New Cardinals’ men’s track and field era kicks off with indoor season
In addition to creating a vacancy leading the men’s cross country team, the retirements of first Al Carius and then Frank Gramarosso necessitated new leadership for the men’s track and field team as well. While cross country is now led by longtime assistant Matt Sinnott, at the helm of track and field is Gabe Rivera, who though he has extensive collegiate coaching experience was totally new to North Central ahead of this indoor track and field season.
“This is a great institution historically from the athletic perspective,” said Rivera. “What Al and Frank did for all those years, they built a dynasty here in track and field. And as an outsider coming in, North Central is a place that is well supported. Athletic administration does a great job supporting sports teams here across campus. So it’s a good place to work, it’s a good place to be, and it’s a family.
“Obviously, we’ve had Al and Grammy around for the longest time and I’ve known Sinnott for the last four years too,” said senior distance runner Connor Riss. “So it was something that I was not necessarily accustomed to, especially being here at North Central. But I was really, really happy with, you know, with Gabe. He stepped into the role exceptionally well. He never really tried to change or adjust anything too much or totally take over everything. He’s really just kind of molded into what we are and in this culture and this team is and I really, really appreciated that with him.”
“It took a little time and it just came with trusting in them and trusting in what they wanted to bring to the program and also knowing that they understood what it means to be a North Central runner and a North Central athlete in track and field,” said junior distance runner Max Svienty. “Seeing that they really understood and embodied what Al and Grammy created really helped that transition along. And I think it’s been really great having them around.”
“No one’s going to replace Al and Frank,” Rivera said of his predecessors. “They’re special individuals and what they did here was extremely special, you know, for all those decades. And as I come into this role, you know, my job is to really just support the student athletes as best I can, not only on the track, but also off the track. I think that’s extremely important.”
New coach, same team success
There may have been a change in leadership, but there was no change to the expectations and achievements of success. The team won its sixth straight CCIW indoor men’s track and field championship and their 21st in the last 22 years. The most dominant group were the distance runners, including Riss and Svienty, who capped off an overall great season with an impressive display at the conference meet.
“We’re really all working towards that goal of being successful with the team because obviously you always want to do well at the conference level and then the national level,” Svienty said. “I think guys are really meshing well and really like understanding what it takes to get towards those goals. So I think that whole team feeling, it’s really helped us get to where we want to be.”
“Cross country season we did a lot better as a team than we had last year and we’re really happy with the progress we’re making,” said Riss, particularly of the distance runners who mostly also are members of the cross country team. “And to transition to indoor indoor season coming off the winter break and everything, we had a lot more work to put in and you know, things started to pay dividends especially towards the end of the season and getting into the national meet and going into that, it was great.”
“The athletes really exemplify the true concept of running for fun and PR,” said Rivera, paraphrasing Carius’ famous motto. “They enjoy the process. They work hard, don’t get me wrong. They’re out there committing to training themselves, gaining mileage in over the summer. When it comes time to the school year, they’re putting in that work. But they always have a healthy balance of training and balancing out the other parts of their life, academics and so forth.”
Success at indoor nationals for Riss and Svienty
Riss and Svienty both qualified for nationals in the 3,000-meter run and Svienty also qualified in the 5,000-meter run. Both would be named All Americans for the first time in their track and field careers, as Svienty finished fourth in the 5,000 with a new personal best time and Riss finished sixth in the 3,000 with the second best time in program history.
“It means a lot,” said Riss. “It was something that I’ve been working towards for, you know, the last four years. It’s something that I always had as a goal of mine. But it was something that I never really expected to happen in the way that it happened, to have that kind of loaded field, to have that kind of competition at that meet in that venue. It was something really special to be a part of and I just have a lot of respect for everybody that was around. I was so happy to have Max there with me and, you know, be there to support Max as well.”
“It’s really incredible,” said Svienty. “I mean, it’s something I’ve been working for for a while. It’s taken a lot of work to get here, and it’s something that I couldn’t have done without, like, what Al and Grammy have done in this program for decades and what people long before have done. And then also without the support of teammates and coaches. It really speaks on how good the team is, how good the team is becoming.”
Preparing to head outdoors
With the track and field calendar split in two, this time between indoor and outdoor seasons is an opportunity to both evaluate the past few months and plan for the next few. Rivera is now fully integrated as the team’s coach, Svienty is looking to keep up by far his best individual year yet, and Riss is looking to take advantage of his final few months as college athlete.
“I think the indoor season was a success,” River said. “We’re very happy with how we finished the CCIW and we’re really happy with, you know, both Connor and Max and the dedication they had on the track this year to earn the all-American status. We’re obviously happy with all our student athletes. They’ve been doing a tremendous job on the track, you know, both athletically and in the classroom. And we’re really just looking to try to carry that momentum to the outdoor season.”
“We went from not having any qualifiers on the distance side in the previous year to having two indoors,” said Svienty. “So we’re hoping to get at least that many outdoors. Obviously we had a lot of guys have big races, big PR’s throughout the season. We’ve got a lot of guys that are really committed and going after that.”
“I think we have a lot of good people, you know, stepping into bigger roles and I think we have guys that are really, really excited for this outdoor season,” said Riss. “We want to make sure that we’re bringing everybody along, preparing the best we can for the outdoor season and continuing this positive momentum that we’ve had since the fall really to try and get more people into that national meet and more people prepared for that national level competition. And that’s the main goal.”