Moving up toward DII

Junior thrower Amber Panapa is one of the strong performers for Azusa Pacific's Track & Field team, setting the bar as the team prepares for Division II play.  Photo credit: Paige Lange

Junior thrower Amber Panapa is one of the strong performers for Azusa Pacific’s Track & Field team, setting the bar as the team prepares for Division II play.
Photo credit: Paige Lange

Now in its last season before full NCAA DII eligibility next year, track & field coaches and players are making changes to improve their game and prepare themselves for the jump to a higher level of competition.

“We just constantly talk about what it takes every day in practice,” women’s head coach Preston Grey said.

The team’s focus is shifting. According to men’s head coach Kevin Reid, the focus is on being more efficient as a collective team to maintain a more consistent level of success.

“It’s more about training at a high level, but eliminating mistakes,” Reid said.

The elimination of mistakes will propel the team closer to victory.

“We’re basically looking at everything we do and how can we improve 1 percent here, 2 percent there, and if we do that in everything, we’re going to be in good shape,” Grey said.

The main difference that coaches are anticipating in this transition is a higher overall level of competition. With less deviation between runner’s performance, the teams the Cougars compete against will be strong and well rounded.

“It’s more about that consistency at the higher level,” Reid said. “Somebody makes a mistake and instead of getting a bad lane in the final, they’re not gonna get a lane in the final.”

At the Mountain T’s Invitational in Flagstaff, Ariz., junior heptathlete Tomek Czerwinski, junior thrower Amber Panapa and junior multi-event runner Jake Hare all met standards for Division II provisional qualifications.

“There are a lot of athletes that are ready for the next level, and some that show great signs of potential,” Hare said.

The expectations during the recruiting process are also changing. As the level that this track and field team competes at continues to rise, the athletes being recruited will be better and better. Reid said the recruiting process would be more competitive.

“[This transition is] going to take time. It’s not something where we’re going to snap our fingers and it will happen, but we feel like we have the ability to get to where we need to get,” said Grey.

The players are getting excited about this final push as well, looking to continue to push their abilities to reach heights this team has never seen before.

“Everything’s been geared toward what we’re going to be doing in the NCAA, so everything feels like preparation,” Czerwinski said.

However, despite the increase in level of competition, the Cougars are moving forward unceasingly. This attitude continues to drive the the track and field team into Division II.

“DII is obviously going to be a lot more challenging … but I’m willing to push myself further to become a better athlete,” Panapa said. “I’m just trying to go out there and execute and become the best I can.”

The team seems unified as members push through the last part of the journey. This focus on the team aspect of these events helps spectators grasp the community among the athletes.

“As much as people think that it’s a singular sport, it’s definitely a team sport,” Hare said. “We definitely bring that to both the women’s and the men’s team.”

The coaches have been a significant part of many runners’ journeys, according to Panapa.

“These coaches are there for you in the field, they’re there for you in the classroom and in life,” Panapa said.

As they approach the end of the indoor season, the track and field team looks to continue raising the bar and improving as the season rolls along.