A Force to be Reckoned With

The men’s and women’s track teams have broken more personal and school records than ever this year, and their ambitions continue to rise.

By Huy Nguyen

Despite hardships from COVID-19, Northeastern’s men’s and women’s track teams have been wrecking the competition, breaking records at almost every meet. The men’s team placed first in their conference for cross country and track, with their female counterparts placing second and fifth, respectively. These athletes have powered through physical adversity, and constantly face mental challenges beneath the surface. Their coaches, peers, and team spirit are the glue that keeps everyone on track, strong enough to tackle any challenges and race toward their individual and team ambitions.

Though most watch the darting legs and spinning disks, the athletes themselves are often focused on their next race and ways to mentally prepare for it. Tessa McClain, a second year distance runner and school record holder for the mile, 1000 meters, and distance medley relay, recognizes the mental battles that come up during their hours-long meets and is constantly looking to improve in this category. One of these battles is the haunting pressure to perform perfectly at every event.

“I’m looking for the race where I look back and I think, ‘That was everything, and I don’t have any regrets,’” McClain said. “I feel like I overthink instead of just doing it.”

Outside of trimming down her times, McClain’s long term goals are to become more cool, calm, and collected during the battle without losing her competitive nature. 

For fourth year distance runner Alexander Korczynski, as the competition grows fiercer, he’s forced to acclimate to the increased intensity. And as school record holder for the cross country 8k, outdoor 5000 meters, 3000 meters, and distance medley relay races, his rivals are training hard to outrun him.

“Mental game is something that can always be improved on,” he said. “It takes a lot of mental focus to focus on what’s happening and try to relax.”

Good coaching, Korczynski explained, plays a key role in controlling the mental side of competition. While tailoring workouts and training are important aspects of coaching, Korczynski emphasizes the valuable advantages of mental check-ins during the season.

“My coaches checked in on me,” said Korczynski, “checking how I’m feeling, how I’m doing, physically and mentally, and adjusting things accordingly.”

He praised men’s cross country Associate Head Coach Matt Lonergan, who made sure Korczynski felt prepared and remained focused on both short-term and long-term goals. Similarly, McClain praised Assistant Coach John Murray, complimenting his precise tailoring of workouts for each of his athletes.

Third year pentathlete Dominique Biron, Northeastern’s record holder for the pentathlon and heptathlon, worked closely with Assistant Coach Howard Powell to adapt to winter indoor track, a sport she’d replaced with ice hockey during her high school years. Powell discovered optimal ways to acclimate Biron and boosted her confidence going into each meet.

“During the winter we got to know each other,” Biron said. “He’s really good at finding creative ways to fix technical issues, and makes me do stuff I haven’t done before.”

With track meets spanning many hours, athletes have to stay mentally sharp for their races without breaking under the pressure. To keep each other afloat, the team keeps the spirit strong for every event through cheering and moral support. 

“A team atmosphere is really helpful when your teammates are there to cheer you on,” Biron said. “A lot of people aren’t competing for the full eight hours of the meet, so when they’re there [they cheer on their] teammates and [make] sure they’re doing the best they can.”

For McClain, building excitement for each other’s races is a crucial piece of a strong team-oriented atmosphere. The mental game that athletes struggle with is not played alone; teammates play a vital role in selflessly making sure their peers are ready to perform at their best.

“It’s hard because it’s such a mental sport and you need to be excited,” McClain said. “It’s hard to do that without a lot of spirit, so it’s always really fun when everyone gets real hype.”

McClain finds that constant moral support from her teammates keeps her from tiring out. The support can come in different forms, ranging from running off of the last event’s adrenaline, staying positive during practices and meets, and finding fun distractions in between events.

“It’s nice to have those moments when you’re not competing and everyone’s excited,” McClain said with a smile. “People braid each other’s hair.”

When it comes to strengthening the bond between teammates, get-togethers outside of practices and meets help to build the foundation of the team’s close-knit community. Korczynski strongly values team activities like bowling, getting ice cream, and having watch parties for professional races.

“Events like that really help bond the team,” Korczynski said, “and when you get to know your teammates better, it makes you want to compete for each other better; you respect your teammates and you want to do well for them. These moments help create a strong sense of team unity and make us elevate as a whole.”

Biron discussed the struggles of team bonding due to COVID restraints and fewer available athletic facilities, which limited the time she could spend with her teammates. In the coming year, she hopes that the reopening of these facilities and the incoming freshman class will help bring the team bonding back to what it was before the pandemic.

“Everyone wants to do better for each other,” Biron said, “and it definitely helps the team’s success.”

As the team spends more time with each other during practices, races, and outside activities, the athletes’ individual goals and the team’s ambitions start to align more closely than ever. Korczynski’s main focus is to make an impact on a national scale and elevate the team as a whole. McClain similarly hopes to help the team make a national impact.

“By the time we graduate, I’d like to qualify for NCAA’s as a team in cross,” McClain said. “It’s definitely a long shot, but why do it if it’s not ambitious?”

The team has done an outstanding job keeping the competition on their toes as they dominate their meets and break personal records. With an indestructible foundation and long-standing camaraderie, Northeastern’s track and field team will remain a force to be reckoned with. And there’s nothing in the way that can slow this team down.