- By Jon C. Reidel
You won’t hear it from UVM track and field coach Matt Belfield, but the timing of the recent qualification of three athletes for the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships and the opening of the $2.5 million Frank H. Livak Track and Field Facility seemed more than coincidental.
“You can always find excuses not to have success,” Belfield said prior to the opening of the new facility. “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.”
Belfield’s no-excuses mantra has led the only Division I track team in the nation without a track for nine seasons to surprising success since the university’s former asphalt oval was removed in 2004 to make way for the artificial turf of Moulton Winder Field. 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.
But it would be hard not to factor in the benefits of the new facility on the 2012 record-breaking season and the boost in pride that came with hosting the first outdoor track and field meet at UVM in 15 years on April 17 against Middlebury had on the program.
Even Belfield acknowledged the impact of the opening of the nine-lane polyurethane surfaced track with adjacent field areas in the fall with the All-American performances at the NCAA Championships by senior Morgan Powers (13th place in the 10,000-meters); sophomore Nika Ouelette (14th place in the javelin); and Junior Kirsten Weberg (17th place in the 3000-meter steeplechase), capping off one of the best performances by a UVM trio in school history.
“To actually quantify what the facility meant in terms of actual performance would be virtually impossible, but my feeling is that its existence has made a difference,” said Belfield. “That being said, the same principles of focusing on what you can control, and not fretting about those things you cannot control, will certainly remain an important aspect of any individual's success. Going out and executing to the best of your ability, regardless of circumstances, will always be a measure of a true champion.”
Officially opened at the Archie Post Athletic Complex in October 2011, the new 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.
Belfield thinks the new facility impacted athletes somewhat differently based upon their event. Javelin throwers benefitted greatly from having a synthetic runway from which to throw, he said. The wider radius of the outdoor track allowed for safer and more efficient training for hurdlers and sprinters, while all field event athletes benefitted from enhanced training environments.
“Our distance runners benefit too, especially the steeple chasers having barriers on a 400-meter track to practice on,” he added. “Overall, the surface made everyone's body happy I think. Everyone benefited from the excitement of the new track and what it meant about the program moving forward with support from the university.”
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.”
Just how much of a boost the new facility will provide for the program in terms of recruiting and future success 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.”