By Student Correspondents, Claire Theriot and Drew Owens, for publication in the Feb. 10-23, 2022 issue of the Arlington Catholic Herald.
Did you know that area high schools have a winter track season, also known as the indoor track season? At Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington, this program has seen monumental growth in recent years.
"Traditionally, our winter schedule would include mostly indoor meets and possibly one or two outdoor meets (known as 'Polar Bear' meets)," said Head Coach James Connor. "Because of COVID this year, several of the indoor meets had to be canceled or replaced with outdoor meets."
The team practices after school every day on the outdoor track, but the cold weather hasn't deterred participation. Senior Grace Freitas, who also runs cross country in the fall and track in the spring, is in her first year with the winter program. When she was asked what felt special about this team, she quickly answered, "How friendly everyone is! The whole team is very supportive and talkative." Her favorite memory so far is the very first race of the year at Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School. She explained that everyone still had a great time cheering people on even though it was cold. "The little things make a big difference!" she added.
Senior Alessia Natalucci has been on the winter track team since she was a freshman, and she attributes recent growth to the welcoming atmosphere. "The upperclassmen make it a priority to know everyone's name," she said. "We are determined to make this team a positive place for everyone."
Coach Connor, who is also O'Connell's math department chair, as well as the head coach of the school's cross country and spring track programs, brings his passion for running to the sport. He ran cross country in high school and college. "I love this sport," he said. "I really enjoy it!"
When Coach Connor came to the program in 2016, there were ten participants. This winter season, more than 70 students signed up.
Reflecting on the season in mid-January, Coach Connor mentions recent successes by two student athletes—junior Chayse Raymond and sophomore Molly Weithman—at the Virginia Showcase in Virginia Beach. Weithman finished second overall in the 3200-meter run and Raymond ran a 7.35-minute 55-meter dash. These performances qualified both of them for the national championships in New York City on March 11-13. He also noted that every O'Connell athlete set a personal record at the showcase meet.
Coach Connor is extremely proud of how far this team has come, and he is thrilled to see several football players join in and contribute to successes in the short-distance races. Senior football player Mori Langshaw has only been on the team for two months, but has already qualified for the state races in February.
"This whole team has a connection," said Coach Connor. "Everybody has his or her role, and they all play their roles well."
The O'Connell winter track team is rising in the ranks in size and talent. One thing all the seniors said they would like to see for the future is for the underclassmen to come back and bring friends. They look forward to seeing the program continue to thrive.
Next up for the team is the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) state championship races on the weekend of Feb. 19 at St. Christopher's School in Richmond. The team hopes to come out strong and compete well. With one great season comes many more.