Liberty Middle School’s track team began the season with a coach who wasn’t just new to the school, she was new to coaching. And she wasn’t going to hide her enthusiasm when it came to supporting her team.
“If you had seen me at the track meet, I was the one in the middle of the field screaming her head off,” Toni Kuzmicki said.
Kuzmicki’s enthusiasm paid off for the school, which excelled at their cluster track meet, where athletes from different schools compete in eight events: shot put, long jump, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 400-meter open, 800-meter run, 4-x-100 meter relay and 4-x-200 meter relay. Only the top two in each category move on to the county championships, where the top finishers in cluster track meets from across the county compete for spots in the finals.
Liberty not only sent 17 athletes to the county championships, but was represented in the finals in the long jump, 100-meter dash, 800-meter run and the 4-x-100 meter relay.
While Kuzmicki was learning the ropes when it came to coaching, she already had plenty of experience with track events. She was a district champion four years in a row at her high school in Miami, participating in the one-mile and two-mile competitions. She also ran track in college at Nova Southeastern University, and was able to use that background to educate and motivate her team to excel.
The athletes responded to Kuzmicki’s coaching style.
“She worked with the sprinters and she was able to really give them good advice,” runner Alejandro Michel said of his coach. “We were able to take a lot more kids to county than last year.”
He went on to reach the finals and placed seventh in the 800-meter run. Michel also ran track in the sixth and seventh grades, but said that the athletes now have an especially good attitude and relationship with the coaching staff.
Charisma Henry, an eighth-grader who was part of the group that went to the finals, agrees that Kuzmicki and her coaches made a big difference.
“The way they coached, it was cool because we raced against each other and they timed us,” she said. “And we kept on doing that, trying to get better times. And we also conditioned before and after practice.”
Henry believes that the practices set the tone for the team to take things more seriously, and produced better times as a result. In Henry’s case, this year’s trip to the finals was her first.
She also said that even though they raced against each other in practice, the team had strong camaraderie during the races. When she was running, she could hear people cheering and rooting for them.
“You could hear Liberty from miles away. It was really great,” she said.
Kuzmicki is proud of her team’s accomplishments and praised her coaching staff — Jessica Macrae, Stephanie Padilla and Katie Smith — noting that they were all first-time coaches. But she’s also started thinking about how to build on this year’s success.
A number of her top performers were sixth-graders, meaning they still have a couple of years to grow and succeed on the team. Kuzmicki told them to build on the success they achieved.
She’s also looking forward to growing as a coach, and improving the regimen she planned for her athletes. Conditioning is already one area designated to become a priority next year.
“We kind of just took their natural ability and ran with that, but next year we’ll know to get that muscle memory formed at the beginning, and then push them as we go,” Kuzmicki said.
Published Feb. 5, 2014