connecticut track and field team

UB Track and Field Races Toward the Future

By Eric D. Lehman

Six brand new teams at University of Bridgeport are running, throwing, and leaping into the future. Eager students have joined the men’s and women’s cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field teams, all led by head coach Gregg Schmidt.

“Gregg’s wealth of experience at all levels of intercollegiate track and field coaching, as well as the breadth of his knowledge in so many events, make him the perfect choice as head coach to launch UB’s track and field programs,” says Jay Moran, vice president of Athletics at University of Bridgeport. “His ability to grow a program and his presence in the collegiate track and field world will be a huge benefit to the University.”

Schmidt worked most recently at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut, and at several other colleges in the Northeast and Midwest. He has worked with all-conference, all-region, and All-American students in many events, from heptathlon to hammer throw, as well as solo coaching three national champions. Working with regional and national qualifiers has led him to what he believes is an even more exciting role: starting a program from the ground up. “I feel privileged to be the only first coach the university will have,” says Schmidt. “I love coaching Division II because I get to bring in high-end, experienced athletes, but also athletes that I get to bring up and help to improve.”

Building a Team From Scratch

Transfer student Luke Downes is one of the few upperclassmen on the Track and Field teams. Although he originally joined to throw javelin, he also competes in other events when eligible. “Being on a brand-new team is nothing like being on a 20-year-old track team,” says Downes. “We have to deal with many more issues, like not being able to pick our events.”

“I give my athletes a lot of credit for taking a chance on a program that we’re building from scratch,” says Schmidt. He is in the process of recruiting more athletes. “All the time, every day,” he says, laughing. But, he explains, UB is lucky to have the teams and athletes already here, many of them the same students for all three seasons and some as crossovers from other UB sports. “We have pole vaulters, throwers, jumpers, sprinters, and distance runners. I said that if we’re going to be a track and field team, we’re going to start from day one.”

Janae Scott got one of those recruiting calls from Schmidt. She loved the diversity of events she’d be able to compete in, as well as the university’s location on the water. Janae now competes as a thrower, jumper, and hurdler. Unlike some of the athletes who are competing for the first time, she has been throwing shot puts since middle school, soon after adding discus, hurdles, and triple jump. At UB she has tried the hammer throw, as well. She does all this while serving in the Army reserves, attending the monthly drills. “If a meet falls upon the drill date, then priority takes over and I miss the meet,” she says. “Usually, though, the two don’t collide.”

For now, the teams are using a track at Bethel High School to practice and are competing road at away venues on the road. “Everyone understands that, to solidify our track and field team, we’ll need our own home eventually,” says Schmidt. “I’m appreciative that Bridgeport saw the benefit of sports while some other schools are mistakenly cutting them. People I meet outside of the university are excited that we are starting up a track team.”

Originally from Austria, Larissa Weber is only a meter from the national qualifying mark with her javelin. She also ran for the cross-country team and competed in the heptathlon. “I have never done heptathlon before; my main discipline is javelin,” says Weber. “In Austria, I mostly focused on that and hadn’t the chance to experience the other events. Now I finally have the chance to enjoy them.” Still, she looks forward to next year, with more recruits and resources. “I had never been to America before,” she reflects. “It was probably the American dream to go to college in the U.S.”

Maxim Kruk is a thrower from New York who graduated high school early, turning 17 this year. He chose UB because of its high-achieving academic programs like Dental Hygiene and Chiropractic – but he also wanted to be part of something new on the track team. “For a first-year team with a limited number of athletes, we have done a fantastic job,” says Kruk. “It feels great to be part of history here at UB.” He credits Schmidt’s focus on technique with the quick success of the program. “I chose to be a thrower because it is a very explosive event, just like all track events. However, it is especially appealing to me because of how technical it is. Track and Field is one of those sports that you need to train in to be good at; you cannot just show up and win. You can tell who works on their craft and who does not.”

Early Success Bodes a Bright Future

The hard work and focus is paying off already. During the autumn Cross-Country season, the men’s and women’s teams competed at the Ted Owen Invitational at CCSU, the Bruce Kirsh Invitational, and Franklin Pierce University. During the last regular season match at the Adelphi Short Course Meet, Alexandra Toth achieved a personal best time at 21:08.20, while freshman Emily Chase was selected as the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) Women’s Cross-Country Rookie of the Week. In fact, every UB athlete scored a personal or season-best at this meet, rounding out a promising first season.

In December, the Indoor Track and Field Teams debuted at the Elm City Invitational, with Brandon Adams winning the men’s high jump and Alexandra Toth winning the women’s mile. In January, Cristian Ellis took two first place finishes in long jump at the I-95/91 Challenge at SCSU, with other students like Maxim Kruk, Faith Herschberger, and Emilia Russell placing as well. Shortly afterward, they returned to the SCSU fieldhouse for the William Sutherland Invitational, where Luke Downes took first place in the 400m race. At the 30-team Bucknell University Bison Open Meet in Lewisburg, PA, Emilia Russell took first place in the shot put, third place in the long jump, fourth place in the high jump, and fifth place in both the 800m run and the orange division of the pentathlon. Alexandra Toth put up a time of 3:33.79 in the women’s 1000m, finishing seventh, while Luke Downes took fourth place in the 500m race with a time of 1:12.72.

Coach Schmidt has a big job ahead of him, as he tries to balance the needs of the team with the needs of the individual athletes. “Some coaches try to rush the athletes, but my philosophy is when you’re ready, you’re ready,” he says. “I take the responsibility very seriously. I’ve had a lot of success with individual teams and athletes, but this is the opportunity to build an entire program from the ground up.”

In future years, he hopes that UB’s athletes qualify for the NCAA meets. “UB could be known for track and field and cross country. There’s a lot of potential here to start something special,” says Schmidt. “Each year we will get better until we are an established program.”

Learn more about the athletics programs at University of Bridgeport.