WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – With newcomers outnumbering returns for both the men’s and women’s indoor track & field teams, the role of the team’s captains will take on a special significance for Eastern Connecticut State University this season.
Saturday, the Warriors kick off their 43rd intercollegiate season at Roland Field House on the campus of the U.S. Coast Guard Invitational in New London. Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Kathy Manizza, Eastern will compete in three additional invitationals at Plymouth State University, Springfield College and the University of Rhode Island before heading into post-season competition Feb. 17-18 at the New England Division III Championships.
This year’s men’s team features 14 newcomers to the indoor program on their 25-person roster, while 15 indoor newcomers are featured on the 27-person women’s roster.
The three men’s tri-captains are seniors while two of the three women’s tri-captains are juniors. Leading the men are Lawrence McGill (New Haven), Adam Pszczolkowski (Colebrook) and Mike Underwood (Farmington). Women’s tri-captains are senior Mariah McPhee (Bristol) and juniors Kassandrah Banks (Wethersfield) and Rachel Berkowsky (Stoughton, MA).
“As the team continues to grow, we’ve asked the captains to step up and take on a more active role in team building,” points out Manizza, who selected this year’s captains in consultation with her coaching staff. “In addition to running warmups, they will be the primary link between the coaches and the athletes and will be responsible for attendance, team dinners, and communication.”
Indoors, McGill specializes in the 400 and 800, Banks the 600 and 800, and Berkowsky the 1,000. Underwood and McPhee compete anywhere between 400 and 1,000 meters. Pszczolkowski is one of the team’s most versatile individuals, competing primarily in the jumps and throws. Each of the captains also runs at least one relay
McGill, Pszczolkowski and Underwood are fourth-year members of the indoor program, and Banks and Berkowsky are third-year letterwinners. McPhee has lettered four seasons with the cross country team and all three seasons with the outdoor track & field program and is participating indoors for the first time. In the fall, Berkowsky plays soccer.
McGill is a mathematics major who was selected to attend the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum in Baltimore this past summer and earned an E-Club Scholar-Athlete Award in his first year of eligibility as a junior. A three-year outdoor letterwinner, he has run the 13th fastest recorded 400 meters in program history and 15th fastest 800 and is a member of the 4x800 relay which holds the program’s indoor record.
“Lawrence is always enthusiastic, ready to work hard, and intends to lead by example,” says Manizza.
Also a three-year outdoor letterwinner, Pszczolkowski has contributed in a multitude of events both indoors and outdoors. In addition to the throwing events, he helps out at distances from 60 to 200 meters. He is majoring in Business Information Systems.
Praises Manizza of Pszczolkowski, “Adam is a multi-purpose athlete who thrives on pressure and hard work. He will motivate by example, and will push the rest of the team to be the best they can be.”
Underwood, who teamed with McGill on the record-setting 4x800 relay indoors in 2014-15, has been a member of the Little East All-Academic Team in track and cross country every year. He has run the fifth-fastest recorded 1,000 and 13th-fastest 800 meters in program history. He is majoring in mathematics and computer science.
“Mike’s goal is to get to know each person on the team individually and to help integrate the various groups of athletes so that we all form one family.”
Banks is coming off an outstanding cross country season, where she ran primarily at No. 3 and teamed with track teammates McPhee, junior Ariel Smith (Stratford) and sophomore Samantha McKosky (Deep River) – among others – to form a solid top five. A New Media major and three-season LEC All-Academic qualifier, Banks has teammed with Berkowsky on two of the fastest 4x800 relays in program history.
“Kass has developed into one of our top distance runners this year,” notes Manizza. “Besides her running, she excels as a natural leader, welcoming and encouraging each new athlete. Her compassion and kindness have shown her to be a great addition to our group of captains.”
A member of the Little East All-Academic Team in both soccer and indoor and outdoor track as a Sport & Leisure Management major, Berkowsky set the current 1,000 meter indoor record (3:16.83) at Boston University last year, and also posted the sixth-fastest recorded 800 at last year’s LEC outdoor meet and is a member of the second-fast 4x800 relay and tenth-fastest 4x400 relay.
“Rachel has proven herself as a leader,” offered Manizza. “In both soccer and track, she is an extremely hard worker. Her tremendous organizational skills and communication skills will be assets for both the coaches and the team. I can assign any task to Rachel and know that she will get it done.”
McPhee is an Early Childhood Education major and a member of the LEC All-Academic team in cross country and track.
A team captain in cross country where she has run to All-New England Alliance and All-Little East honors, McPhee was a member of the outdoor 4x800 All-New England Alliance relay as a freshman and holds a share of the program’s outdoor 4x800 relay record of 10:00.87, set at the New England Division III meet in her freshman season.
Last spring, McPhee ran the seventh-fastest recorded 1,500 in program history
“Mariah is one of the best distance runners we’ve had at Eastern,” says Manizza, who has coached 12 seasons in two stints at Eastern since 1993. “She is quiet, but leads by example both academically and athletically. This will be her first year competing in indoor track, and we are excited to see what that brings for her.”
And with six capable captains, there is excitement to see what the 2016-17 season brings for the team, as a whole.