BY EMMA BROWN
On a warm February day, 71 kids can be seen running circles around the track, warming up their legs, jumping over hurdles and throwing 16-pound shot put balls as far as possible. Although they train like it, this is not a college track practice—it is the Carmel High School track and field team, led by former Olympian Nick Cunningham, and their practices are very different from those of other high schools.
Last year, the girls’ track and field team finished first in the PCAL Mission Division;the boys’team finished second. Because of their successful seasons, both teams progressed to the most elite Central Coast sports division: the Gabilan.
Coach Nick Cunningham is a Monterey local, previous National Guard sergeant and Olympic bobsledder. Cunningham ran track for Monterey High School, specializing in 100 and 200-meter sprints.
“Having that hard-working mentality of always wanting to be the best is something I try to bring into my coaching from what I learned during [Olympic] training,” Cunningham says. “I try to always take what I learned when I was an athlete and try to apply it as a coach by furthering my education and trying to learn, like going to different clinics.”
Practice typically begins with a half-mile warm-up, then a 10- to 15-minute stretching and warm-up session before the sprinters and distance runners separate to work on their specialized events.
“I run my practices like a collegiate program,” explains Cunningham, who works mainly with sprinters. “I expect everything to be on time. I expect everyone to be dressed out. I try to make sure the drills are on point. I try to help those athletes that want to go on to the next level, so they can have the opportunity to see what it will take to go to that next level.”
Assistant coach Josselyn Beutler, a successful high school track athlete for Monterey High School, advises the long-distance runners.
The track and field team is comprised of an elite coaching staff: Jason Gorman works with athletes for throwing events, Matt King specializes in the high jump event, Bill Frost helps students train for horizontal jumps and hurdles, and Bret Whitford works with students competing in the pole vault event.
“My favorite part of track is going to the meets with everyone, especially the invitationals, because the energy is good and you get to see all your hard work pay off,” says junior Sarah Graessly, a record-breaking pole vaulter.
This season, CHS track and field is aiming for consistent improvement rather than a specific title. Cunningham notes that as long as their athletes are giving their best every day, he is not particularly concerned with results.
“This season my goal is to make it back to state championships and compete again,” says junior sprinter Benicio Cristafalo.
The CHS track and field team will compete in a meet against Palma/Notre Dame at Palma High School on March 19 at 3:30 p.m.