How do a pair of Saints reward themselves after a basketball season that featured Carroll College going on an extended run, all the way to the quarterfinals of the NAIA national tournament?
Kyle Nickol and Steven Helm, two reserve guards for the Saints basketball team, are key components of the Saints’ 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams, and figure to compete in the individual 400, too.
Almost immediately upon returning in mid-March from Kansas City, Missouri -- the host city of the NAIA tournament -- the two hit the track in Helena, catching up on workouts to join Harry Clark’s team.
“They’re doing a great job,” Clark said. “It’s a different transition from running up and down the court to running a 400 or a 600 or a 1,000 in practice. Their first few days were fun for me. They were just dying. It was fun.”
Both athletes agreed track taxed their muscles in different way than basketball. The stop-and-go rhythm of basketball, though an endurance sport, did not mean the pair was ready for a high dosage of sprinting.
“It was awful,” said Nickol, a Capital High product. “I thought I was going to go for a perfect week of throwing up every day. I didn’t quite make it through the week. (The conditioning) is way different.”
Nickol and Helm began their training with running hills and 200-meter sprints -- “super easy workouts,” Clark sarcastically added -- and then mixed in a couple of recovery runs. By the time the first meet of the season hit April 1, the pair ached.
“It actually made me super sore before the meet,” Nickol said. “Afterwards I felt a lot better.”
“I had a lot of pain going into the meet,” Helm added, noting a hamstring injury that kept him out a few days, “but afterward I felt a lot better.”
Helm and Nickol ran with Bryan Anderson and Josiah Osborne in the short relay, netting a time of 43.49. Nickol ran the second leg and Helm anchored the unit. The duo didn’t feel like their handoffs were clean, though exchanges early in the season rarely are.
“We can get a lot faster than that,” Nickol said.
“Especially when we get our legs under us,” Helm added.
Helm, Nickol and Anderson were joined by Jake Dunley for the 1,600 relay, which ran a time of 3:29.55. For the longer relay, Helm ran the second leg and Nickol anchored.
Expectations for the women’s 1,600 relay team will be to repeat after the indoor season and win a national championship, and Clark thinks if the men continue to develop, their expectations should be just as high.
“We were null and void last year,” Clark said. “It just wasn’t working out. Our short relay was good, but our mile relay wasn’t very good.”
Part of what will push the 1,600 relay team to being great is practice, and the Saints have a number of runners pushing each other.
“Chance (Hyatt) and Jack Dunley, Jack’s in our workouts,” Clark said. "He’s a stud. He’s on the mile relay team, too. They’re super close that way. We’re searching for one more guy. I think we found him this year in practice. Daniel Pendergast has been running super well.
“They’re so much fun to work with. They keep each other lifted up.”
Helm and Nickol said the biggest adjustment is mindset. Basketball had its stresses, preparing for win-or-go-home games, and competing on every possession of practice made for a different kind of intensity. During the basketball season, Nickol and Helm got some work in on the treadmill to transition more effectively into the track season.
“They got some base running in,” Clark said. “Kyle knows last year was not a good year. He wanted to make a different improvement. Right now he’s running faster than he ran all of last year even in practice. His attitude is way different than it was last year.”
The duo still have only a dozen practices on a track to go along with one meet under their belts. With the two basketball players pushing each other, though, the Saints’ sprinters should make some noise this season.
“Plus he’s got a training partner and a best friend in Steve,” Clark said. “We have a couple of 800 kids that are really running faster that are pulling him along this year. Last year (Nickol) was kind of the fast guy out there. This year he’s not. It’s way better for the whole team because he’s got other people pulling him along.”