By George Tatoris
For freshman athletes, college sports means going beyond what they’ve ever achieved.
“It is a lot different from high school, and I feel myself pushing a lot more in practice,” freshman Noah Osterhus said.
Osterhus is in his first year of indoor track and field at the College and despite the challenges, he’s already become comfortable as a Lion.
At the Villanova Open, hosted Friday, Jan. 8, Osterhus won the 800-meter event with a rocket-fast time of 1:55.87 against a slew of Division I opponents.
Just a week later at the Ramapo Invitational on Friday, Jan. 15, Osterhus ran the 500-meter for his first time in a competition and posted the fifth-fastest time at the College since 2000. His 1:05.27 finish landed him in second place.
“I always go for the win, and although I was disappointed I didn’t (win), it’s all about getting better for the championship part of the season,” Osterhus said.
Osterhus is just a sliver of the talented freshman class that played a key role in the success of track and field so far this season.
“This freshmen class is one of, if not the strongest, freshman class we’ve brought in since I’ve started coaching here,” head coach Justin Lindsey said.
That freshmen talent led the women’s team to first place at the Ramapo Invitational with 91 points — ahead of second-place Ramapo’s 82.5 points — and the men’s team to second place with 79.5 points, behind Rowan with 124 points.
Before the Invitational, the Lions had impressive showings at both the Villanova Open the week before and the Metro Holiday Season Opener in early December.
As the area welcomed a winter storm and scores of students trod onto campus to start their semester this weekend, the track team competed at the Princeton Open on Sunday night, which was delayed a day due to the weather.
The icy roads prevented some teams from attending, but competition was still fierce.
Sophomore Allison Fournier, senior Joy Spriggs and freshmen Kathleen Jaeger and Erin Holzbaur joined forces in the 4×400 meter relay to post the fastest time in the nation in Division III (D-III) this season, already putting them in contention for nationals.
Spriggs also took third in the 400-meter, with a time of 59.30. In the 200-meter dash, sophomore Danielle Celestin took fourth with a time of 27.27.
On the men’s team, sophomore Andrew McNutt won the triple jump. With a distance of 46’-10.25,” McNutt landed the fourth longest jump in D-III this season, and the second longest in the College’s history.
With teams missing, both the men’s 800-meter and the 3,000-meter races were reduced to an all-Lion roster. Osterhus won the 800-meter with a time of 1:56.64 and senior Scott Savage won the 3,000-meter with a time of 8:47.34.
Junior Brandon Mazzarella and freshman Daniel Brennan finished the one-mile run in tandem — Mazzarella took second with a time of 4:27.65 and Brennan was nine seconds behind with a finish of 4:36.50. There were only four contestants in the race.
Mazzarella said his time was slower than he wanted, but it was a good “learning experience” that will “hopefully reshape (his) mindset for future races.”
At the Villanova Open earlier this month, another freshman, Madison Heft, landed in fourth after clearing 10’6” in the pole vault, the third-best height in the history of the indoor women’s team at the College.
The Ramapo Invitational saw two freshmen make fast times in the one-mile run. Erin Holzbaur finished second with a time of 5:10.21 — a personal best — and Madeleine Tattory finished fifth with a time of 5:19.29.
“It felt great to run my PR this early in the season and I’m looking forward to continuing to better it,” Holzbaur said.
Like Osterhus, Holzbaur also had to adjust to demands of the track season. In cross country, she ran the 6K — more than three miles altogether — meaning she had to quicken her pace to do well in the one-mile event.
Runners need a “different mindset” when racing the one-mile, she said.
At the same meet, Jaeger finished third in the 800-meter run with a time of 2:20.71. The fastest Lion on the track that day was senior Kristen Randolph, who blew past her competition in the 500-meter to take first with a time of 1:20.30.
At Ramapo, the College got a whiff of what their conference has to offer this year.
“The Armory meet allowed us preview our conference competition and our team stacked up well next to them,” Holzbaur said.
The men’s team’s second-place win at the Ramapo meet was reinforced by a victory in the 4×400 relay. Senior Laron Day, freshman Kamal Williams, sophomore Daniel Lynch and Osterhus pooled their skills to finish at 3:22.65.
With the freshmen running so well, things are looking hopeful for indoor track.
“They are running much faster than we could’ve hoped and a lot of them have been PRing so it’s keeping them hungry and motivated in training,” Mazzarella said.
“It’s a very young team and the leadership by the upperclassmen have been the key to this continued success,” Lindsey said.