By Bryant Carpenter
The opening week of the 2021 outdoor track and field season would seem to confirm that practice indeed makes, if not perfect, something darn near close to it.
A combined five school records were broken this week as area track teams returned to action.
The Sheehan and Southington girls grabbed the headlines. They were of the broadsheet variety, as the records covered everything from sprints to distance, relays to throws.
Here’s the full rundown, with Sheehan junior Avery Winters garnering the goldest star by virtue of being involved in two:
*Winters, Sheehan: 200 meters, 26.4 seconds;
*4x100 Relay, Sheehan: Winters, Clarisse Aminawung, Ali Villano and Patrice Mansfield, 50.20 seconds;
*Livvy Pizzitola, Southington: 100 meters, 12.49 seconds;
*Jackie Izzo, Southington: 1600 meters, 5:04.85;
*Alexah Zaczynski, Southington: Javelin, 129 feet, 3 inches.
Two of the records — Sheehan’s 4x100 and Izzo’s 1600 — were by and large “self-broken.” More on that in a moment.
The other three took down standards that had stood since the 1990s. For instance, the 26.6 Rachel Maine had run for Sheehan early that decade in the 200 had only been matched by Shannon Corbett in 2010 until Winters ran her 26.4 on Tuesday in Milford against Jonathan Law.
In the bigger picture, what’s more remarkable than the times is the timing. In track and field, most record-breaking performances come late in the campaign, as athletes build toward conference and state championship meets.
These five records came not only right out of the gate, but after a 2020 outdoor season that was cancelled entirely and a 2021 indoor season that was heavily truncated, both by the pandemic.
Which returns us to the original point. The patient precision of practice, rather than the cauldron of competition, set the groundwork for the latest surge of success.
“I’d say that the records are the culmination of many training hours,” remarked Southington track coach Connor Green. “Not having an indoor season wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allowed for months’ worth of structured training that normally would have been filled with competitions.”
“They’ve been working pretty hard all winter and they looked really good,” Sheehan coach Charles Farley said of his girls. “We went five days a week (practicing) unless we had a day we couldn’t go in, then we’d go on Saturday. So we ended up going five days a week … Sometimes they don’t like it, but they like doing well.”
There were no dark horses among this week’s record-breakers. All the athletes involved are established in track. Most qualified for the State Open in the 2019 outdoor season as well as the 2020 indoor season.
The only outlier, technically, is Pizzitola. Unlike the others girls, she does not compete in indoor track. She spent her high school winters running the point for the Southington girls basketball team.
The senior last ran track as a sophomore in the spring of 2019, placing 10th in Class LL in the 100 at 13:15 and sixth in the 200 in 26.68.
Yet there Pizzitola was on Tuesday against Glastonbury, blazing a 12.49 down the center lane of the Southington track to eclipse the 12.65 Tessa Bailey had run for the Blue Knights in 1996.
Izzo, who plies her craft year-round, is the reigning Record-Journal Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year. Rounding back into form from an injury that delayed her cross country season last fall, the junior really hit stride in March, breaking Southington records in the 1600 (5:09.4) and 3200 (11:07.48) during “indoor” meets that were allowed to be held outdoors.
So this week’s 5:04.85 by Izzo was a continuation of a trend that will see her flirting with a five-minute mile — or a 0.9941939 mile, to be exact — as the spring goes on.
Same for Zaczynski. As a sophomore in 2019, she threw the javelin 107 feet, 8 inches during the regular season and ultimately placed fourth in Class LL at 102 feet, all while also competing in the pole vault.
Zaczynski’s 129-3 on Tuesday surpassed by a full five feet the 124-3 Cherisse Reid unleashed in 1998.
“The three records are from three student-athletes who are incredibly driven,” noted Green. “Jackie does everything she can to be at her best, while Alexah and and Livvy have really cranked it up a notch with their outside training ... and Alexah has been working with one of the top javelin coaches in New England, Rich DeStefano, during times when we weren’t able to train our athletes.”
Green noted that Pizzitola and Zaczynski’s training included weight work. The Sheehan girls also incorporated weight lifting into their winter workouts.
The Titans have another factor working in their favor, and that’s familiarity. Aminawung, Villano and Mansfield were on the 4x100 that set a school-record 51.27 placing sixth in Class M in 2019. Rayna Esch, a senior, was the fourth member.
Upon Esch’s graduation, Winters joined the band. A good choice. As a freshman in 2019, Winters had run 26.71 in placing third in Class M in the outdoor 200.
During the 2020 indoor season, with Winters running anchor, Aminawung, Villano and Mansfield won the Southern Connecticut Conference championship in the 4x200, one of the victories that launched the Lady Titans to their first overall team title.
So it’s a group with not just speed, but experience and chemistry. That was apparent Tuesday as the quartet cut the 4x100 school record to 50.20.
In particular, the chemistry showed in the handoffs, the most pivotal moments of any relay race.
“The handoffs … I was pretty impressed the way they just moved in and out of the zone,” said Farley. “When you go against four fast girls, it’s the handoffs. The Olympics have proven that. These kids have been working together for a while.”
For that reason, Farley has a hunch that 50.20 record time will drop yet again. Probably the 26.4, too.
Connors is thinking the same in Southington. It’s mid-April. The state meets are the first week in June. We’re just getting warmed up here.