The track and field team is running in a new direction this season, with Rick Fullum returning as coach after a 10-year absence.
Former cross country and track and field coach Nick Domitch moved to Santa Cruz after last season.
Fullum said he did not plan to return to Country Day but was pleased when athletic director Matt Vargo asked for his help.
Fullum, who has coached track in Sacramento since 1984, is the head wrestling coach at Grant Union High School and helps coach Cordova High School’s wrestling team.
“We’re happy to have (Fullum) back,” Vargo said. “He’s really good with the jumping and short-distance events, which will be great for certain runners.”
Senior sprinter, triple jumper and long jumper Heidi Johnson is one member benefiting from Fullum’s expertise.
Johnson said this year has been “exciting” because of Fullum’s experience coaching jumping events.
“I’m already learning more form,” Johnson said of keeping her steps consistent, standing upright and raising her knees higher.
Fullum said he wants athletes to achieve their personal goals. So far, he said the season is going “exceptionally well.”
“Everybody who shows up gives 110 percent, and I’m very pleased with that,” Fullum said.
The team’s unusually large roster, 11 athletes compared with last year’s three, has increased the team spirit, according to junior middle-distance runner Chris Wilson.
Only two of last year’s participants, Johnson and junior middle-distance runner Charles Thomas, returned this season.
Wilson, who competed in track his freshman year but not his sophomore year due to the small roster, said the team’s size was a factor in his decision to rejoin.
“It seemed fun to be part of a big group,” Wilson said. “It makes it feel like more of a team sport.”
Johnson said the large size provides new opportunities for the runners, including a relay team.
Freshman sprinter Craig Bolman said he is also benefiting from Fullum’s coaching.
“He’s giving us a lot of specialized drills,” Bolman said. “He teaches us to focus on our form and keep our arms straight when we’re running so we don’t lose momentum.”
Junior sprinter, shot putter and discus thrower Maddie Woo joined the team for the first time this year after attending meets last year to take photos for the yearbook and “liking the vibe.”
She said she has already learned a lot about the sport from Fullum, who is “an encouraging coach.”
“I’ve learned the technique for running and throwing the shot put,” Woo said. “And to take off my shoes right after the race to air out my feet.”
Thomas said the overall focus of the team is different this year as well.
“It feels more focused on each athlete reaching their time and doing what they want,” Thomas said. “There are a lot more runners on the team this year, but coach Rick Fullum still tries to give us really personalized workouts, which will help us reach the times we want.”
Another change this season is that the team is practicing at Cordova High School because Fullum has access to the track.
Before this season, the team practiced only at Country Day, which made it difficult to get a feel for running on a track, according to Thomas.
Vargo said Cordova’s fairly new facility and proximity to Country Day make it an ideal place to practice.
The team will likely practice four days a week at Cordova and, for convenience, one day a week at Country Day, according to Vargo.
According to Fullum, it’s “very beneficial” to practice on a track.
“They can get an idea of what they need to do and how far the distances are,” Fullum said.
“And there is another team out there, so they can gauge how others at their age levels are doing and where they need to be.”
Wilson agreed that the track is helpful, saying that running on a track “is more giving than running on anything else.”
Bolman said it has also provided further learning opportunities for the athletes.
“You couldn’t practice the curve the same way without (the track),” Bolman said. “(Fullum) shows us how to run (the curve) so that we really take advantage of our momentum.”
The track has also been beneficial for practicing specific events, according to Johnson.
“Before this year, I was only really able to practice during meets,” Johnson said. “But now I can work with the sandpit at practice.”
Johnson said that after the first two meets on March 9 and 12, the team is getting a feel for the season.
“It’s hard because we are just getting started,” Johnson said. “We are all getting warmed up and are going to be improving individually.”
However, she said Fullum’s experience has come in handy.
“He helps with my steps and gives me advice after each jump,” Johnson said. “Nick wasn’t able to give me jumping tips. It is nice to have that feedback.”
Fullum agreed that the meets “have been good for the team.”
“They have developed into good members that compete with the best in our league,” Fullum said.
But Fullum said there is still plenty of room for improvement.
“Conditioning and technique are at the top of the list for improvement,” Fullum said. “But (I want to) focus on the end of the season and let the technique and form they were missing develop into their style.”
Johnson said a lack of practices due to weather has been a barrier for the team.
“We’ve been having a lot of practices (inside) because of the rain,” Johnson said. “But hopefully going forward, we will have more time at Cordova to practice with the pit and the track.”
—By Anna Frankel
Originally published in the March 19 edition of the Octagon.