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Apr. 8—In 2019, the Holy Redeemer girls’ track and field team went undefeated and won a district championship.

Two years later — after a year layoff — coach Kevin Walters is looking for some of that success again.

“Like everything in athletics, you have to start slow,” said Walters, who is in his ninth season. “We had a very strong team, a very young team, two years ago.

“It’s very interesting to see these kids come back. It’s going to take time.”

The early season practices were different, Walters said, as even recognizing kids he had known in the 2019 season was challenging. Some of the boys came back taller and put on 10-15 pounds of muscle, which made them run differently than they had before.

As a coach, he said he had to help them figure out their new dynamic.

Most of the difficulties of starting this track and field season stemmed from the two-year gap between active seasons. In 2020, teams only got a couple of practices into the season before everything got shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walters, and Pittston Area boys coach Jason Mills, said they each worked with their coaching staff to develop at-home workouts for athletes interested in staying in shape during the long time off between seasons.

The coaches agreed the kids who participated in the specialty events — jumps, throws, vaults, hurdles and relays — were hurt because they couldn’t practice their event during the gap year like the running and distance runners could. Instead, they made do with at-home workouts in lieu of implements and gyms or shifted to prepare for fall sports.

Walters said this is the area which will probably need the most focus. Mills said the relays are particularly challenging because he doesn’t know how to construct a team that will click.

The lack of proper preparation will also make this season a wild card, Mills said. With the short turnaround from preseason to competition, he said some athletes might not even hit their best performances until the middle of the season.

“The good news is that every other team is in the same boat,” Nanticoke Area girls track and field coach Jeff DeRocco said. “We’re all working through it.”

Another challenge teams had to face was the amount of talent returning to the track. DeRocco said some of his kids — mostly upperclassmen — decided not to come back out for the team this season because their priorities shifted over the past year. He said some decided to focus more on school, while others wanted to work to save money for college.

Because of the pandemic, Mills said, some kids were even anxious about being around other people at practices. However, breaking up into smaller groups for individual event practices helped get these kids acclimated to being around other people, he added.

Walters and Mills believe it falls on coaches to make practices, which have become slightly more serious because of the pressure of the limited season, a fun and enjoyable time for the kids.

“You find your niches and you get right back in the swing of things,” Walters said. “And it didn’t take long for us all to jive together and for the kids to understand what I’m looking for, and for me to understand what the kids are looking for at track and field.”

Various goals for the season include just getting athletes back to the district and state meets. However, everyone is just glad to have a season at all.

“One of the best things about track and field is not just about running fast and winning meets,” Walters said. “It’s about the environment these kids get to be in.”

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