It may not be that unusual to see a Virginia Tech team ranked eighth in the country during football season, but in June, such a ranking might raise some eyebrows.
Although it might not get much attention while the Hokies play at Lane Stadium, the track and field team is making waves this summer, as it enters this week’s NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship with its highest ranking of the year.
“We’ve had high expectations for ourselves all year, and most of the players on this team have been to this meet before, so we expect to do well this week,” said Dave Cianelli, head coach.
Thirteen men and three women will represent the Hokies at the competition in Des Moines, Iowa after qualifying for the event in last week’s NCAA East Preliminary Round.
“We had the second-most people qualify from our regional, so I think we’re really focused right now,” said junior sprinter Jonathan McCants.
The team earned its high ranking after some standout performances in the preliminary round. The men’s 4x100 meter relay team of McCants, Jeff Artis-Gray, Darrell Wesh, and Keith Ricks posted the second fastest time in school history en route to earning a championship berth.
Ricks also reset his own school record in the 200 meter dash and finished fifth in the 100 meter dash, as he became the only member of the team to qualify for multiple individual competitions.
“It would be really great to earn All-American (honors) in all three events while scoring some points for the team,” Ricks said.
While the athletes took home plenty of honors in the past week, the coaching staff got some recognition as well. The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association named Cianelli the Southeast Region’s coach of the year on Monday.
“With any coaching award, credit has to go the student athletes and the staff,” Cianelli said. “The coaches can’t do it for them, we just prepare them for meets as best we can.”
The preparation by the coaching staff will undoubtedly be important for the upcoming meet, as the team deals with the increased expectations that come from its high ranking and the biggest stage in the sport.
“This team has handled expectations well all year, and I think we’re poised to do well,” McCants said.
Coaches are confident that the team is equipped for the added pressure.
“This is a pretty mature group, so the expectations haven’t affected them,” Cianelli said. “We’ve been pretty confident all year long, and I think it’s realistic to say that we should finish in the top ten this week.”
Traveling to Des Moines will present challenges to the team as it prepares, considering the time difference and unfamiliar location, but team members are committed to sticking to their routine.
“We want to keep a lot of it the same, and just focus on sharpening our handoffs in the relays,” Ricks said. “You don’t want to change too much, especially for national events.”
It will be important for the athletes to keep their minds sharp as well.
“It’s a matter of being in the right frame of mind,” Cianelli said. “In an event like this, you can’t be too sky high or too far down on yourself, or you’ll have trouble.”
If the team can achieve this delicate balance, then a top five finish could be within reach for the squad.
“Overall, if a few things fall our way, we can have a really outstanding meet,” Cianelli said.