Lansing track & field showcases resiliency despite challenges

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Lansing track and field had plenty of momentum following the indoor season in the winter. The Bobcats sent six athletes to the State Championships after both the boys and girls teams placed second at the Section IV Championship. That followed a girls cross country team in the fall that won its second straight sectional title. It was a good year to be a Lansing runner.

However, this year will not have a proper ending after the spring sports season was canceled due to COVID-19. There were high expectations for the girls team in particular after current senior Gwen Gisler won the Division 2 state championship in pole vault and fellow senior Catalina Zaloj had a top-three high jump finish in 2019.

Coach Becca Lovenheim is in charge of an exceptionally large roster and felt the excitement building as the season drew closer. Not being able to expend that competitive energy can be challenging, but Lovenheim is happy with what she’s seen from her team thus far through virtual workouts.

“I am incredibly proud of our athletes for how they’ve managed this setback,” Lovenheim said. “It’s been really fun to get to - if I’m out on my own - run and see someone else running or hear through the grapevine about people who are still getting their workouts done. The kids are very focused on making sure that they’re doing the next right thing. The next right thing right now has been making sure they’re staying active, maintaining a routine.”

Though they’ll be missing a few key contributors, the engagement that Lovenheim has experienced through virtual workouts and team meetings has her looking forward to next year already. But before she was forced to go virtual, Lovenheim was able to meet with her team one last time.

They were in the midst of what Lovenheim called a “soft opening” with some athletes recovering from the indoor season and others participating in other school activities.

“We didn’t have a complete group,” Lovenheim said. “But that last practice, it was really windy up at the track. We talked about the fact that we didn’t know what was coming next. But it was as if everyone needed to really just be there and be together, and it was actually a beautiful practice. It’s a really nice last memory for the 2020 season.”

Once the season was canceled for good, Lovenheim and coach Matt Scheffler addressed the team via email.

“[We] just reminded them that this is big news and it’s sad news but it’s only one part of their journey,” Lovenheim said. “What feels really big right now will be a bookmark in their own history as an athlete, but it’s something that they can overcome.”

She added that difficult setbacks set up very strong returns to continue building the excitement for next year. The team has responded incredibly well to the workouts and team activities, and Lovenheim discussed the impact it’s had on her.

“It’s really uplifting,” Lovenheim said. “I wasn’t so sure when I was first sending [the workouts] out. I think back to my high school self and I want to think that I would have done all of them. But the truth is that they’re being asked to manage a lot. The most humbling part of coaching is watching how much everyday bravery is displayed by our high school athletes.”

In addition to that bravery is the creativity some of the athletes are displaying as Lansing’s track is currently closed.

“They’re having to figure things out,” Lovenheim said. “We sent notes about how you can do this in a safe way and comply with directives right now for public health. I heard on one of the most recent Zoom calls that [Catalina Zaloj] has little hash marks marked out on her street so that she can figure out where her intervals are. Other ones are using their mailboxes. I’m super proud of them. They’re an awesome group.”

Zaloj is part of a strong group of seniors, along with the aforementioned Gisler and Catie Eisenhut, who all made the trip to the State Championships last outdoor season. They’ve made a sizable impact on Lansing track and field, winning three consecutive IAC and Section IV Championships.

“It is really hard to imagine the program without them,” Lovenheim said. “This is my fifth year of coaching, and they’ve been here the whole time. It’s very strange to think about them not being there. They’ve seen tremendous success, and they’ve worked very hard for it. In our final meeting, we were replaying the video of when they were announced as Section IV winners that first time four years ago, and it was good to be able to go back and say to them, ‘You helped build this.’”

They’ve helped build a program that has showcased resiliency by continuing to train hard despite being no championship at the end of the road. The values being displayed and the pipeline of talent point to a bright future for Lansing track and field.

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