shuttle hurdle relay, 4x50m sprint relay, sprint medley relay (SMR) and the 55m hurdles — a record she’s managed to break four times. These records have all come in her first season of indoor track.

LaBelle, who also competes on the outdoor track team, was on the gymnastics team during the winter season until this school year. Due to her commitment to run hurdles at Williams College next year, she made the decision to switch to indoor track.

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“I’ve set my sights on something high and I’ve allowed myself to push to the limit and take that to the next level,” LaBelle said. “It’s very gratifying to know that if you put your mind to it you can succeed, you can break the record and you can even push yourself further after that. There is no limit to your possibility.”

It doesn’t really matter how fast you are or how far you can jump; you will be supported no matter what.

— Senior Olivia LaBelle

Junior Max Eigen, who holds the boys’ 55m dash record with a time of 6.68 seconds (s) also holds this mentality.

“It’s really an honor, because I’ve been looking at that [records] wall since I started track and 6.7 [seconds] seemed impossible to break, but now I’m here,” Eigen said. “I want other kids to see that and be inspired to break it as well.”

In the B Gym there’s a wall of records that will evidently need to be updated. The oldest record broken this season was the girls’ 4×200 record, set in 2011. The record stood at 1:46.89s and is now 1:45.59s, set by Gentile, LaBelle, senior Audrey Helwig and senior captain Mackenzie Clark. The team is currently ranked first in the state.

However, the team has demonstrated that it’s far more than just a numbers game. The athletes’ special connection is indicative of their desire to see each other succeed.

“Everyone is supporting each other,” LaBelle said. “I know it sounds cliché and I know a lot of people say this about their teams, but I feel like that’s something really unique and distinctive to the track team. It doesn’t really matter how fast you are or how far you can jump; you will be supported no matter what.”

Seniors Olivia Guckian, left, and Brigid Purcell run at the Central Massachusetts Divisional Championships on Nov. 11, 2023. (Laura White)

That support is especially apparent in relay events. The girls’ distance medley relay (DMR) team, composed of seniors Guckian, Clark, Sheila Purcell and Brigid Purcell broke the previous record that had been standing since 2019 by six seconds, with a time of 12:46.93s. Clark has excelled in relays in particular, contributing to three new relay records including the 4x200m and the 4×50 sprint.

“I really like being in a relay because I think it helps me to push myself even more,” Clark said. “I’m not only trying to improve a PR [personal record], but I’m also trying to do well for my team and get a good overall time.”

Helwig echoed her sentiment.

“[Being on a relay team] always pushes us to do better and to go faster,” Helwig said. “We don’t want to let our teammates down.”

Even though Helwig has set records in three relay events (the 4x200m, 4×50 sprint and SMR), she acknowledges that there are still certain aspects that make them stressful.

“If you don’t do very well you’re scared that your teammates are going to be mad at you, but they’re never mad — and I’ve messed up a lot,” Helwig laughed.

It’s hard to find an instance of teamwork more apparent than with senior twins Brigid and Sheila Purcell who set the record in the DMR.

“We love the competition of having a twin sister; we’re always pushing each other,” Brigid Purcell said.

The opportunity to run with each other and break records together has fueled the twins’ love and dedication for the sport.

“I think a reason that has led us to get this far in our track career is being a twin because all those summer and weekend days of just running together and continuously pushing each other,” Sheila Purcell said.

For White, who holds the record in the one mile with a time of 4:21.69s, his success not only comes from the competition and motivation with his teammates, but also from his own perseverance.

“When I started out sophomore year, I was really slow,” White said. “I think I couldn’t even go to an invitational during outdoor [track] my first season. Most dual meets, I’d get around last. In the beginning I was slow and I improved by practicing.”

The boys’ track team runs unaffiliated at the Boston University Terrier Classic at the BU Agganis Arena on Jan 26, 2024. Senior Stephen White finished 174th out of 340 runners, running 4:21.69 in the mile. (Laura White)

White is currently ranked #1 in Massachusetts Division II for the one mile and is looking forward to continuing his track career at Colby College.

A strong work ethic is a quality held by many of the athletes. Although Lipka has accomplished incredible feats in the sport, he doesn’t let that prevent him from continuing to work hard.

“I focus on getting a little bit better every day,” Lipka said. “I don’t want to get caught up in numbers and getting more records and whatnot. That will happen if I just get a little bit better every day.”

Junior Claire Wikander, who set a record in the shuttle hurdle relay, attributes much of her hard work to the instruction of Girls’ Head Coach and math teacher Patrick Galvin. Galvin has been coaching for 13 years and also is the head coach of the girls’ cross country and girls’ outdoor track and field teams.

“The part that I like so much about track is that every time I’m in a race I want to make Galvin proud,” Wikander said. “It’s just so nice to see someone who is so dedicated and passionate about something because it makes you want to get better for him and for the team.”

Galvin works alongside Boys’ Head Coach and math teacher Corey Pooler. It’s Pooler’s first year in the position and together they have strengthened a program that has led to the records set this season.

“What’s been accomplished over the last six weeks has been amazing,” Galvin said. “Coach Pooler often says this season can’t be by coincidence; we have the fastest boys sprinter, the fastest boys miler, the fastest boys two miler in school history, the best pentathlete in school history, the fastest girl hurdler in school history, the fastest girls 4×200 [team] in school history, the fastest Distance Medley Relay of boys and girls in school history — all at the same time.”

As coaches who are working with athletes of all levels, they make an effort to continuously learn and advance their coaching styles in order to provide the best possible support they can.

The boys’ track team runs unaffiliated at the Boston University Terrier Classic at the BU Agganis Arena on Jan 26, 2024. Senior Joe Lamburn runs 4:34.78 in the mile, finishing 273rd out of 340 runners. (Laura White)

“We’re coaching people who just started, we’re coaching people who have been doing it for a year, we’re coaching people who are literally the best in school history,” Pooler said. “All of those people are getting the same amount of attention and hopefully the same amount of benefit from our coaching.”

The coaches’ aspirations extend beyond this season. They want the momentum from the exceptional winter season to be noticed by the rest of the student body.

“We hope what we’re doing is working and we hope more student athletes around Algonquin will see that we have a really good team,” Galvin said. “We hope they think, ‘I can become faster and stronger. I can be a better overall athlete.’”

Looking to the future, the States competition will be this Friday, Feb. 16. The coaches know and recognize how extraordinary this team is and the potential they have to make a real showing at this meet.

“We have an incredibly talented team,” Pooler said. “We are lucky as coaches to have the athletes that we have. You don’t have these records or these results without the athletes.”

This story was originally published on The Harbinger on February 16, 2024.