June 16, 2021

Coach Woodside Sees Dream Come True as PDS Launched Track Club this Spring

UP AND RUNNING Princeton Day School distance runner Emily McCann displays her form in a cross country race this past fall. Freshman McCann was a stalwart in the 1,600 as PDS started an Upper School Track and Field Club this spring. The program drew a solid core of 18-20 athletes and competed in meets at Pennington, Peddie, and Lawrenceville, ending the season with a relay meet against Stuart, Wilberforce, and Pennington. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As John Woodside took the helm of the Princeton Day School cross country program in 2015, he had visions of adding a track and field program to augment the school’s athletic offerings.

While Woodside had talks with school administrators about the idea and students expressed interest in taking part in track program, it appeared that his dream was not going to come to fruition.

But this January, Woodside got an email from PDS Director of Athletics Katie Fay advising him that the school was planning to start an upper school track and field club and asking him to help guide it.

“This was my dream,” said Woodside, who previously coached boys’ track and cross country at Princeton High.

“I really felt like I was called here for a reason, I really do believe that there was a reason why. I kind of gave up hope a couple of years ago. I said well it is my dream but it really isn’t going to happen. It is a true blue miracle.”

Coaching the program along with Mark Adams, who has been serving as the PDS middle school track coach, the club drew a strong response from the students.

“We had 23 or 24 on the roster and had a regular group of 18-20 that came every day,” said Woodside.

“I am real proud of the kids and I was really happy for them. They really loved it. The group that we had regularly there loved it and ate it up. They didn’t have to be there.”

While club had no attendance requirements and was less structured than an interscholastic team, Woodside and Adams treated their athletes as though they were competing for a full-fledged varsity program.

“We talked to kids early on and said we are going to coach you as if this is a full, regular team,” said Woodside.

“We understand that it is a club and we can’t require you to be here and we understand that there are conflicts. We were really able to teach them a lot about the sport, the nuances of it, the preparation of it, the seriousness of it, and the classic-ness of it. We were able to get them to understand that and it should play well as we go forward.”

Over the course of the spring, PDS competed in meets at Pennington, Peddie, and Lawrenceville, ending the season with a relay meet against Stuart, Wilberforce, and Pennington.

In preparing for those competitions, the athletes had to be creative, doing the high jump and other drills in the school’s Athletic Center. The throwers used the cement blocks in the parking lot as toe boards. Woodside, for his part, was able to fashion a 300-meter track on Krueger Field, measuring it out and then having Buildings and Grounds paint an oval.

“Having that 300 track was cool, it felt real for the kids,” said Woodside.

“It didn’t have all of the lanes, it was on grass but you know what it was ours. It was really cool. I had it marked out in 100-meter increments and a 400 would be a lap and a third. The kids really did some good stuff. It is much smaller than a usual track and I said to them you guys are running crazy times in workouts, when you get out on a regular track you are going to fly.”

Two of the club’s freshman girl runners, Emily McCann and Harleen Sandhu, flew high this spring.

“They were our two star distance runners,” said Woodside of McCann who had a best time of 5:36.9 in the 1,600 meters with Sandhu recording a season best of 13:25 in the 3,200.

“Harleen ran the 3,200 twice and the 1,600 while Emily ran the 1,600 and also ran the 800. Emily is a talent. She is one of these kids who is good in practice but goes to another level in the meets. Emily got better as she went through the season, she was learning.”

Juniors Kacey Fisher and Tyanna Miller emerged as star throwers for the squad. Fisher set the team mark of 28’10 in the shot put while Miller had a season best of 86’6 in the discus.

“Kacey did the shot put and the discus and Tyanna did the discus and the shot,” said Woodside.

“Tyanna was really good at the discus and Kacey was really good at the shot. They scored points in every one of our meets. They came every day, they were supportive.”

As for the boys, a pair of cross country standouts, junior Will Sun and freshman Arun Patel, led the distance crew. Sun set a personal record of 11:29 in the 3,200 while Patel had a best time of 5:11.2 in the 1,600.

“Will ran the 3,200 and also the 1,600,” said Woodside. “He has the school record now in the 3,200 and it is a good one. Arun set the record in the 1,600 five times; he went from 5:40 all the way down to 5:11. Arun was there every single day and he led most of the workouts. Arun is going to be a kid to watch. I am looking forward to what he can do in cross country.”

Woodside and Adams found a diamond in the rough in sophomore sprinter Jayden Smith.

“Jayden ended up with the record in the 100 (12 seconds), 200 (26 seconds), and 400 (56.8),” said Woodside.

“He went from running about 62 in the 400 down to 56.8. He never ran track before or did anything like this. He is just such a good kid too. We were really thrilled with him.”

Overall, Woodside was thrilled with the progress his athletes made in the inaugural campaign of PDS track.

“We have a whole roster of school records now,” said Woodside.

“These kids are the pioneers, they are the beginning of this. In 20, 30, or 50 years, their names are going to be in the list as the starters of this program.”

In Woodside’s view, that pioneering spirit could lead to some great things in the future.

“We are really hopeful that it will continue and grow,” said Woodside.

“The kids weren’t prepared this year because they didn’t know about the club before it happened because it was a last minute deal. They will be prepared mentally and physically before they get started next year. I have a feeling we are going to be a lot better, have a lot more kids and be a lot more competitive. The kids learned a lot.”

The club inspired good feelings in the PDS community. “There were comments from administration officials that hey, this is the great thing,” said Woodside. “It feels like, wow, this is just right. Hopefully other people will say that too.”

With Woodside retiring from PDS after coaching cross country this coming fall, he hopes that helping to get the track program up and running will be a special part of his legacy at the school.

“I am proud and honored to be part of the first season because I hope it grows into something great and they remember Woodside helped start this thing,” said Woodside.

“The kids were really on this for a long time. The parents helped out too, talking it up. The credit for this happening belongs to a lot of people. I am just grateful to have the opportunity to be able to do this in my last year here.”