By MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Throughout the 2014-15 indoor track and field season, the Niskayuna Silver Warriors girls squad has relied on its youngsters to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
That was the case again at the Jan. 17 Quinney Memorial Invitational at Cornell University, where a host of young Silver Warriors excelled. Out in Ithaca, freshman Katie Showers took 11:23.74 to finish in first place in the 3,000-meter run, just a little bit ahead of Niskayuna sophomore Lexi Sciortino, who finished in second place; also, freshman Abigail Spiers snared a third-place finish in the meet’s 1,000-meter run and a fourth in the 600-meter run.
Nurturing that young talent has been one of the focal points of the season for Niskayuna head coach Jason DeRocco, as has been finding even more quality youngsters. One of the finds for this season, the coach said, has been eighth-grader Grace Minkin, who — through Jan. 18 — had turned in one of the top five times this season in the 55-meter dash in Section II.
DeRocco said Minkin, a soccer player in the fall, had turned in a solid outdoor track and field season last spring. Still, an effort like the time of 6.2 seconds she recorded in a Jan. 3 meet in the 55 meters was not expected this season.
“It was hopeful anticipation with her,” said DeRocco. “We were hoping she’d sprout the way she did, and she gets it. She’s a student of the sport already as an eighth-grader.”
Minkin has spent time studying her form, which has helped her carve off precious seconds in some of her events. Earlier this season, she took roughly 10 seconds off her time in the 600-meter run.
“As long as she continues to mature and grow, she’ll be awesome,” DeRocco said.
That’s what Spiers has done this season after a memorable season as an eighth-grader and a strong fall campaign with the Silver Warriors’ cross country team. A middle-school All-American a year ago in the indoor track and field mile run based off her performance at the New Balance Nationals Indoor championships, Spiers made it to the state championships during the cross country season and has carried her success over into the winter season. Through Jan. 18, Spiers had the second-fastest Section II time this season in the 800-meter run with a mark of 2:27.47, and the fifth-fastest time in the 1,000 meters with a time of 3:05.27 seconds, which she recorded at Cornell.
Spiers said her goal this season is to make it back to the national championships with the Silver Warriors’ distance medley relay team, for which she runs the final 1,600 meters. To try to make that happen, the freshman said she has focused this winter on building up her stamina and improving her technique.
“I’ve been really focusing on my form, trying to make sure my arms are going forward [and not crossing],” she said. “I’m incorporating drills we do in practice every day into my actual racing form.”
That’s not always easy to do in the heat of competition, Spiers admitted.
“But thinking about it can be the difference between getting a freshman or school record,” she said.
DeRocco said it has helped his team’s younger members to have reliable veterans such as seniors Elizabeth Patt and Ericka Stewart to help guide them. Minkin agreed with that, saying she gets help from her more experienced teammates not only in practice, but also at meets.
“Sarah Dalakos, she helps me with my 55 meters,” said Minkin, referring to one of the club’s juniors. “And, a lot of people from the relay teams help me with my handoffs.”