By: Thomas Becker
Two years ago, UPEI’s Athletic Director, Chris Huggan breathed new life into the track and field program with the hiring of head coach Colin MacAdam, and they haven’t disappointed since.
In his short tenure, the highly touted MacAdam (and his 30-plus years of experience) helped guide several of his athletes to personal bests in their respective events, with one athlete capturing back-to-back AUS gold medals in the 60m dash, which later led to national exposure. Not a bad start for a relatively new program.
Now in their third year, the Panthers are hoping to build on a sturdy foundation, with an eye on more podium finishes. MacAdam said his team, especially the core group, who’ve been there from the beginning, should be better prepared for what the season has in store.
“We have a solid group of six or seven experienced athletes who we hope will continue to move up the AUS ladder,” he said. “There’s also a group of younger athletes who are learning the sport and have to figure out what it takes to become successful at this level.”
One of those experienced athletes is Bailey Smith, who’s looking to defend her title as the league’s best 60m sprinter for a third straight year. However, it won’t come easy, as her peers will be gunning for her.
“She had three strong races in December and she is on track to be faster than last year,” MacAdam said. “That being said, the competition is very strong in the AUS and U Sports and she will be challenged at every step.”
Ability aside, Smith’s greatest value may be that of a leader for a young Panthers squad.
“Bailey is an example of an athlete who has endured some adversity – primarily in the form of injuries – to become a top competitor in the sport,” he said. “She leads by example as she competes but also by helping out other athletes as they train.”
Smith’s expanded role as a mentor is something she’s taking in stride and admits she, too, is still learning from her teammates.
“It makes me think about track in different ways and I like that my teammates know they can confide in me,” Smith said. “We can all learn from each other and it’s a very positive atmosphere to be around.”
Smith’s success has been a big reason why UPEI track and field has gained traction within the community. The team’s roster consists of 18 athletes compared to 11 in their inaugural season just two years prior. But in order to stay competitive from a team perspective, they’ll have to attract more bodies, which means more individual success outside of Smith.
“The bottom line is if you want to be a top-3 team you need a large number of athletes – 30 or more,” MacAdam said. “A bigger team is an eventual goal… but our immediate goal is to have our athletes move up the AUS ladder which will lead to attracting more and better athletes.”
For now, MacAdam is focused on the current core and will do everything in his power to help them reach the podium.
Sprinter Damon MacDonald is an example of an athlete ready to take the next step as he’s already proven himself at the AUS level. Much like MacDonald, veteran long jumper Kylee Wallace and distance runners Michaela Walker and Emma Moore should be in the top-5 with a legitimate shot to medal.
Andre Peach is another name fans should be aware of. The big, strong runner from Dartmouth has already met the AUS standard for the 300m in his first race of the year and will challenge for top-5 in the conference.
“I feel this season will be our best yet,” Smith said. “Each year we have more and more athletes doing better and helping the province and the university get recognized as one to look out for.”
Those are encouraging expectations for a program still in its infancy and if any of them can reach the podium when it matters most, then UPEI track and field will be better for it.