For the first time in the history of the conference, the MIAA Indoor Track and Field Championships will be held at the Carl and Cheryl Hughes Fieldhouse in Maryville Feb. 22-24.
With the meet on its own turf, Northwest indoor track and field sits in an advantageous position. The men’s indoor team has spent the last 78 years traveling to different locations to compete in the conference meet and the women have done so for 38 years.
Now, the Bearcats to compete in the year’s most important meet —and as coach Brandon Masters sees it, the only meet that matters — in their own backyard. The familiarity of the fieldhouse could be paramount in the team’s impending success.
“It’s huge,” Masters said. “It’s just like anybody else’s home-court advantage. We know the facility; we’ve run in the facility; we’re comfortable with the facility. But more than that, we’re competing in front of our friends and family at our school.”
While every other team in the MIAA has to trek its way to Maryville, the Bearcats get to stay home. Masters has used this as a motivating factor in preparation for the meet.
“My quote of the week was, ‘It’s hard to slay a dragon in its own backyard,’” Masters said. “And that’s no different in track and field.”
The Bearcats are setting high expectations for both the men’s and women’s teams for the weekend. For Northwest, the goal is for each squad to finish in the top five spots, Masters said, something that hasn’t been done at Northwest in decades.
To reach the bar set, Northwest simply has to perform to the level it is capable of, Masters said. The coach sees opportunities for large point swings in a number of events.
“We’re positioned correctly for a top-five (spot),” Masters said. “We’ve got to go race. We’ve just got to race well. If we over perform our ranking going in by event group and by kid, we’ll be a top-five (team). But we have to be at our positioning or a little bit better to do that.”
Masters expects solid performances from Northwest across the board. Masters and coach Nick Gibson designed the team’s training regimen in a way that should prompt the Bearcats to peak at the right time. As Masters sees it, that time is now.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to happen,” Masters said. “I feel like, between coach Gibson and myself, we do a great job in getting our kids ready to perform at the right time. We’ve been working really hard, and I was actually pretty surprised at some of the early marks we got that were program marks, school records (and) top national marks because it was really early for those.”
Both Masters and Gibson are as excited as they’ve been for a meet in their young careers at Northwest. Masters, who is never slow to show emotion, is battling nerves while looking forward to the meet.
“I think coach (Gibson) and I both believe that we are really pretty dang good,” Masters said. “The kids are feeling fresh and fast and confident going into that meet. At home, I mean, who knows? Maybe we can pull something off pretty cool. This hasn’t been done in a long time here.”
Gibson, who coaches the distance runners, echoed the same sentiments as Masters. The coach is hopeful that the conference meet’s outcome will be the fruition of Northwest’s hard work.
“The big thing at this meet is we’re just competing,” Gibson said. “Times don’t matter, it’s just about placing and competing. We just want the kids to go out and compete and give it everything they have. As long as they give it everything they have, we know good results are going to come.”
All of what Northwest has accomplished this season is essentially a footnote compared to what lies ahead. For the Bearcats, the postseason is the endgame, and it starts now.
“Coming into the meet, nothing else before this matters,” Masters said. “If we go and do what we’re capable of doing, we’ll reach our goals.”