Saturday, July 24, 2021

MSU track & field finds success after 2-year off-season; ready for NCAA championship

June 11, 2021
<p>India Johnson competing in the women&#x27;s 10,000-meter run at the NCAA Preliminary meet in Jacksonville, Florida from May 26-29 - Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications</p>

India Johnson competing in the women's 10,000-meter run at the NCAA Preliminary meet in Jacksonville, Florida from May 26-29 - Courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications

Photo by Jared Ramsey | The State News

A typical offseason for spring college sports is the summer following the season until the start of the next school year when practice ramps up again.

However, for MSU track and field, it had been 657 days since they competed in an outdoor event prior to the 2021 season. The 94-week off-season was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented the team from competing for all of 2020 and large team practices.

The time off did not hinder the team but rather gave them the opportunity to step away from the competition mindset and focus on why they began running in the first place, according to star men’s distance runner Morgan Beadlescomb.

“Just the opportunity to kind of step away from competition and just appreciate running has led to a lot of success with our whole team,” Beadlescomb said. “I know I'm not the only person who feels that way because we all talk about it and like just having the opportunity last summer and the fall to just run because I wanted to not because I really had to. I didn't know if I was even going to get to compete again.”

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The time off for MSU track and field has translated to team success during the outdoor season and Beadlescomb individually. The team has eight individuals in Eugene, Oregon this weekend for the NCAA championship meet, including three Big Ten Champions with Beadlescomb in the men’s 5000-meter with a school record of 13 minutes 49.05 seconds, Jenna Magness in the women’s 1500-meter and Sophia Franklin in women’s pole vault.

The other MSU track and field members at the championship meet are Wade Walter in the men’s decathlon, Trevor Stephenson in the men’s pole vault, India Johnson and Lynsie Gram in the women’s 10,000-meter and Sarah Anderson in the women’s 1500-meter.

Head Coach Lisa Breznau, who was named interim coach in Dec. 2020 and promoted to full-time coach in May, said that the coaching staff focused on building the confidence of the team and mitigating any stress caused by COVID-19 restrictions.

“There weren't a ton of challenges, it was mostly just trying to help the team be at their best, going to me with a high sense of confidence in their ability and to continue to have everyone working cohesively and to keep the stress levels down,” Breznau said.

Breznau joined MSU’s staff in 2010 as an assistant coach for distance running and became the associate head coach in 2015. She said she believes in the coaching philosophy and training used while she was an assistant and does not plan to change much now that she is in charge.

“They've had a lot of exposure to me previously so they already know my personality and I know them well,” Breznau said. “So that relationship had already been developed. And I believe strongly in the training we were previously doing. Fundamentally, I'm at that same point, so there wasn't a lot of change in regard to how they were managed in terms of development throughout the season, as well as just communication style and things like that.”

Johnson and Beadlescomb said the transition to Breznau as head coach was seamless because she was familiar with the team already and continued the practice and traditions from the previous coaching staff.

“Coach Breznau has done a phenomenal job and just kind of took a leap of faith into this position,” Johnson said. “I think she's very well equipped and I think she has been preparing for this moment. So I think I really don't think that there was much of a transition period honestly. I think she has done a phenomenal job and she's been a great support system for everybody and I think she's going to do some great things in the upcoming future.”

The team tried to continue to practice last summer and fall on an individual level to be ready to compete for the summer while the fate of the season was still up in the air. Beadlescomb said that the team and coaches were in constant communication about individual training when the team could not meet because of COVID-19.

Into the indoor track and field and cross country season during the winter, the team had to practice in small groups rather than as a team because of COVID-19 restrictions, Johnson said.

Johnson’s small practice group included Gram, who also qualified for the 10,000-meter. Johnson said that running with Gram every day with a common goal led to a strong friendship between them.

“Lynsie and I are basically attached at the hip," Johnson said. "If you see us at practice, 95% of the time we're together. And if we're not together, she is either right in front of me or right behind me. So we have been put in a position this year where we kind of were just us two, and we ended up kind of running away with it and loving it.”

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Gram and Johnson qualifying together was the goal given to them by the coaching staff going into the year, Breznau said.

“For Lynsie Gram and India to make it through and attend, this was sort of the plan all along,” Breznau said. “When you transition out of a double season in one winter, I knew that we would have to be just patient with training and with racing this outdoor season, especially with them both running the 10,000. And so it took a little bit of, I don't want to say a leap of faith, but they just really had to let go.”

The Spartans had two people competing on June 9 on the first day of the NCAA meet. Walder, a senior transfer from Butler University, sat in 18th place after the first five events of the decathlon. He finished the event on June 10 with All-American honors.

Stephenson, a junior men’s pole vaulter, finished his season as a second-team All-American after finishing 13th in the men’s pole vault, clearing 5.15 meters on his first attempt at the meet. 

“He's just beginning to really learn how to compete at a high level and I've been impressed by his ability to," Breznau said. "It's almost like once he got past the Big Ten meet, he's just been calmer and calmer, but his excitement has come up at the same time. So I think what that means is his confidence is growing.”


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