Back on Track
- By Jon C. Reidel
This spring when head track and field coach Matt Belfield tries to entice a fresh crop of high school prospects to become Catamounts, he’ll have a powerful recruiting tool at his disposal: a brand new place for them to run, jump and throw.
The Frank H. Livak Track and Field Facility, a nine-lane polyurethane surfaced track and adjacent field areas, is especially exciting for Belfield, who has led a program lacking its own outdoor facility for the past nine seasons. He hasn’t used it as an excuse, though, and has enjoyed surprising success since the university’s former asphalt oval was removed in 2004 to make way for the artificial turf of Moulton Winder Field.
Needless to say, Belfield is looking forward to hosting the first outdoor track and field meet at UVM in fifteen years when the Catamounts welcome Middlebury on April 17.
“It speaks to the dedication and commitment of the university to find a way to get things done,” says Belfield. “You can always find excuses to not have success. You could have the best facilities, best weather, and the best coaching staff and you can still find an excuse if you want to, but you can also find a reason to be successful, and that’s what the mindset has been here.”
Officially opened at the Archie Post Athletic Complex on October 15, the $2.5 million facility includes a grass infield for javelin and discus events; an adjacent throwing area to be used for hammer throw and shot put training and competition; and two multidirectional long jump and pole vault runways and pits, along with bleacher seating for 350 spectators.
The facility was made possible in large part by a $1 million donation from the late Frank Livak ’41, a standout cross country runner at UVM who has been a generous benefactor and supporter of the university. Key donations were also provided by two daughters and a granddaughter of legendary UVM coach Archie Post ’27, and track letter-winner Jim McDonald, whose son Ryan also ran track at UVM.
“A lot of people have really stepped up to make this happen,” says Bob Corran, associate vice president and director of athletics. “The new facility is a critically important campus resource that will be used by multiple constituent user groups both on and off campus. Not only is it a valuable university resource that will enhance the overall student experience, but it allows us to host events like the America East Championships that will bring people here from all across the region.”
The lack of a home facility and the fact that men’s track wasn’t reinstated until 2004 hasn’t prevented both teams from enjoying success. In addition to some top-half team finishes at the America East Championships, individuals have qualified for regional and national competitions and set outdoor school records. Nika Ouellette ’14 became the first UVM athlete to qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Championship this past season where she placed nineteenth in the javelin. While Ouellette looks to build on that success during her sophomore season, she’ll have a number of teammates pushing for the podium in other events. Morgan Powers was just a few seconds away from the finals in the 10,000m when she ran 34:02 in the NCAA prelims last year. Julie McGilpin and Yolanda Ngarambe should be a strong duo in the 800. In addition to Powers, the distance runners will be led by Kate Leugers and Kirsten Weberg. Brittany St. Clair promises to be a double threat in both the high jump and heptathlon.
The men are led by defending America East and school record-setting decathlete Chris Lemieux and NCAA preliminary round qualifier Sam Hoadley, who broke the school record in the javelin last April. An outstanding corps of middle distance runners and an ever-improving group of field event athletes should make this outdoor season exciting, says Belfield.
Just how much of a boost the new facility will provide for the program remains to be seen, but Belfield sounds realistically optimistic.
“I just want to make sure that people don’t think that the track is going to turn us into superstars or that it’s the end-all, be-all for why we’re successful,” says Belfield. “Women’s and men’s distance runners are still going to be attracted to this place because it’s a high academic institution and it’s a beautiful place to run cross country. Conversely, I’m not anticipating that a lot of sprinters from warmer parts of the country are going to start coming here. But I do think we’re going to get more New England area sprinters, jumpers, and hurdlers because now there’s a place for them to compete outdoors. Ultimately, it’s about the quality of the people you bring in and to some extent the level of instruction you provide them.”
This story originally appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Vermont Quarterly magazine. To read the entire issue online: uvm.edu/vq.