By: Connor Blake, Staff Writer
USM’s Men’s Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field team has found major success the last six seasons, dominating the Little East Conference (LEC) each year. The main contributor to that success is the coach at the helm of it all, Ryan Harkelroad.
Coach Harkelroad took over the reigns of the program in 2014-15 season after serving as an assistant coach for two seasons. Prior to coming to USM, he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Maine in 2003, and later achieved his master’s in adult and higher education from USM in 2014. While at the UMO, he earned four varsity letters as a member of the Track & Field teams, won a conference 800-meter title, along with many conference and New England titles as a member of the 4x800m team. Harkelroad also served as a captain his senior year.
Harkelroad was an assistant Cross Country and Track coach for two years at UMO, where on the track he worked primarily with distance runners. During the 2009-10 season, the UMO Women’s Track Team earned conference runner-up honors during the same season that Harkelroad and the other staff earned Staff of the Year honors.
Since Harkelroad has come to USM the program has seen unparalleled success. In his first season he led the Huskies to their second consecutive runner-up finish at the Little East Conference Cross Country Championships and conference titles during the indoor and outdoor season, earning LEC indoor and outdoor Coaching Staff of the Year Honors. That same season the program achieved its highest place finish, placing fourth at the New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association (NEICAAA) Open New England Indoor Championships, and a program best sixth-place finish at the 2015 NCAA indoor National Championships. The Huskies set school records in five events during the 2014-15 season for triple jump, long jump, 4x400m, 400m, and 800m. For the NCAA Championships, six athletes qualifies and the team earned National Championship status in the triple jump.
Last year, during the 2018-19 season, Harkelroad led the Huskies to a sweep of the LEC Cross Country, Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field Championships for the third straight year, and fourth time in conference history. Harkelroad was named Cross Country Coach of the year for the third straight year and he and his staff were selected by their peers as the indoor and outdoor Coaching Staff of the Year.
It is clear that Harkelroad and his staff have a proven method for winning, and part of that method starts at the recruiting level. “We are a highly competitive program and we need talented individuals to continue the level of success we’ve been having. Beyond that we are looking for potential; athletes that haven’t fully developed yet, athletes that come from a smaller program. We think we can develop all of our athletes and I think that is a key to our success.” said Harkelroad.
The Indoor and Outdoor Track & Field program has been successful for so long due in large part to the athletes on the team. “I think that what sets our athletes apart from other athletes in the LEC is our athletes know how to win, I think other athletes in our conference want to win, but they don’t know how to do it, and with a streak of success we have had, we are able to pass it down so then when our first year athletes come in they learn pretty quickly how to carry themselves in a manner that is geared towards winning.” said Harkelroad.
Big track meets can cause a lot of nerves not only for the athletes competing, but the coaches too. “I’m emotionally invested in our performances, I care about every one of our athletes and how they do. It doesn’t matter if they are competing for a spot at the NCAA Championships or trying to improve their personal records,” he said. “Some may never qualify for a conference meet, but we spend a lot of time and energy with these guys, and we care, so I get a little bit nervous before we perform. When we get to championship meets I usually don’t sleep that much the night before, but I love those meets the energy is great, and it’s fun to see and it’s fun to be apart of.”
While the track team has a lot of great athletes, they are students first and sometimes that can be a challenge, but for Harkelroad it is another reason why they stay so successful. “Last year both our cross country and track teams earned all-academic honors meaning their cumulative GPA was over 3.1. We do this by informing all of our athletes about informal and formal resources on campus, and we make sure they utilize those resources when they need it. For our freshman, we do weekly and monthly check-ins and this ensures that we are engaged when it comes to our academics.” said Harkelroad.
For the 2019-20 season, the LEC championship meets are coming to USM and will be held at Costello Sports Complex. After winning the past five LEC championships under Harkleroad, the team is looking forward to another winning season. “We love running at home, our guys get to sleep in their own beds, get to sleep in a little bit later. It is their turf, and they like to protect that, additionally we get tremendous support from friends and family who come to support the team during a home meet.” said Harkelroad.
The Indoor Track & Field team is looking to continue in their winning ways this season, kicking off the first meet of the season at home on Saturday, December 14th at 11 a.m., at Costello Sports Complex, and they will host another home meet on January 25th at 11 a.m.