Some already in top form in track opener
PORDENONE, Italy - If you're a glass-half-empty kind of person, Saturday's season-opening track meet - hosted by Aviano, with only three schools participating - had the worst turnout since DODDS-Europe began offering the sport in Italy.
And in a quirk of the schedule, teams don't compete again until April 21 - potentially slowing any momentum the athletes generated at the opening meet.
But there was plenty for those in the glass-half-full crowd as well. All three teams had enough athletes to enter someone in just about every event, which hasn't been the case in recent years.
And though there might be some momentum lost over Spring break, several athletes already appear to be in top form.
Aviano's Darien Cornett wouldn't include himself in that category. But his competitors would. The defending DODDS-Europe long jump champion won both the long jump and triple jump, qualifying for the season-ending championships in both events.
Cornett uncorked a leap of 20 feet, 2 inches on his first jump of the season. He topped that two jumps later with a 20-3 and three of his four jumps were better than the European qualifying standard (19-10). His opening-day effort was at least three feet better than any of his competitors.
But Cornett said his personal best was 21-6 as a sophomore in Arizona. And he hopes to reach at least 22-6 by the end of his senior season.
He attributes his success to hard work, good coaching and discipline. That last part is going to be put to the test soon, though.
"I would like to say I'm going to work out and keep it up all through Spring break," he said with a smile. "But I'm going to be in Greece. I think I'll still try to do something. And stay away from the fried foods."
Cornett's expectations for the season could be higher than most.
Naples junior Kelly Makee already met hers Saturday.
"It was 5 (feet)," she said of her goal in the high jump. But she set a personal best by clearing that in the season's first meet, qualifying for European championships in the process. "I guess now it's 5-2."
Makee said she has mixed feelings about taking two weekends off with the season just starting.
"For conditioning, it's a lot better actually," she said. "But it is nice to have the competition every week and see where you stand. But I'm not really upset with it."
Cornett's teammate Andrew Bert apparently doesn't need much competition or practice.
He cleared 6 feet in the high jump, qualifying for Europeans, even though he's only been practicing the event for four days. Coach Greg Mead said the senior hadn't ever tried it until a bit more than a week ago.
Vicenza coach Mike James said many of his 32 athletes are still trying to find their events. He said his team is young and is building for the future.
"We'll get there," he said.
Naples coach Mark Tyler said he's trying to build a team that competes in every event. Naples has traditionally been stronger in the longer distances and some field events, but hasn't fared as well in the sprints. In order to compete for a Division II championship, though, the Wildcats will need to be competitive in more events.
Naples, which has the largest enrollment in Italy, will be stronger when it hosts the next meet despite the two-week layoff, as about a dozen athletes who didn't attend Saturday's event should be on the team by then, Tyler said.
And officials said there's a possibility that two more schools in Italy may be fielding track teams later this season as well.