By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The last time the University of Virginia hosted the ACC outdoor track and field meet, in 2002, Michael Eskind was a junior at Wake Forest and one of the conference’s best decathletes.
“It’s definitely grown quite a bit,” said Eskind, now an assistant coach at UVa.
In 2002, the ACC consisted of nine schools. The league now has 12 members, and each will be represented this week at UVa’s Lannigan Field, site of this year’s ACC outdoor championships.
Virginia has hosted NCAA baseball regionals and super regionals in recent years, and the ACC men’s lacrosse tournament will be played this weekend at Klöckner Stadium. But that’s a four-team affair.
The ACC track meet, which starts Thursday afternoon and runs through Saturday evening, will bring together about 400 student-athletes representing 24 teams — 12 men’s and 12 women’s.
“I think it’s the most complicated thing that we host, because of the number of days that it goes on and the number of teams we’re bringing in,” said Mike Stroud, director of facilities and operations for UVa athletics. “There are a lot of different personalities and a lot of things to accommodate.”
Bryan Fetzer, Virginia’s director of track & field and cross country, echoed Stroud.
“It is definitely a huge undertaking. I don’t think most people would realize that,” Fetzer said.
“You have 24 teams, as opposed to 12 or four. When you have a basketball game, it’s just two teams. A football game, it’s just two teams. There might be more people attending those games, but the logistics of [staging a major track meet are more complicated]. You have to take care of things as simple as making sure that there’s access to restrooms for athletes as they warm up, things that people would never even think about.
“Because it lasts over three days, you have to think things out. And you’re never going to be perfect with it. One thing I’ve found out over the years is every time you host an event, there are certain things that you don’t know if they’ll work right until you do them. The other thing is, there’s always going to be things you can critique and make it better for the next time you do it. That’s the part I’m probably more involved with than anything else.”
The ACC meet, for which there is no admission charge, will be the second event the Cavaliers have hosted since the renovation of Lannigan Field. The first was the UVa Swashbuckle, in which 11 men’s and 11 women’s teams competed March 24.
“It was kind of a trial run” for the ACC championships, Fetzer said. “It gave us a good sense of what can work and what can’t work.”
UVa has been meeting with the ACC to discuss budgets and plans since last fall, Stroud said. ACC officials visited the site in February, and they saw a sparkling venue that bore little resemblance to its predecessor.
Amy Mitchell Griffin seeded the renovation of Lannigan Field with a $5 million pledge. Griffin is a 1998 alumna of UVa, where she played on the volleyball team.
During the project’s first phase, which has been completed, the track was replaced, the entrance plaza to Lannigan, Klöckner and Davenport Field was enhanced, and lights were installed at the track.
“Now, if weather changes the schedule and we have to compete at night,” Stroud said, “we can do it, because of the lights.”
Also, Stroud said, before the renovation UVa would have had to rent a lot of equipment to host the ACC meet. Lannigan Field now has a new hammer cage, new hurdles and new pole vault, high jump, long jump and triple jump pits.
“The important thing is, the way our facility’s laid out now, we have the opportunity to hold multiple jumps at the same time,” Stroud said.
UVa’s baseball team hosts Richmond on Tuesday night. The Cavaliers leave town Thursday for a three-game series with Duke that begins Friday in Durham, N.C.
The track teams’ buses will be parked next to Davenport Field during the ACC meet. Competitors will have the option of warming up in the Cage and on the practice field behind the McCue Center and University Hall.
“These student-athletes will be all over our athletic complex,” Stroud said. “Sometimes they just kind of take off and jog to find some open space.”
Crews began setting up for the meet Monday, and preparations should be finished by Tuesday evening. From 9 a.m to 7 p.m. Wednesday, teams will be permitted to practice at Lannigan Field.
The meet’s first events, the heptathlon and the men’s hammer throw, are scheduled to start at noon Thursday.
“The facilities [staff] and the grounds crew have been incredible,” Fetzer said by phone Tuesday. “They’ve been doing a great job. I’m sitting here at the track right now looking at it, and it’s looking pretty good.”
In late February, at the ACC indoor championships in Boston, the UVa men placed fourth, as did the UVa women. Four Cavaliers competed at the NCAA indoor meet early last month in Idaho.
On the men’s side, senior Marcus Robinson placed fifth in the triple jump, and freshman Nick Vena was 14th in the shot put. On the women’s side, junior Morgane Gay was fifth in the mile, and junior Dallas Rose finished 12th in the triple jump.
Robinson will make his 2012 outdoor debut this week, and he’s eager to compete in Charlottesville with family and friends in the stands. So are his teammates.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our kids, to just get a chance to run in front of the home crowd with a comfort level,” Fetzer said, “and obviously we want to put our best foot forward as a facility and have it looking great.”
Before UVa hired him in December, Fetzer worked as an assistant coach at such schools at Harvard, Mississippi State and California. Among his goals at the University: to boost interest in his sport.
“Down the road, I want to get as many people at track meets as Brian [O’Connor] has at baseball and Dom [Starsia] has at lacrosse,” Fetzer said.