By: Maret Elgren, Reporter
Current athletes and alumni of Saint Leo University, a Division II school in Florida, took to Twitter to make their frustrations heard when the news broke Tuesday about the university cutting three men’s and women’s athletic programs. The discontinued teams were common victims of budget cuts: swimming, cross country and track and field.
Track and field presents a unique set of opportunities as well as setbacks for university athletic departments. Because of its status as a non-revenue generating sport, track and field programs across the nation have been on the chopping block in recent years.
However, the sport also presents ample opportunity to establish name recognition for universities, as teams compete at their conference meets twice annually. The Omaha Mavericks headed to Vermillion, South Dakota this weekend to compete in the Summit League Indoor Track and Field Championships, hoping to make a statement among their conference foes.
“I do think that a lot of us feel some extra pressure to compete well just to kind of get our name out there more,” said senior distance runner Maya Nachtigal, “because a lot of other teams don’t even know that we exist.”
The business of collegiate sports places immense pressure on athletes, as teams compete for not only themselves, but for their fellow students who often foot the bill. A 2020 report from NBC News found that at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, 10 percent of all athletics revenue is paid for by student fees.
This translates to an estimated $940 in athletics fees per student, according to data from the 2017-18 academic year. Knowing that they represent something bigger than themselves can take a toll on athletes, but can also bolster their desire to perform well.
“For the conference meet, I feel a little bit of added pressure,” said Sophomore sprinter Macy Persinger, “because I know, obviously, if I do well or as a team we do well, we’re going to get a lot more recognition.”
Nachtigal said that the added pressure of the postseason has both its advantages and its drawbacks.
“It’s a good pressure, though, it helps us to compete harder and gives us a motive,” Nachtigal said. “It’s good and bad.”
With the desire to establish a name for their school always at the backs of their minds, the Omaha track and field athletes, as well as their coaches, try not to let it get in the way of their performances.
“I honestly don’t feel like, for me, the coaches add any pressure onto my performances,” Persinger said. “I know that if I hit the goals they want me to hit and I want to hit, it’s going to be way better after the races.”
While the Mavericks continue their attempt to climb the ranks of the Summit League Conference and establish a presence in the sport of track and field, their biggest concern, despite all that is riding on themselves and their fellow athletes, is to treasure the opportunities presented to them.
“Being on this team the last four years has meant a lot to me,” said Nachtigal. “Not only has it helped me realize my potential as an athlete and how strong I am, it’s also created really strong friendships and relationships.”
Both Nachtigal and Persinger said that they have experienced a tremendous amount of growth on and off the track since joining the team, and said that the support they feel is truly something special. The Mavericks hope to show what sets their team and sport apart as they transition to their outdoor season, where they will have another chance to make a splash in the Summit League.
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