Hoagland On The Right Track
April 20, 2006
Neither of the Massachusetts men's track coaches, Ken O'Brien nor Antoinette Otrando, had ever seen or heard of him before. The soon-to-be junior was a complete stranger to them, but he wanted to join the track team.
Well, about eight months have gone by since then and in that time Erik Hoagland's name has grazed plenty of headlines in local newspapers, and rightfully so. In his first college indoor season, Hoagland stunned the world of UMass track and field by winning the long jump and triple jump at the Atlantic 10 Championships, the long jump at the New England Championships and taking third place at the IC4A Championships.
Hoagland's performance at the A-10 Championships on Feb. 18 was nothing short of exceptional. His victories in the long jump and triple jump marked the first time a Minuteman has ever won both events at the meet since UMass joined the league back in 1994. But there's another monumental highlight: his leap of 49 feet, 3 inches in the triple jump broke the UMass record for the second time that season. This electric day won him the UMass/Dinn Bros. Co-Athlete of the Week award.
"I had just gotten on the team this season, so it was my first collegiate championship. I didn't expect to win both," Hoagland said. "You have to do both events right after each other, so it got kind of tiring having to do all the run-throughs. But the team was pretty supportive, so that helped a lot."
His teammates' support must have been just what the doctor ordered because he continued right on over to the long jump, where he marked a distance of 23 feet, 4 inches.
Perhaps it was shock or simply exhaustion, but Hoagland says he didn't have time to comprehend all that he had done until a while later.
"I didn't really understand the magnitude of winning both until I got back from the trip and my [jumps] coach [Otrando] called me and told me that no one had done that before," Hoagland said. "And she told me that I broke the triple jump record too.
"It was just overwhelming because all these things that I was doing kind of came together at once. And then [winning] Athlete of the Week was pretty amazing."
As amazing as all of that was, Otrando was even more stunned by the tremendous grit that Hoagland displayed in order to get to that point.
"He actually had a little mishap shortly into the new year in which he kind of fell down and whacked his arm and he had a hairline fraction and I'm thinking 'Oh no, he [fractured] his arm, he'll be out for a while,'" Otrando said. "But he said 'It's not that bad, I'm going to keep doing what I can do and I'll come back.' And sure enough, he did and he worked really hard. He's quite a competitor."
It was this kind of heart and determination that led Hoagland to continue his season-long reign of success just a week later.
At the New England Championships on Feb. 27, he won yet again. This time it was the long jump with a distance of 23 feet, 3.35 inches.
Hitting him like a ton of bricks, his achievements left this Belchertown-native what he described as "speechless."
Otrando certainly wasn't, though.
"That was equally as exciting," Otrando said. "He didn't have quite as good a performance in the triple jump [he jumped 44 feet, 5.5 inches to finish in 11th place] but he did win the long jump. To do that back-to-back [weeks] is pretty tough. He felt a little beat up at that point [due to a nagging ankle injury]."
But this 21-year old superstar wasn't finished there.
One week later he was at the IC4A Championships in Boston to cap off a spectacular season. Hoagland set a new personal record in the long jump when he soared a distance of 23 feet, 5.25 inches. Despite the great jump, he had to settle for third place.
"He definitely competed the best that he could. Three weeks in a row is tough to do," Otrando said. "He definitely put forth a great effort and did the best he could."
What becomes apparent, however, is that no matter how well he does, Hoagland will always be his own toughest critic.
"Coming in third is never something to be proud of. But, considering that the IC4A is a pretty competitive meet, it felt pretty good," Hoagland said, adding that his ankle started to give out towards the end of the season, making his events much more difficult to do.
Hoagland demonstration of grit came as no surprise to Otrando.
"He's displayed what he's capable of doing," she said. "He's really proven himself through hard work and dedication."
Perhaps the only thing more jaw-dropping than Hoagland's recent accomplishments is the fact that prior to this indoor season he hadn't laced up a pair of track shoes in over two years.
Hoagland ran track at Suffield Academy, where he attended high school, his sophomore, junior and senior years. He excelled in the long and triple jumps, 100-meter dash and the 4x100-meter relay. After graduating, however, track seemed to take a backseat.
In the fall semester after his senior year Hoagland attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, where he intended to major in car design. After a year, however, he decided that that wasn't what he wanted to do. So, for his sophomore year he chose to attend UMass because it is much closer to home and because of its fine architecture department.
Hoagland elected to sit out the track season his sophomore year to get better acquainted with school. But he soon felt track and field calling him back, so last summer he approached O'Brien to tell him that he was interesting in trying out for the team.
"The great thing that I [saw in] Eric and the way he tried out was that he was very mature and very responsible - I always look for that in an athlete," O'Brien said.
After making the team, Hoagland began training with Otrando.
"He had tried out with [O'Brien] and then [O'Brien] told me that he had done some triple-jumping and long-jumping in high school and that he was pretty athletic so he did the tryouts and he put him on the roster," Otrando said. "Then I was the event coach that was working with him after that point."
Otrando's helping hand has certainly not gone unappreciated by Hoagland.
"[Otrando] has worked with lots of very successful athletes in the past. So I guess the reason she is such a great coach is because she knows what it takes to win," Hoagland said. "Everyone that she coaches on our team respects her and knows that she is a great coach.
"We have been working together through the indoor season and now to the outdoor [season] in improving my jumping technique, so that I can achieve the longest distance possible."
Those techniques must be working because Hoagland has been on a tear for the first three meets of the outdoor season.
He won the long jump event in each of the first two, recording jumps of 23 feet, 4.75 inches (which qualifies him for the IC4A Championships), and 22 feet, 11.75 inches, respectively.
At the Brown Invitational on April 15, however, he dropped down to a fifth place finish.
But that doesn't worry his coaches in the least. They are certain that Hoagland will gain more consistency as the outdoor season rolls further along.
With just under three full track seasons left in his college career, Hoagland has the potential to achieve even greater things.
"[He should] be able to be at the top of the A-10 Conference again, and the New England [Championships] and maybe make a little more of an impact at the IC4As," Otrando said. "As long as he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll just get stronger and better with time."
Many collegiate jocks have a reputation for using their "athlete" status to coast through the academic side of college. Hoagland, on the other hand, is a serious student-athlete. He is working towards a bachelor's degree in architecture and knows exactly what he wants to do with it.
"Hopefully [after graduation] I'll get into an architecture firm at some point. Probably in the commercial [field] because the residential [field] is not too open to new architects," Hoagland said. "Hopefully I'll get a job at a large commercial firm and work my way up."
Otrando has nothing but confidence in Hoagland. She is certain that the tremendous traits that he exhibits at track practice will carry over with him to the working world.
"He always comes to practice ready to go. He doesn't waste time. He's very dedicated to athletics and academics as well," Otrando said proudly. "He's a focused individual. I think that's the best way to describe him."