SPRINGFIELD, NJ — In an effort to help them learn from some of the best the school had to offer, members of the Track and Field teams at Jonathan Dayton High School got the chance to ask questions of four recent alumni with distinguished Dayton careers in a digital forum.
Caitlyn McTernan, Fabian Mestanza, Viviane Orleans and Mike Evans all came through digitally on the meeting, and answered the questions that current Dayton student-athletes had.
Each athlete was a standout in some way at Dayton, before going on to complete in college.
McTernan is part of the Lafayette College class of 2023: She is the school record holder in the Javelin as well as a First-Team All Group 1 and First Team All-Union County selection in that event last year. She is also a multiple event Outdoor State Sectional champion.
Mestanza, is a part of The College of New Jersey class of 2022: He was first team all-conference as a mid-distance runner. His personal bests in the 1600 (4:35) and 800 (2:02) are the best times by a Dayton athlete in over 20 years. He's also a member of TCNJ's Cross Country Team where is personal best in the 8K (just about 5 miles) is 26:22. He has run on a few of the NJAC Conference Championship Relays for TCNJ.
Orleans ia a part of the Monmouth University class of 2020: She was 1st Team All-Union County and 1st Team All-Group 1 in the hurdles. She is a multiple time Group 1 State Champion in Indoors and Outdoors and finished #3 in NJ in the 55M Hurdles her senior year at the Meet of Champions and 5th place at the prestigious Eastern States Championships. She also qualified for the New Balance National Championships her senior year in the 100M High Hurdles. She has been Monmouth's best hurdler the past couple years and has been on a number of conference championship relays and helped Monmouth University win MAAC championships almost every year she competed indoor and outdoor.
And Evans is a member of the Susquehanna University class of 2020: he was a First Team All-Conference selection in the shot put his senior year. Evans consistently qualified for the NJSIAA Group 1 State Championships. He finished as high as 2nd in the Shot Put in his college conference championship with a throw of 44'6. The college shot put is 16 pounds compared to the high school shot put that's 12 pounds.
"The coaches and I have been trying to find creative ways to keep the kids involved during this tough time and to still do things that can keep us together as a team," said coach Matt Vanduersen. "We had the idea of doing an alumni forum where we'd invite our alum that are currently competing in college to speak to the team about their experiences at both Dayton and in college."
According to Vanduersen, the kids submitted questions to the coaches in advance, and the coaches asked the questions to the four alumni as they each took turns answering. All four of our coaches were there in the forum too, including Girls Head Coach Bryan Balletto, and assistant coaches Greg Salmon and Chris Adams.
Some examples of the questions were:
"What made you decide that you wanted to compete in college?"
"What life lessons have you learned from high school or college track?"
"Compared to high school track and field, how is college different in terms of how hard and how fun it is?"
"How was your transition from high school to college athletics?"
"How difficult is it to balance athletics and academics?"
"What was your worst meet experience, and how did you learn from it?"
The students asked a variety of questions of the alumni, including about their highs and lows n their career, and how they learned from them.
"I think the student-athletes that were able to attend the zoom session can learn a lot from these four," Vanduersen said. "It's pretty cool to see how very different all four are, but what similarities they share. Neither of the four expected track and field to take them to where they are today, but they're so grateful of the commitment that they made."
The forum was not just about the alumni's experiences in college, but learning about what makes them motivated and what made them successful student-athletes.
As Vanduersen noted, all four have been terrific role models for other student-athletes on the team, and when a question about motivation came up, many of them talked about giving their best for the team. A common theme from them was that most kids do not really know what their potential is, and giving their best everyday can really lead to a lot of success.
"The final takeaway the coaches all had was that it really speaks to our team culture that alumni, even three years removed from the program for some, are willing and excited to speak to current team members to give advice and answer questions," Vanduersen said. "Viviane [Orleans], Mike [Evans], Fabian [Mestanza], and Caity [McTernan] have been extremely successful because they learned to be dedicated to their sport, and now they're having even better experiences in college. It was a lot of fun for us coaches to talk about fun memories we had from years past and it was cool for the kids to hear of similar things that they go through everyday."