BENNINGTON — In only its second season as a varsity-level squad, the Southern Vermont College outdoor track team has already turned a lot of people's heads.
After the first meet of the season at Bridgewater State University on Saturday, three school records were set, along with a dozen personal bests.
All of that has head coach Kathleen Newton extremely optimistic for the 2016 campaign.
"We have a lot more people and more diversity," said Newton, who counts 15 competitors on her roster. "We have a couple of women throwing the shot, we have a pole vaulter and a lot of the running events are covered. It's fun for the coaches and the athletes."
The Mountaineers expect to be led by a newcomer who isn't all that new to fans of track in the Southern Vermont area. After two seasons of running cross-country for SVC, sophomore Marc Brandmeyer, set records in the opening meet — 2 minutes, 3.74 seconds in the 800 and 10:03.42 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase — the latter that the Mount Anthony graduate won, the first time an SVC runner was victorious in an individual event.
"Mark is a good leader, he and Cameron [Michael Curtiss, a senior captain] are always shouting and encouraging," Newton said. "With the results he gets, that sets the bar for everyone else. They work out off of each other, they want to be close to him, because it makes the others better as well."
A handful of team members are multi-sport athletes, including Patrick McGovern, Jackson Amankrah and Danielle Simmons (basketball) and Elmer Olivares (volleyball).
"We did look inside a little bit, but most came to us with their interest," Newton said. "Danielle threw [shot] in high school, Jackson ran track in high school. We weren't looking specifically, but it's a nice thing to have."
In the season's first event, Simmons threw the shot 8.63 meters — better than 28 feet.
A freshman expected to make his mark in both track and field events is Isaiah Backels. The Pinkerton Academy (N.H.) product's forte is the pole vault, while he'll also run in short and middle distance events like the 200 or 400 meters.
"He's working really hard and he's in really good shape," Newton said. "He's a strong kid, doing a lot in the weight room."
Junior Shelby Whitman, another Mount Anthony graduate who competed for Newton with the Patriots, is the second captain along with Curtiss this season. Whitman runs in the middle distance events, such as the 800 and 1,500 meters.
"Shelby is a great leader, fantastic with the women," Newton said. "She's such a supportive teammate. She has a great work ethic in everything she does."
Three of the members of the roster are also Bennington College students, a part of the Mountaineers' sports consortium.
Annika Kristiansen and Noah Froh competed for SVC in cross-country, while Alexander Ging in on his first college team.
"The consortium has been great. Annika is such a solid runner and Alex is a new guy, getting in competition for the first time. Noah is going to be good in the 800 and 1,500 meters," Newton said.
In the opening meet, most of the team competed in one single event, but that will change as the season goes on. In fact, at the next meet on Saturday at Fitchburg State, many will be in two or three events.
"It's boring to do just one thing. We have a lot of flexibility and it's good to get more track experience," Newton said. "It's good for them to spread out a little bit."
The Mountaineers have been able to practice outside for the past five weeks, a luxury they didn't have last year with a snowy winter.
"Thanks to the weather, we've been able to get outside since the end of February. We've been using the MAU community track and it's worked well for us," Newton said.
Newton is realistic about her team, being in its second season, but she has some specific goals.
"I know we're capable of a bunch of personal records, but I'd like to see a couple qualify for Div3's or the New England meet. I think we could have a few do it," Newton said.