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Women's relay champs savor NCAA indoor T&F victory

Women's relay champs savor NCAA indoor T&F victory

By TOM WREDE/ UST Sports Information

Last weekend, the Tommie women's relay team sprinted home to the finish line in Winston-Salem, N.C. with the distance medley relay national championship.
St. Thomas now has all three national relay championships in women's track and field history won by MIAC schools.
As a ninth seed, the relay team proved that their pre-meet ranking was merely a number.
"I think coming in seeded ninth was great for us as it put more pressure on the other schools when an 'underdog' team was running that they didn't expect to see," said UST distance coach Rich Maleniak. "At the same time it propelled our girls forward," he said.
The championship relay team was comprised of two six-time NCAA DIII All-America seniors, Angela Tipp and Kayla Goeman, as well as juniors Megan Terukina and Emily Gapinski, who claimed the first All-America honors.
These four veterans also proved that the intense atmosphere of  national meet didn't fluster them.

Learning to run under pressure and closing things out when the race is tight is how you rise above the pack, Maleniak said.

The impressive accomplishment started by working hard and consistently improving in practice.
"Generally, I always ran speed at practice and did not pay much attention to endurance, because endurance always came from running races at meets," Tipp said.  
To better prepare herself for meets, her sprints coach put her in a 400-meter race nearly every meet. That helped not only build endurance but also to got her mentally ready for running at a high level.
The team as a whole progressively saw their race times improve and continued to learn different ways to edge the competition.
"Winning races and running a personal best absolutely motivates us to work harder in practice to build up for the meets. It's a cycle of working hard and staying confident in your ability," Goeman said.
Each day, the entire team came to practice prepared, Maleniak said, and the countless hours of running, lifting, and taking care of their bodies contributed to their ultimate success.


The runners also credited the UST track coaching staff. Goeman said, that Coach Maleniak has helped create a winning atmosphere in the past three years he's been at St. Thomas.


It was no coincidence that Maleniak was recently recognized by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association as the Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year for indoor track and field.

The indoor season proved to be crucial, too, as the team found ways win.
Maleniak said his athletes didn't rest on the success from the MIAC meet, where the team cruised to first place and Tipp, Goeman and Gapinski were multiple winners. "They had the confidence that their best races were still ahead," he said. "This was the momentum they needed for the national meet."
"Quiet confidence" is the motto the Tommie track and field program adopts in both practice and meets.
"Walk with quiet confidence until the gun goes off and gain strength from each other; four hearts beating as one will get it done," head coach Joe Sweeney said in an email to the relay team before the race.
The four indeed worked as a cohesive team -- with quiet confidence -- that resulted in the victory.
However, each member of the team had to run different distances (1200, 400, 800, 1600). Each person has a distinct mindset the day of the race, as well.
This year Goeman primarily focused on visualizing each race -- starting the week before the event.


"I visualize how I will approach the line, what it will feel like to get off the line, and most importantly how I will react when it starts to hurt," she said.

Terukinamaintains her quiet confidence, too, but tries to balance her mental prep.

"I don't overthink things before races," she said. "I just like to run and see what happens. During the race, I often recite positive affirmations in my head that will keep me going -- it makes a big difference," she said
Tipp decided to not think of much other than the warm up before the race at nationals.


Gapinski held a similar outlook. "During the race itself, I wasn't thinking too much," Gapinski said. "I was just running. I knew what I had to do, and I wanted to cross the finish line knowing that I gave it my all," she said.  


On the anchr leg, Gapinski took advantage of an opposing runner's burst. She tucked and followed her within close range of the leader. With a little more than one lap to go, Gapinski surged herself and never looked back as she took the ninth seeds to victory.


In the end, Sweeney said, it took "a UST-TTE (total team effort)" and that is what the women delivered.

The girls agree that best thing about running on a relay is that they get to accomplish something with their teammates and, moreover, their friends.


"St. Thomas Track and Field is a tight-knit community where all athletes encourage and motivate one another, both on and off the track. I couldn't think of a better group of girls to share the experience with, Terukina said