Cover photo by Victah Sailor, PhotoRun.net.
Ahhh, the glamorous life of the high school track coach during indoor. Driving in bad weather at all hours of the day and night. Negotiating with school officials for early dismissal. Enduring heat after heat of 200's and 400's and... well, you get the drift.
And that's exactly the point. It's winter, and in Homer Center PA - nestled between two mountains in one of the more rugged sections of the Appalachian Mountains - it snows. And blows. And drifts.
Photos by Tim Fulton, ArmoryTrack.com
So for Michael Gentile - driver, negotiator and coach, add the job - snow shoveler. As in track.
All so his team - but especially its star - Angel Piccirillo, can get in a workout at a known distance, on a safe surface.
So there he was, the day after his charge had added to her growing resume by punching her ticket to the prestigious Millrose Games High School Mile - taking a break from shoveling lane one on the home track to talk with PennTrackXC.
A track workout is important, especially when you're preparing for a race as loaded as Millrose this Friday night at Madison Square Garden in the Big Apple.
But getting to the race has been a journey in itself, as anyone who followed Angel's travels to the Penn Relays last year, well knows.
Her cross country season ended late. Six weeks late, to be precise.
While most were taking some well-deserved, much needed time off following the state championships in early November, Piccirillo was training for; then qualifying for; and then participating in the Foot Locker Nationals in mid-December in San Diego, CA.
She took some time off, and then had to resume training for indoor.
In the two weeks of training prior to the January 8th Hispanic Games at the Armory in NY (one of the auto qualifying meets for Millrose), she had no track workouts. Just stairs at school, and what Gentile calls a hallway workout. But that description implies that it a long hallway. It is not.
So to get in a 300 meter workout, Piccirillo has to run 75 meters, make a 90 degree turn, go another 75 meters, turnaound, and then sprint back to the starting point.
Good times, eh?
So her Hispanic mile was not what she wanted. In fact, for the first time in a race on the track, she reported to Gentile that her legs felt 'dead.' She finished fourth in 5:03.46.
And Piccirillo - like most top athletes - is especially hard on herself for performances that don't meet their goals or expectations.
Doesn't matter what the coach says about a lack of training.
But Gentile says that one of Piccirillo's greatest gifts is the ability to put aside any personal disappointment when it comes time for an important workout, and especially an important race.
So he had her do a Hall workout... six 300's with 60-90 seconds rest. She hit 54's, which with two sharp turns and a near-stop and turnaround, is not too shabby.
"It also helps her work on her explosiveness for changing pace, which is important at most distances, but especially the mile, which can get strategic."
He also added a track tempo run with a three mile warmup, mile repeats in the 6:10 range, and a three mile cool down. All in 22 degree temps.
In between, he took her to Slippery Rock on what is a narrow, and sometimes covered track, for an 800-1600-3200 'workout', which she did to get her track pace consistency down. She did exactly as coached - 2:22.0, 5:01.1, and 11:02.6.
It was time for some redemption.
Gentile told her she was ready, and as Piccirillo always does, she trusted her coach.
Two week earlier, the strategy at Hispanic had been to hit her splits. It was a strategy the other athletes gladly allowed her to do... which meant she was leading until the moment the actual race began at the mile. Her lack of workouts left her unable to respond, and she faded to fourth.
For her final shot at qualifying for Millrose, the strategy was to sit back, listen to her coach on turn three for her splits, and then, if the pace was pedestrian, start hitting her splits. The first lap was 36-point, followed by two 39's and a 36 high for a 2:31 800.
Gentile had yelled to her on turn three as they approached the 800 (lap four) that it was time to go.
She did for the next three laps, as it became a three-four person race. On turn two of the bell lap, Piccirillo had the lead and was passed by North Shore's Brianna Nerud, who had cut in quickly hitting the back straight.
Piccirillo, according to Gentile, had a look that told him she was not taking the pass lightly. Not only did Piccirillo pull up quickly, she passed Neuud on the final turn, and pulled away for the win. Neuud was passed by a charging Molly McNamara of Red Bank Catholic in the final 20 meters. All three girls were under 5, with Piccirillo's 4:56.52 a US #10.
And the resume for the junior continues to grow. PA state titles indoor in the mile, outdoor in the 1600 and on the cross country course last fall. Add to that the Penn Relays Championship of American mile title last April, and the Foot Locker qualifier last fall, and it's clear that Piccirillo comes up big when the race matters.
"Everything she has done so far is a high school career, and then some" says her coach.
And she's just a junior.
After Millrose, there's an indoor state mile title to defend... then on to outdoor.
"It's one carrot at a time," says Gentile. "She has gotten all she has gone after, so who knows."
With a week to prepare for Millrose, it was back to the track for Angel.
And - for the coach who wears more hats than anyone at Homer Center - it was back to shoveling snow from the track that has put his top athlete, and their school, on the national map.
Photos by Tim Fulton, ArmoryTrack.com