Forced out as the head football coach at Eagle Point High in January, Jacob Schauffler wasn't sure what direction he would go in the early aftermath...
With warm, calm weather as the backdrop for a sunbaked Bowerman Field at North Medford High, track and field athletes went about their business of getting repetitions in for their spring specialties.
That statement was as true about what transpired Monday on the Black Tornado stomping grounds as it was in January and February, when local athletes began gearing up for the start of the official practice season on Feb. 27.
Such good preseason conditions should make for stellar early season marks when local track and field teams kick their season into high gear at 4 p.m. Wednesday with a handful of meets across the Rogue Valley. The Medford Rotary Relays will be held at North Medford High on Saturday, with field events starting at 9:30 a.m. and running events at 11.
"I think our reps were up and our enthusiasm was up and that combination has created some of the success we're seeing early on," said North Medford head coach Piet Voskes. "We have a jump-start on the season which we have not had in about five or six years. The kids are excited with the meet Wednesday (against Grants Pass) and then the Medford Relays on Saturday. They can finally jump in the pool and swim now."
Save for the past few wet and chilly weeks, the weather has been unusually pleasant. Voskes said all those good days made it easier for athletes to want to trickle outside and stretch their legs.
"It's been almost a reverse since the season started," said Voskes. "We went from great preseason weather to a swamp within a week. But those pivotal weeks in February, where we could get out here and get going, I think set us up for some real success. We'd look at this typically as Week 5 but this year we see this more as Week 8 because we've had three extra weeks to get ready."
"If you look at early season marks, they're up right now," added the coach. "Is that directly attributed to the weather or the kids being a year older and physically more matured, I don't know. But there's no question they're up and there's already been some very good marks where you say, 'Whoa, I'm impressed.'"
Past preseason workouts would have been limited for sprinters and jumpers and almost non-existent for pole vaulters, but Voskes said those groups were able to get considerable repetitions in before things turned sour more recently.
"I think we're right now more ballistic as far as just general movement," Voskes said of the difference in his athletes thus far. "We were able to do stuff that normally we would do in the gym with all the pounding and we've found right now that we have far less shin splints because we were able to do so much stuff on the turf."
"Right now typically we would be almost a hospital ward with kids walking gingerly," he added, "and I think a lot of the difference has to do with the fact that we were on turf and we could do great ballistic exercises without worrying about rain, wind and slop because the weather was good. It's been nice to get around those types of issues and feel more like a track program in the middle of April or early May."
Another advantage of good preseason conditions? Voskes didn't have to pull out his usual car salesman routine on prospective athletes.
"I didn't have to sell it to where I'm manning the phones trying to get people out here," he said. "It sold itself. Those three weeks were pivotal, they were huge. Typically you're trying to convince them that track will be good, just wait until it gets nice out. You're really trying to create an image in their head and they already had an image. They came out and it was nice, sunny weather and they felt good and fit and they were doing whatever they wanted and it sold the sport."
Voskes said the Black Tornado's numbers were up — 95 as of Monday — and that rise in participation seems to be enjoyed throughout the area.
"My dad (Hans Voskes) said he's up to 92 at Ashland, which is unprecedented," he said. "They've not had that many in years. I think the numbers across the valley are up and I hope it would be in track because it is such a great sport and there's a spot for everybody."
A drawback to already being ahead of the curve, however, is the potential risk of injury due to athletes pushing it further and faster than they normally would be able to, and for a more prolonged time than they're used to.
"We have to watch them, I think, very carefully because you can go too hot too soon and get overzealous," said Voskes. "A lot of times when the weather does change and it turns quickly, you find a lot of kids with hamstring issues because they don't warm up as well they should. They get ballistic and very aggressive and get in a race saying, 'It's hot out, I'll be fine,' but that's not the case."
To help offset that, the Black Tornado is taking advantage of an on-site whirlpool built in the old bathroom adjacent to Bowerman Field and has added deep water pool workouts under the direction of assistant coach Marnie Binney at the America's Best Kids facility.
"They spend their recoup days in there getting that aerobic, upper body work without the pounding," said Voskes. "ABK has been awesome for us and having Marnie, with what she did up (coaching at the University of Oregon) and all the experience she has, that combination, I think, is going to be a recipe for success."