A Successful End to a Dominant Era of Indoor Track and Field
The North Central men’s indoor track and field team has had two constants over the last several decades: winning, and the coaching combination of Al Carius and Frank Gramarosso. The former continued this year, as five individual titles helped the Cardinals capture their 20th College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title in 21 attempts. However, this will be the last success for the team with Gramarosso at the helm, as he recently announced he is joining Carius in retirement.
“I’m gonna be 69 so I am slowing down a little bit, but no it’s a new team every year,” said Gramarosso. “Even with the upper classmen it’s still a new team and they really came through with indoor conference. We had six or seven of our top distance runners out. Even Janca was in a boot for three weeks and he still came back to win the indoor high jump.”
Janca being fifth-year senior Nick Janca-Schmitt who, yes, competed in the high jump with an injured foot and won anyway with a leap of 1.99 meters.
“And it’s still not fully healed so to go into conference not 100% just having fun with it,” said Janca-Schmitt with a smile. “As a fifth year, that felt really good. It just reminds me of what I could be capable of if I really go back to my old ways and dig deep, which I plan to do this outdoor season. If I can do it not 100%, it reminds me who I will be if I put my mind to it.”
But Janca-Schmitt wasn’t the only one to claim a conference title despite a significant injury recovery. Arguably more impressive was the win by Jamauri Spivery in the 55-meter dash who set a new program record of 6.36 seconds at conference and went on to finish fifth in the 60-meter dash at nationals.
“It’s a big thing for me because coming off a scary injury in 2019, not being able to walk and being temporarily paralyzed for a couple of months, that’s a big thing to go out there and be able to compete at the highest level with some amazing athletes and be able to showcase my talent as a top sprinter,” Spivery said.
“It was great to have him go into the meet being 16th in the country and then making it to the finals and getting fifth,” said Gramarosso of Spivery. “It’s a great accomplishment and he’s worked very hard… he really competed and it’s great to springboard that into the outdoor season.”
While he didn’t recover from injury, Brian Armstrong was yet another Cardinal to do something incredibly impressive this indoor season: win the heptathlon in his first season competing in the event.
“I’d always been a sprinter/jumper type in high school so I decided to go out there and see what would happen,” Armstrong said. “I enjoyed it though. It was definitely a unique learning experience to start over from scratch.”
An Intense Team Atmosphere
Armstrong’s experience is a good metaphor for the team: he does a bit of everything and excellence in all areas is required to succeed. Because most track and field athletes have a specific discipline, the physically small environment of an indoor track meet provides a boost as teammates are able to easily support one another.
“I’d say it’s a very positive one because everyone is welcoming, willing to kind of pull me in because they know I’m not as experienced in their respective events,” he said.
“In the indoor space with all the fans in one spot, your team crowded around watching, the way the team gets behind each other that’s the most exciting,” said Janca of the atmosphere at indoor events.
“So every time we’re in practice we run with each other, warm up with each other, we do everything with each other and every time we have team meetings we make sure we familiarize the concept that ‘this is a team thing,’” added Spivery. “Yeah we do individual events, but each person scores for the team to win and I think we feed off the energy of being able to help each other, support each other.”
Now the team moves on to the outdoor season, where they will hope to carry-over and build on yet another successful indoor season. They’ve had no trouble doing that in the past, seeking their fourth straight CCIW outdoor title.
“This is a prestige program, so we want to keep that same energy up year in and year out with a new team, new recruits, just being able to be out there every day in practice,” Spivery said. “Personally for me, being an All American, going to nationals, I’m just feeding off that to help my team and bring more people with me to nationals so I’m not there alone.”
“You’re constantly building, recruiting and trying to build that culture from one year to the next, so it just keeps on going,” said Gramarosso. “And we can only control what we do, if another team has better athletes or they perform better than you’re not gonna win and you have to live with those results. We just want to be the best we can be. And if it means winning, great; if it means second, great. You look in the mirror and say ‘I did the best I could today.’”