Heading to nationals

Oswego State’s Catarina Burke (left) and Sarah Yensan (right) are slated to compete in the NCAA Division III Indoor Track Championship Meet this weekend. Also pictured is assistant coach Curtis Merrick.

OSWEGO — Oswego State seniors Sarah Yensan and Catarina Burke are heading to the NCAA Division III Indoor Track Championship this weekend at the JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Yensan will compete in the long jump, while Burke takes on the high jump. Yensan will begin her competition at 12:50 p.m. on Friday, while Burke starts at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association recently announced that Yensan and Burke were awarded All-Region honors for their outstanding jump performances this season.

Yensan was selected to the All-SUNY Athletic Conference first team and was also recognized as the women’s long jump champion for indoor track.

Yensan is returning to nationals for the second time in her college career. This comes after she set a new long jump school record of 5.8 meters (19’ ½”) at the Brockport Golden Eagle Multi & Invitational meet in February.

Yensan also took home a first-place finish at the RIT Midseason Meet earlier this season, where the senior landed a mark at 5.69 meters (18’ 8”).

Nationally, Yensan holds a high position for this weekend’s championship meet. She said she would love to win a national title and is hungry for a spot on the podium.

“That’s what we’re aiming for — that’s what really matters,” Yensan said. “(I’m) putting everything together from the start of the season, too. Really, it’s just the overall experience of it all. To go to nationals is just an accomplishment in itself.”

This year will be Burke’s first opportunity to compete at nationals. She broke a school record in the high jump on Feb. 21 at the St. Lawrence Open meet with a mark of 1.68 meters (5’ 6”).

Burke is currently ranked in the top eight in the women’s high jump for NCAA Division III this season.

“It’s also about knowing what you’re capable of. You achieve and succeed more with the more you put in,” she said.

Burke recently took home second place at the SUNYAC indoor track championship meet with a height of 1.65 meters (5’ 5”), which subsequently earned her all-conference honors.

“I really want to go out with a bang with this being my senior year. I’m probably not going to compete again so first place would be fantastic. To have had this experience looking back later down the road is great,” she said.

Oswego State assistant coach Curtis Merrick has been working with the two athletes for the past three years. This will be his first time accompanying the team to nationals for indoor track.

“When Sarah realized she made it to (nationals), I think I was 10 times more excited about it than she was,” he said. “That’s what does it for me. I love watching them put in the work and suddenly nail that big jump or height. I’m definitely excited.”

Merrick says that no matter if the duo has difficult or easy day of practice and drills, Yensan and Burke are always ready to go. No matter how difficult outside stresses may be on the two senior athletes, the two athletes remained focused on what they are there for.

“They understand that, in order to get better, there is no side-stepping or way around the fact that you have to work hard,” Merrick said.

Merrick believes that Yensan and Burke’s strengths lie in their natural way of moving. 

“Every athlete has a way that their body wants to move, and there is no perfect formula. What I do is try to take the way that they naturally move and try to tweak one little thing here and there,” Merrick said.

When it comes to practicing during drills and lifting in the weight room, Merrick mentioned how there is a specific plan for each day of the week.

“We started having a routine, particularly on Sundays and Mondays, and that hasn’t changed. Every day we do a new set of drills, we go through different lifting routines,” he said.

Merrick noted how the athletes were “tackling more on a daily basis” back in October with what was included in training and specific daily routines.

“From the first month of practice to where we are now, they’re already so far ahead of the pack,” he said. “They’re able to do more and accept more challenges throughout practice. We’ve got drills or something scheduled literally every minute of practice, from beginning to end.”

Merrick tries to avoid what he refers to as “cookie-cutter templates” when it comes to team weight training. Leading up to nationals, Merrick’s process has been working well in the weight room, with adjustments being made to suit individual needs.

“The templates had everyone doing 80-percent peak training prior to SUNYACs. They’ve needed more than that in the past,” he said.

Merrick also explained how Yensan was practicing 90 percent of her max in the weight room.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said.

Despite natural talent, however, Merrick said the athletes’ biggest asset is their determination.

“That’s not something that I can coach or anyone else can teach them,” he said. “They’re just here and determined to get better, and they certainly will.”

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