By CODY REYNOLDS
The University of Mary Washington men’s and women’s track and field teams competed in their only home meet of the season at the Battleground Relays on Friday and Saturday, March 20 and 21, marking Head Coach Stan Soper’s last home meet ever in light of his retirement following the 2015 outdoor track season.
On the men’s side, sophomore Glenn Taylor won the 100 meter dash at 10.82 seconds. Senior James King won the 3,000 meter steeplechase at 10:44.10.
The men’s team further impressed with sophomore Kevin McCarthy, juniors Jamie Van Emmerik and Tate Houff and senior Julian Menk finishing first in the 4×800 relay with a time of 8:29.43. Many of those same pieces competed in the distance medley relay with Van Emmerik, Menk, McCarthy and sophomore Ben Sorensen, taking a first place finish at 10:54.04.
Freshman Daniel Forjan won the hammer throw with a toss of 125 feet, five inches, and senior Frank Corona won the javelin with 171 feet, three inches.
Women’s track and field gathered a plethora of wins as well, starting with freshman Janel Moore in the 100 meter dash at 12.84 seconds.
In the distance events, senior Lauren Braney won the 5,000 meter run with a time of 19:42.45, and Tara Landy won the 10,000 meter run at 41:57. Junior Samantha Park took home a commemorative first-place mug as well in the 3,000 meter steeplechase at 12:43.
The women’s relay events had successful day, as the 4×200 composed of junior Emily Derse, sophomore Bailey Ratliff, freshman Rachel Lewis and Moore won with a time of 1:53.41. The 4×400 with Derse, Lewis, senior Claire Harrington and Moore won at 4:19.95. The 4×800 team of freshman Marin Bader, Lewis, sophomore Victoria Parent and Park also took first at 10:22.70.
The distance medley relay won at 13:10.73 seconds, comprised of Lewis, Ratliff, Bader and Braney.
The women also did work in the field events, with Harrington winning the pole vault with a leap of 10 feet, six inches. Junior Jordan Watkins won the triple jump at 32 feet, 11.75 inches.
Sophomore Sheree Turner won the hammer throw at 132 feet, 10 inches, and junior Taylor Cockerille won a pair of events in the shot put with a throw of 38 feet, 11 inches and the discus at 132 feet, five inches.
This Battlegrounds relay was also the host of Area 11 Special Olympic competitors, with athletes running the 100 meter dash on Saturday.
Junior Carline Cerand played a pivotal role in the Special Olympics inclusion, bridging the connection between UMW Coach Stan Soper and Jim Garrett of the Special Olympic Area 11, as well as securing the contact and participation with the special Olympians.
“The Battleground relay has always been about three things…getting into outdoor race shape, having fun and enjoying the nice weather,” said Soper.
Coach Soper has been one of the top cross country and track and field coaches in the region for three decades, earning a lengthy list of accolades. Soper earned the Capital Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in track and field 21 times, leading the team to 23 CAC titles, including 17 for women.
In his first season as UMW track and field coach, the program was in its infancy, existing for only three years.
“The team has since grown in size, in terms of quality of student athletes in the program,” said Soper.
Under his tenure as coach for 31 years, Soper has overseen 47 All-American performers, coached six NCAA Championship-qualifying teams and has led UMW to a combined 48 conference titles.
“Certainly the men and women’s team have enjoyed quite a bit of success in the conference and in the national level,” said Soper. “There are peaks and valleys, but what I’m pretty proud of is that we have been able to minimize the lows. We have always been one of the top tier teams in the conference, which to me, has been the most satisfying.”
During his last Battleground experience, Soper said he “was more focusing on trying to run the meet smoothly and enjoying watching our athletes compete on our home track.”
“Battlegrounds has always been about having fun here at UMW,” said Soper, looking back on Battlegrounds past.
With his mind made up about his last season, Soper did not have the sudden rush of realization that it was his last meet. This was in part played by the overwhelming support he received from alumni and former athletes of his, who came to visit him during his last home meet.
Coming from all over the country, Soper received many good wishes at a reception following the meet from Eagles who have since graduated.
“Seeing how many came from how far and coming together one more time really made it a night I’ll never forget,” said Soper.
Senior captain Tom Hudson has kept his friendship with his coach “close to his heart.”
Hudson said he always knew in the back of his mind that “Soper’s retirement would come” and that he was “proud to work and run for such a great guy and coach.”
“Every team that Soper has coached was his family. Hearing from alumni, it’s clear that every team has their own family bonds with coach, that’s how close we are to him,” said Hudson.
After spending the last 31 years of one’s life doing what you love most, it is understandably difficult to walk away and make peace with it. With so much extra free time, Soper said he has many things planned to keep his mind off of his former job.
“I’ll be doing things that will make [my wife] happy,” said Soper. “I know how much she has had to put up with me and how much she has had to sacrifice for me, so now I get to do things with and for her, which basically means being on the water and hanging out on the beach.”
Coach Soper’s career is certainly one of admiration and praise, and with one month left in his career, surely more will come about before he crosses the finish line.