#TGW: Getting On Track...Outdoors
Georgia Tech hosts Yellow Jacket Invitational Friday and Saturday
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
For all the time Georgia Tech's men's and women's track and field teams spend working on their crafts at home, they don't often compete on The Flats so this weekend will be all the more special.
The Yellow Jacket Invitational will open with Friday's runnings of the 5Ks at 8:30 p.m. at Griffin Track, and Saturday will be chocked full of action with field events beginning at 10:30 a.m. and running at 12:30 -- through dinner time. It will be nice to not have to go far to run and jump, or eat.
"We love having home meets," said men's head coach Grover Hinsdale. "We've always had great crowds. Atlanta is a great track city, and we have a beautiful facility. We work very hard to make sure the schedule goes off, and it's a fair environment for competition."
Hinsdale and many others have been ridiculously busy preparing for this meet, which will be just the second outdoor competition of the spring for the Jackets. They'll stay busy with meets the following four weeks and five of the next six before the ACC championships May 14-16 at Florida State.
It's good to be outdoors again, and that showed last weekend when the squads opened their outdoor schedules at the Alabama Relays.
Senior Brandon Lasater, who was named ACC Men's Track Performer of the Week for winning the 1,500 meter run at Alabama in 3:47.17, prefers the more open setting than competing indoors as the Jackets did during the winter.
He really likes the Yellow Jacket Invitational and the Georgia Tech Invitational, which will be April 17-18.
"For me there's a lot of difference. Indoors, there is very little room to make mistakes, very little room to pass, and being taller the turns are for me tougher," he said. "Usually, my parents are at home meets and it's not as stressful from a competitive standpoint."
Tech was solid at Alabama, where freshman Bailey Weiland won the high jump with a height of 5 feet, 8.75 inches, and senior Jazmyne Taylor won the 400 with a time of 55.83 as teammate Angelica Henderson was second in 56.43.
There's something different about Taylor, who shaved nearly a second off her previous best time (56.8) in the first outdoor meet of the spring.
She's leaner and faster thanks to a greater focus on training and diet.
"My previous best was sophomore year. This is really exciting because this was at the start," she said. "I really think it's because my team is so supportive. Usually, I run out of fear, because I don't want to look bad. They've been telling me, `You can do this.' I know it's going to be a great day.
"It's confidence and . . . I was more dedicated to my summer training, and definitely my diet has been better. [Nutritionist] Leah [Thomas] told me about portion sizes, and I've really added vegetables."
Weiland won her first collegiate outdoor competition. Under the tutelage of jumps/hurdles coach Nat Page, she has changed her approach from that which carried her to back-to-back state high school titles while at Marist.
"I'm going from an 11-step approach over 54 feet to a nine-step approach over 55 feet. Coach Page believes you can generate more power," she said. "There's more space outdoors. At a lot of indoor facilities, the jump area is kind of an afterthought."
Weiland will have family and friends attending the meet, and so will Taylor. She may be an outlier, though, in that she said she has in the past preferred away meets.
"I feel more nerves about this meet. At away meets, I feel less pressure because I don't know anyone. My parents are coming for first time since freshman or sophomore year in high school [Langston Hughes in Fairburn]," she explained.
"And even though we go hard in practice, you have to get out of the mindset that this is not practice."
The Tech men will be without two top field performers in senior pole vaulter Nikita Kirillov and senior triple jumper Jonathan Gardner. They were both injured while setting school records at the ACC Indoor Championships last month, and unable to compete in the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Kirilov (heel), who vaulted a personal best of 17 feet, 11.25 inches, may return by the end of the outdoor season, and he has a season of eligibility remaining. Gardner (knee), who went 53 feet, 11.75 inches, is out of outdoor eligibility.
Hinsdale will look for the Jackets to be right at home outdoors.
At the Alabama, the Jackets were strong in the men's 800 as freshman Andres Littig (1:51.03), senior Zack Fanelty (1:51.27), sophomore Zane Coburn (1:51.49) and freshman Gabriel Darosa (1:53.35) finished second, third, fifth and eighth.
"I think everyone, including the coaching staff, was anxious to put the indoor season to bed. It ended on a very high note and then a very low note [with the records/injuries]," the coach said. "I was very pleased with our opener at Alabama. The 800 group just had a fantastic day.
"We had 15-17 personal bests. Indoor track is very exciting, but track and field is more of an outdoor sport. We're excited about this weekend. I think the weather is going to cooperate, everyone will be in familiar territory. The footing feels right, everything looks normal, and for the vast majority it's an advantage."