Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer and River Plouffe Vogel, Sports Editor
USM has a rich history of athletic achievement. It goes without saying that the University of Maine Orono (UMO) is a Division I school that competes against some of the top Division I programs in the country. But, when measuring the success of any athletic program, it cannot be done by individual players or a few solid seasons. In fact the USM Huskies have topped the Black Bears on numerous occasions, across several sports. In the past decade, schools such as Husson College have seen their programs revamped, or the University of Maine Fort Kent (UMFK), which has been able to attract athletes from all over the country and world. However, schools such as UMO and UMFK can offer athletic scholarships. At USM, the athletic programs use good recruiting and development to build successful teams. The women’s track team is a perfect example of a program with amazing coaching that has built a household name that attracts some of the top high school athletes. And probably no Maine athletic program has been the best in their respective conferences for as long as the USM women’s track and field team.
USM women’s indoor track and field team is a dominating team and not just during the 2017-2018 season. For the past eighteen consecutive years, women have been running, jumping and throwing their way to victory at the Little East Conference (LEC) indoor championship. Under the leadership of George Towle for over twenty years now, the women have risen as a top scoring team in New England. At the LEC meet on Feb. 10, the USM women rightfully earned 140 points to sweep the championship, thirty one points ahead of the second place team, Rhode Island College. Returning to Gorham with another title, the women’s track and field team deserves praise and attention from the university community.
At the conference meet, sophomore Adela Kalilwa from Lewiston, ME led the group in scoring when she set two school records and scored in four events, and she did so on her sixth and last jump. Also scoring at the meet were Emily Close, Allison Pickering, Katie Ferrara, Edie Christian, Neka Dias, Haley Bantz, Lauren Beganny, Kelly Lynch and Rachel Ingram.
As the years have gone on, USM has seen hundreds of women track and field athletes. Few factors have remained the same. Towle’s leadership of the team has remained strong for over three decades now. Organizing the women to be a cohesive team and vigorous individual performers, Towle places emphasis on the women’s abilities. Allowing everyone who wants to participate to remain on the team, he has been able to build a team of high scorers.
“Our policy remains, we don’t cut,” Towle said. “Anyone who wants to get better, we want on our team. It’s surprising how often that pays off as they develop into scoring athletes at the conference level.”
Towle speaks highly of the team he coached this year and the wide capabilities they posses.
“This year’s a good example. We’ve had teams in the past when we’ve had one or two outstanding athletes who score by themselves, 20 or 30 points at the conference level.This year we’ve had a fairly deep team. 19 different athletes scored at the conference level, which is quite something.”
Three women’s athletes sat down with Free Press staff to talk about their season, team chemistry and their coach. Neka Dias, a senior Media Studies major from San Antonio, TX, Tiia Kand, a senior International Business major from Abbot, ME, and Elena Grace, a freshman from Saco, ME who has an undeclared major.
Grace, coming onto the team as a new member, acknowledged the intensity and promise of the team she joined. “It was a little intimidating knowing they had won the LEC championship for seventeen years. It’s great knowing that everyone wants to compete at their best.”
Leading up to the LEC championship, the team had to focus on achieving their goals for themselves and not for the glory of the university. The USM women’s track and field program is often the recipient of unequal publicity and media releases from the university. The women’s track team has their own Instagram account to share with the community @usmwomen
“The night before the LEC meet, we all gathered as a team and talked about it and that was the first time I saw everyone realizing as a team, if we go home tomorrow without a title we’re breaking that streak,” Kand said. “It was nice to see everyone stepping up. The mentality definitely changed but you need that kind of pressure.”
“We have a legacy on the track team that we need to uphold,” Dias said. “I think that night the girls realized that this is serious, like we cannot go back to Gorham without a title because USM doesn’t care about the track team, so if we come back home empty handed, we’re just going to be forgotten.”
Overall the athletics department is proud of their women’s athletes from the indoor track and field team and the women on the team feel like they were able to come together to reach their full potential. As Dias reflects, the season and cohesive nature of the team was glued together with coach Towle.
“He believes in us and pushes us in a positive and healthy way that shows results. He is a huge reason this program is successful. He believes in the athletes and works so hard for us each and every day.”