Back-to-back seasons of going undefeated, two Macomb Area Conference White Division titles and a county meet championship, which was won last season, can go a long way toward changing the atmosphere surrounding a program.
And that’s what’s happened with the boys track team at Utica High.
With more than 100 kids out for the first day of spring practice, Chieftains coach Megan Berry has high hopes and high expectations once again.
“I definitely think there’s higher expectations now,” she said. “I’ve noticed the bar’s been raised, as far as work ethic and kids taking track seriously. They’re respecting the sport. From day one, the kids were ready to go this year. I think, every year, it gets better and better, as far as kids hearing about the success the year before and coming out wanting to be a part of that success.”
Although Berry, who coaches along with Roger White, acknowledges that Utica has lost some key members to graduation, she wants to continue to build upon all that has been accomplished with yet another strong campaign.
She is hoping that athletes such as Freddie Crittenden, who made the All-State team in high hurdles last season and took first place in the 60-meter hurdles at the Indoor Scholastic Nationals earlier this month, as well as Andrei Rotar, who has been named to the All-Division and All-County team for his cross country endeavors, can help Utica find its way back to the top of the MAC White.
And while she understands capturing a third consecutive division championship won’t be easy, Berry wants Utica to take aim at doing just that.
“That would be awesome,” she said of winning a division title. “That’s always the goal, to continue that tradition. If it doesn’t happen, we won’t beat ourselves up over it, but I think now that we’ve set that bar, that’s always something we’re going to be striving for. If the team is setting the bar higher, we’re more likely to be successful. This team is very goal-oriented. I think we’re going to do well this year.”
According to senior Justin Ursaki, the tradition of Utica’s track and field program is something that is important to him, and he would like to be a part of helping the younger members carry it on.
“We just want to pass on the things that we think are important to making our team the best it possibly can be,” he said. “Preparing them for what’s ahead when we’re gone, so they can do the best they can.”
Senior Collin Newton shared a similar sentiment of that of his teammate.
“The younger members are where the team’s going to be next year (and) the years to come,” he said. “Getting them jumpstarted is the biggest priority, I think.”
Although the campaign was not under way at press time, Berry has no delusions about the type of competition Utica is likely to encounter in its attempt to come away with another MAC White title.
“The MAC White, I think, is much stronger this year than in years past,” she said. “They added Marine City from the (MAC) Blue. Marie City is strong in the distance and really good in field events. Port Huron Northern is really good this year. They have a really strong distance group. Their cross country team went to states. I think every meet, we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
Utica is scheduled to have its first dual meet of the season at 4 p.m. April 11 against Warren Mott at home.
In other Utica track notes:
After going 3-2 last year, Berry is expecting an improved season from the girls team.
“I think we’re going to be more successful than we were last year,” she said. “We (have), basically, all the girls coming back. I think they’re going continue to improve.”