By Jim Sullivan
---- — One year after suffering only one loss in their regular season, the Newburyport boys indoor track team is one meet away from going that extra mile for an undefeated season if it sprints past Amesbury in Ipswich on Tuesday.
But despite suffering that lonely loss, last year’s team went on to take the Cape Ann League Division 2 championship. This year’s team is looking to repeat, despite losing a quintet of strong performers in Keith Conway, Chris Suprin, Andrew Orlando, Ryan Dionne and John O’Neil.
“It takes a team to make a championship,” said coach Tim Foley. “In the past couple of years, we’ve had some outstanding runners in O’Neil and Dionne, and they helped carry us. But this year, we really had a hole in the sprints. We had to move Jared Healey from the 300 to the 50. The distance team has been outstanding. We’ve had some new young kids come out who have filled a hole in the hurdles. Danny Holbrook and his crew in the 300 have been solid for us, year-round. We’ve got a solid core of people.”
Part of that core includes senior captain Sawyer Updike (distance) along with fellow seniors Holbrook (300 meter, relay) and Steve Preston (shot put), and juniors Sam Stansel (600, relay) and Healey (50, relay, high jump).
“It was a lot to pick up,” Healey said of those departed seniors. “Because they were constantly coming in first place for us, picking up wins for us. So we had to make up for that in other events and try to pick up where they left off.”
Foley says that Healey has picked up the slack very well.
“We’re undefeated in the mile relay with our regular team, and Jared has run down three guys in the last 50 yards to win those,” said Foley. “And they turned into the turning point of the meet. He’s got a fantastic heart. He can really run.”
“It was definitely hard losing a lot of upperclassman in these past couple of years, really,” said Stansel, who started running track in eighth grade and has been running ever since. “But we’ve had a lot of really good underclassmen coming in, so we’re making up for it. We have a few more years to go.”
Stansel runs the 600 along with partner James Nutter, who himself is undefeated this season.
“Stansel and James Nutter have been fantastic in the 600,” said Foley. “Nutter is undefeated in that particular event, and Stansel has got many a second place, running people down. They both have worked so hard and filled a big area we were concerned about. But we wouldn’t be there without them.”
Also undefeated is Preston in the shot put.
“I’ve been doing it for six years now,” Preston said of his success throwing a round, heavy object. “I am just used to it. Currently I’m just overcoming my own form. It’s kind of a personal battle.”
Holbrook, who runs the relay along with Stansel, Healey and sophomore Chance Carpenter, has seen only two regular-season losses in his four years in the program, and is proud of what this team has accomplished.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to do in my senior year,” said Holbrook. “I feel like we can prove something in our last season. It’s good to go undefeated. It’s going to be hard to do that in the spring.”
Holbrook also says that the indoor track team is a little more subdued than the notoriously goofy cross-country team, of which he is also a part.
“We are a little bit more serious, I would say,” Holbrook says of the indoor team versus cross-country. “We don’t joke around as much, but there still is a lot of joking. It’s still fun. Because Alex Salah is weird, and Chris Orlando is still around.”
“We take it seriously when we’re at the meets,” said Stansel. “But we try to keep it light-hearted in practice.”
So as Tuesday approaches, the boys will get a bit more serious, and Healey says that he has learned a lot this winter.
“It’s pretty satisfying knowing that, when you really work hard, it does pay off,” said Healey. “And you kind of have to bring it back to the coaches (Foley, Don Hennigar, Mike McCormick). They do a really great job with this program, obviously.”
“It’s really been huge for me,” Stansel said of his indoor success. “Because I really looked up to my brother (John) who was really fast. I showed a huge amount of improvement last year, and it is great to be with the team. We’re going to keep getting better and going to keep winning. It’s really everything I ever wanted.”