by Dan Pavlik, Campus Carrier Asst. Sports Editor
The Berry College Track & Field team is looking to make an impact this year in the SAA (Southern Athletic Association) after just missing the podium last year.
Last year, Berry College announced that they would be sponsoring a NCAA Division III men’s and women’s Track and Field team for the first time since 1983.
With the competitiveness of the SAA, no one really gave Berry a chance in its first full year. With that being said, the men’s and women’s teams placed fifth and fourth, respectively, at the SAA Conference Championships at Birmingham Southern, which turned a few heads.
A full offseason has passed since then, which has given head coach Luke Syverson some time to breathe and prepare for the upcoming season. Syverson took the head coaching job at Berry after leaving his field coach/recruiting coordinator job at Lipscomb University, a respected NCAA Division I program in Nashville.
“I love the D-3 feel,” Syverson said. “These kids aren’t out here because they’re required by an athletic scholarship, they’re out here because they want to be.”
Even so, Syverson knows that the best way to build a championship-caliber program is to give it time.
“We’re always looking to improve,” Syverson said. “For us, that would mean finishing higher on the podium this year. And out of my 60 athletes on both rosters (men’s and women’s), a little less than half are freshman and only two of them are seniors, so the future looks bright.”
Syverson says he is eventually looking to get his team up to about 90 athletes total, showing that he knows he still has a ways to go before Berry can compete with top-tier track schools.
The athletes seem to think he’s on the right track, as there were nothing but good words and smiles when Syverson’s name came up in conversation. George Saboura, a junior javelin thrower, came to Berry expecting to play baseball, and when that didn’t work out, Syverson stepped in.
“I had no idea how to throw a javelin,” Saboura said. “Coach (Syverson) made it fun and always made it seem like I could do it, and I did.”
Saboura says Syverson’s knowledge and the attitude that he puts forth make him a great coach on and off the field.
“He just treats everyone equally,” Saboura said. “No matter how much talent you have, no matter what your skill level is, he will give you the exact same attention and coaching as everybody else.”
And it has been noticed. The dramatic increase of freshmen this year speaks to that. Freshman pole vaulter Liza Laselva explains why she was attracted to the new program.
“I was looking at Berry just to go to school, but once I heard that the track program was opening I asked around, heard great things and luckily enough Coach Syverson offered me a spot,” Laselva said. “My teammates and I are really looking to lay a foundation and get this program off to a running start.”