The La Verne men’s track and field team finished its season strong, taking third place in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships with 100 points, 66 points behind first place Redlands.
The women’s team came in fifth place with 63 points.
Junior sprinter Marcus Fortugno not only claimed first place in the 200 and 400-meter dash, but reached a milestone cutting nearly one second off his best time to break the SCIAC meet record, which was set in 1971, for the 400-meter dash with a time of 46.55.
Fortugno’s domination this season led to him being ranked first nationally.
“I’d like to think I’m the poster athlete to show incoming freshmen to commit, then in a year or two it could possibly be the same and have a high caliber team,” Fortugno said.
Another record setter for the Leopards was sophomore triple and long jumper Paul Turner on March 5 at the SCIAC Quad in Claremont.
With a 49-5 triple jump, Turner broke a La Verne record. Turner also reached the NCAA provisional mark with a 23-7 jump.
Turner returned at the Cal-Nevada State Championships on March 27 with a 49-8 1/2 triple jump to take third place.
“I’m hoping to achieve nationals, but placing third in the Cal-Nevada Championships was one of my top achievements this year,” Turner said.
Freshman Ebony Williams led the women’s team at the SCIAC Championships winning the 100-meter dash with a time of 12.79 and the 4×100-meter relay with teammates sophomore Lili Bolanos, sophomore Samantha Tucker and freshman Nicole Crutchfield.
Senior Corbin Henault placed fourth in the javelin at the SCIAC Championships with a throw of 128-3, ranking her 12th nationally.
The coaching staff comes together for a common goal and reinforces the Leopards to not only do it for themselves, but do it for the team.
“We owe it to our coaching staff, we all have our own specific coaches, but all the coaches still cheer all the athletes on and help us improve,” Fortugno said.
Jumping coach Katrina Hall and sprinting coach Jason Tavarez helped Turner and Fortugno reach their goals this year.
“(Hall) knows everything, she can always tell me what I do wrong and help me fix it,” Turner said.
“(Tavarez) is more of a friend than a coach. He gives me criticism but I take it well because I know it will help in the future,” Fortugno said.
Aside from the Leopards’ record-breaking season, the underlying issue of the poor condition of the track remains constant.
“It’s really frustrating for athletes with the track facilities, we haven’t been able to host a home meet in five years, it’s frustrating for everyone,” head coach Pat Widolff said.
“It’s one of the biggest problems here, it causes injuries; it’s the No. 1 thing we want fixed,” Turner said. “I can’t have my family come to my meets because they’re always so far away.”
“The biggest thing is the top athletes don’t have a place to shine,” Fortugno said. “All other schools have stadium records, but we can’t have anything like that.”
The poor track facilities leaves the team with a deeper problem than no home meets, it effects recruitment.
“It really curtails recruiting,” Widolff said. “When recruits come tour the campus they don’t walk on the track.”
The Leopards put in hours of hard work this season, but unfortunately not all runners and throwers improved.
“We had several individuals who worked really hard but didn’t improve,” Widolff said. “I can’t say it’s because of them, we just didn’t train them right. That’s been the biggest frustration, but we’re going to make a lot of changes next year so that doesn’t happen again.”
The team might struggle with poor track conditions, but the Leopards still are able to find motivation in their hard work.
“I believe in intrinsic self-motivation for the team, there’s no trophies, no awards; it’s up to them to get better for self-satisfaction,” Widolff said. “We try to treat everyone the same. We try to coach everyone the best they can be in their event and believe in patience and long term development.”
La Verne not only prepares for the NCAA Division III Championships Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, but looks forward to success next season.
“We expect to win the conference championship by recruiting better and helping the kids who didn’t improve to reach their potential next year,” Widolff said.
“We are one step away from taking conference next year,” Fortugno said. “If everyone stays healthy and we get new recruits, we have a chance to be the most talented school.”
Krista Franceschini can be reached at email@example.com.