The University of Saint Mary track and field teams have grown a lot over the last few years. The program that used to finish near the bottom of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference is now a consistent contender for a title. The culture has moved toward winning and a large part in that comes from how the program has been operated.
When head coach Alstin Benton arrived on campus, the track and field team had a total of 18 athletes. Last season, there were 64 members of the team. The growth has led to increased placements at track and field events, including this last season in which the mens’ team captured a championship in the indoor season and finished runner-up by only seven points in the outdoor championships.
The turnaround may have been faster than Benton thought, but has all been part of the process to achieve the success.
“It has been a process basically,” Benton said. “As coaches, we take everything day by day. Take the wins and losses day by day. I think if you continue to do the right thing and keep progressing, I believe that progress will keep happening.”
The progress for the Spires will have to happen without some key athletes as some like Tony Weber and Christian Graham graduate.
The two were a big part of the record finish for the Spires at the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Alabama this past May. Weber captured the championship in the marathon and Graham finished second. Josh Ramirez finished fifth to give the Spires three athletes in the top five. Weber was also the runner-up in the 10,000-meter race. These results led to the mens’ team finishing seventh, which was the highest in school history for the outdoor national championship.
The departure of Weber and Graham will leave big shoes to fill, but Benton is confident with the upcoming athletes for next season.
“Christian and Tony have been kind of the bloodline of our program,” Benton said. “The guys that have led the program and taken it where we are now. It’s going to be tough without them, but we have a really great upcoming sophomore class and quality transfers. The quality transfers have made a huge impact and set up some success here.”
One of the keys to the success, according to Benton, is the developmental process. A lot of the athletes can take the first year to develop and as they grow, they are then expected to flourish as they get older.
As the summer heat starts to ramp up, the training will start for the various athletes. The distance runners started this week with training. The first few weeks will have lower mileage totals of 20-30, but as the summer goes on, these will increase to a range of 50-90.
Benton doesn’t keep the athletes on a leash though. He and his staff let the runners work on their own.
“That is our recruiting style,” Benton said. “I’m less worried about how fast you ran in high school and more about how mature you are and your ability to go and do this on your own.”
As the program continues to grow and flourish, Benton wants to see the field aspect of track and field continue to grow. The facilities just recently improved to allow better access for field athletes and Benton feels confident that some of the throwers and pole vaulters coming in can snag some more points to help Saint Mary compete for the conference title.
With the growth also comes a change in expectations. When Benton first arrived, his goals were to have a consistent finish in the top 15. Now, the program is a consistent top 10 finisher so the goal has shifted to continue to strive for better, including a push to try to win a national championship.