Andes track squad off and running for a new season

By John Bernhardt
Only five students signed on that first year, seven springs ago, when Andes Central School started a track and field program. A long run of baseball had come to a close when Andes could no longer find enough boys to field a team. This spring, the Andes track team is off and running with track and field participant levels reaching five times the total of that first year.
“Track and field is a great sport for a small school like Andes, “ said Jeff Rhone who teaches Spanish and is one of three coaches. Physical Education teacher Adam VanValkenburgh assists Rhone working with the throwers, with Social Studies teacher Natasha Merritt helping the jumpers and distance runners.

Getting better is key
The coaching trio is working hard to help their athletes focus on individual performance gains, on where they started and where they end up. And, this spring that focus stretches far beyond only performance at track and field meets, instead, encompas­sing the daily workout regimens the Mountaineers tackle, too.
To accomplish that goal, the Andes coaches have instituted a more serious workout approach. They broke their team into five-member workout groups with the focus on weight and cardio training. Each team registered workout-starting scores, and then tries to grow those scores over time. “We’re tracking our workouts with unannounced benchmark days when scores are com­- piled during practice. We want our kids to understand the relationship between practice prep­aration and meet outcomes,” explained Rhone.
The unique system also rewards accountability and commitment to teammates. Unan- ­noun­ced benchmark days involve a workout regimen built around a set number of activities and reps. If a team member fails to show up at practice on a benchmark day, his or her teammates are responsible for the missing teammates reps.

Putting in the time
Rhone can’t say enough about the work ethic of his kids this spring.
“Our kids have really bought into what we’re trying to do here and they’re seeing the results,” explained the coach.
Six seniors provide experience and leadership. Jonathan Andrews, a returning sprinter, takes the leadership mantle very seriously every day. Shianne Coss returns to defend the Tri-Valley league long-jump championship she won last spring. Coss is also a leading sprinter on the team.
Lost to a serious hamstring pull last season, senior Scott Maxim provides a big boost to the team this spring. “Scott’s a good athlete and will really help out this year,” noted Rhone. Max­im, a sprinter and long jumper, is adding the high jump to his list of events this year. Zack Grapes is another multi-purpose guy as a high jumper and thrower but his real ‘bread and butter’ is middle-distance running.

Senior throwers
Two throwers, Rachael Harp and Eric Misner, round out the senior group. Misner also takes part in limited sprinting events.
Junior Torin Bacon earns kudos for a willingness to wear several hats. Bacon was the team’s premiere middle distance runner last spring in the 800- and 1,600- meter runs. He also participates in the long and high jump. Another junior, Rebecca Kole is experimenting with different events during the preseason.
Four sophomores and a freshman round out the squad. Zack Vallavich shows great promise as a sprinter and long jumper. Throwing events are Cheyenne Weaver’s favorites, although Weaver is also trying her hand at the 200- and 400-meter runs. Rhone marvels at how Adriel Grapes maintains her focus on the small details in her work as a distance runner. The 1,500-meter run is Grapes’ best event, and she plans on joining fellow sophomore Allison Long as a triple jumper this spring. Long also runs the 400 meters.
Freshman Winnie Richards is a strong sprinter challenging Coss as the fastest sprinter on the team. “If you ask Shianne who’s faster, she says Winnie. If you ask Winnie who’s fastest, she says Shianne,” laughed Rhone.

More on the way
The coaches are enthused with their junior-high numbers with 12 students, including four freshmen, on the modified team.
“Every year our program gets stronger,” Rhone explained. “Last year we installed a long- jump and triple-jump pit at Andes.” The Mountaineers also got a boost from the Cherry Valley program. When Cherry Valley purchased new high-jump mats, they donated their old set to Andes.

Help is welcome
Rhone and the Andes coaches seek help whenever and wherever they can find it. If they can work out the details, Andes hopes to participate in a clinic with SUNY Delhi with members of the Bronco track and field team manning instruction stations for the Mountaineers.
Recently, Andes earned some noteworthy track and field successes. Last spring Josh Harp competed in the New York State qualifying meet in the discus with Ashley Terry competing at the same level in the same event the previous sprin. Coss was the Tri-Valley league long jump champion in 2013. Those successes serve notice that it’s not the size of your school but the size of your heart and how hard you work that can make a difference.