Junior track athletes’ club experience pays off in competition results

March 29, 2024 — by Derek Liang
Courtesy of Natalie Zaragoza
Juniors Dylan Wilson and Natalie Zaragoza posing in front of a banner after the California Winter Track and Field Championships at Arcadia High on Feb. 3.
Track members Natalie Zaragoza and Dylan Wilson competed at the California Winter Track and Field Championships in February after joining the Virtus Club, which left a lasting effect on their track performance.

At the sound of the starter pistol, junior runner Natalie Zaragoza sped off her starting blocks at the 100-meter event against Monta Vista on March 14. In an adrenaline-fueled final stride to the finish line, Zaragoza finished with a personal record of 12.65 seconds.

Another star track member, junior Dylan Wilson, also hit two personal records: 11.50 seconds in the 100-meter race and 23.64 seconds in the 200-meter race.

According to both athletes, a large reason for their success so far in their season is their competition training in the off season at the Virtus Track Club, a performance driven club striving to provide high level athletic training.

A key highlight of their time at the club was the competition they attended right as the spring season for school started — the 2024 California Winter Track and Field Championships.

The state-wide competition was hosted at Arcadia High on Feb. 3. Zaragoza placed 71st out of 86 competitors in the finals of the 150-meter event with a time of 19.62 seconds. In addition to running the 150-meter, Zaragoza also ran in the 60-meter event — where she ended up placing 94th out of 162 competitors with a time of 8.34 seconds in the preliminary round. She was unable to qualify for the final round, which consisted of the top 35 competitors.

She — along with Wilson — were the only two track athletes from the varsity track team competing in the Winter Championships, which sees hundreds of top tier high school athletes from across the state.

“Going to such a massive competition for the first time made the experience feel surreal,” Zaragoza said. “Running alongside so many impressive runners felt really powerful and motivating for me, making me want to improve so I can beat them in the future.”

To be eligible for the Winter Championships, Zaragoza first attended qualifiers at Pittsburgh High on Jan. 20. She needed to run the 150-meter event under 19.75 seconds and the 60-meter event under 8.56 seconds. Running 8.35 seconds in the 60-meter and 19.67 seconds in the 150-meter, she qualified for both events.

Zaragoza’s track journey began in middle school, where she was a member of the Redwood Middle track and field team. She continued her passion throughout high school, and now serves as one of the varsity track and field captains at school.

In an effort to improve her sprinting in the offseason, Zaragoza joined the Virtus Track and Field Club based in Los Gatos in October after hearing about the club from Wilson.

Like Zaragoza, Wilson also competed in the 60-meter event at the Winter Championships, qualifying after getting a 7.47 second time, just under the 7.54 cutoff. At the meet, he ultimately placed 185th out of 220 competitors, again with a time of 7.47 seconds.

Wilson said that he was not expecting to have an exceptional performance so he wasn’t very disappointed. He also found the experience of being surrounded by a large volume of skilled runners from all over California to be eye-opening.

While both Zaragoza and Wilson stopped training with the Virtus Club due to the start of high school track season in late February, they feel that the skills they learned while training have translated directly into their school track success. At the club, their training consisted of weightlifting and explosive plyometrics, along with sprint training which included form drills and fast sprints. One major drill that Wilson found incredibly helpful was a stride frequency drill, where specific marks were labeled on the track for each person to help them adjust to their ideal stride length.

“In comparison to the training at school, [club does] a lot more sprinting-focused training,” Wilson said. “We almost never did any runs over 150 meters, but at school we do a lot more endurance running and we rarely work on short distances like 60-meter sprints.

“It’s the [training at Virtus Club] that has gotten me a lot stronger, a lot more balanced and really improved my mentality when running which really carries over to school meets,” Wilson said.

According to Zaragoza, the transition back into school track has not been a huge adjustment, but the intensity of training and the workouts have not been pushing her as hard or teaching her as much as club training did.

After the school season ends in May, Zaragoza is hoping to return to club training to further improve her athleticism and sprinting ability, while Wilson has decided to divert more time to other activites.

“Spending that time at the club with an incredible coach and really good athletes helped me a lot and encouraged me to help all of the underclassmen on the team,” Zaragoza said.

Tags: track
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