When the Abington Heights boys track and field team began its Lackawanna Division I season against preseason favorite Valley View, there was little pressure on the Comets. After all, Valley View had not lost a meet within its division for seven years, while expectations were a bit more modest at Abington Heights.
But when the Comets knocked off the Cougars, 81.5 to 68.5, it set the tone for a remarkable season as Abington Heights went on to nail down the divisional crown.
“I don’t think anyone on the coaching staff thought we were the team to beat, I think that mantle belonged to Valley View,” said Comets assistant coach Bob McMinn, who oversaw the boys program. “However, we did think our team would be able to compete and do better than people without inside knowledge of our team thought we would do.”
A season-defining victory elevated the confidence of the Comets, unleashing the self belief that they were as good as their coaches believed.
“Valley View was definitely the key meet because Valley View was clearly the best team in our division at that time,” McMinn said. “I think our boys knew it was possible to beat Valley View but actually doing it boosted their confidence and really set the tone for the remainder of the season.”
As expectations about claiming a title grew, McMinn and head track coach Frank Passetti tried to make sure the team retained its hunger and kept their eyes on the real prize — improvement.
“Our expectations aren’t necessarily about who wins a meet or loses a meet; our expectations are that everyone works hard at practice and competes on the track and on the field in their assigned events,” McMinn said. “Our expectations are that they perform to their ability and, hopefully, improve with each meet.
“In the sport of track and field, individual improvement is synonymous with team improvement,” he continued. “This team worked hard, they competed, and consequently they improved. I think the area that they exceeded expectations is in the win and loss columns. Our boys showed up and demonstrated a will to win. And that is what it takes to do well in track and field.”
The likes of Jon Galaydick, Jacob Ross and Zach Bird sparked the Comets, starting with the win at Valley View, where Galaydick won both hurdling races, Ross captured the 1600- and 3200-meter runs and Bird placed first in the long, triple and high jumps. While the trio collected eight first-place finishes [Ross anchored the winning 3200-meter relay team for the Comets] for 40 important points in track and field, it takes depth to capture wins in dual meets and the Comets had plenty of that with Eric Phillips (400), Nathan Langan (javelin) and its 400-meter relay team also winning events as well as the team combining for six second places and nine third places against the Cougars.
“We didn’t have any superstars, but we had a lot of talented athletes,” Passetti said.
Among them was Nate Hollander, an outstanding football player and a key component on the Comets state-qualifying boys basketball team this academic year, who decided to test himself by competing in track his senior season. To say it paid off would be an understatement.
“Nate came out for the first time this year, as a senior, following basketball season. It is no surprise that basketball players do well at track, but since our basketball team this year went so far into the postseason, Nate was not able to start training until the third week of our season [in a sport he had never competed in],” McMinn said, adding that Hollander progressed into new events as the year went on. “Like I said, basketball players generally do well in track and field, but I was impressed with how far he came in such a short period of time. It is really remarkable.”
“That is what makes track and field such an exciting sport, it is pure competition,” he continued. “In most sports, you could never just show up your senior year and be competitive; in track you obviously can. All you need is a competitive spirit and some athletic ability and you will do just fine.”
There is plenty of all that in the program which will seek to make a successful defense of their Division I title and McMinn expects to have the horses to do just that.
“I think the prognosis for next season is the same as it was for this season, which is that we will be competitive,” McMinn said. “We have a strong junior class, we only lose a few seniors, and we have two boys returning next season who missed this year recovering from injuries sustained participating in a fall sport.”
“The only difference is no one was really expecting much from us this year, which gave us some advantage,” he added. “Next year that won’t be the case, so it will be a higher hill to climb.”
The Comets will have to get ready for every team’s best shot, being the hunted rather than the hunter. But they will be armed with the knowledge that their best in 2014 resulted in a Division I crown, the aim of every program in the division.