When the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic canceled the rest of the 2020 outdoor track and field season in March, fifth-year senior Lena Bilotti feared that her throwing career could be coming to an end.
“Our team had to wait weeks before finding out that our season was canceled,” Bilotti said. “When I found out on Instagram, I was worried about [whether or not] we were going to get our season back.”
Thankfully, Bilotti is going to have the opportunity to compete for one more outdoor season. In late March, the NCAA announced that all spring sports athletes across Divisions I, II and III will have an extra year of eligibility to compete.
For this reason, Bilotti was planning on staying at Montclair State University for an additional year to finish completing the school’s teacher education program.
Having more time to compete in the sport she loves has also provided Bilotti with an even more important goal: placing first in the javelin throw at the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship meet.
“I placed third in the javelin my freshman year and a lot of my competition has graduated since then,” Bilotti said. “I don’t know what the new [competition] is like since we [have not] competed since 2019, but from who I competed with last year, I think I have a very good shot of winning.”
Ian Carter, the head coach of the men’s and women’s track and field teams, shares this ambitious sentiment.
“I believe the NCAA did an honorable thing by allowing seniors another year to showcase their talents one more time, and I believe Lena will make the most of it,” Carter said. “She is our most experienced javelin thrower, [as well] as a leader and helpful to those around her.”
The NJAC is known for being one of the toughest conferences in Division III track and field, with many throwers from the conference making nationals on a yearly basis. Since her freshman year, Bilotti has placed no lower than fifth in the conference, in the javelin throw, proving that she is one of the elite performers. Despite not earning all-conference honors in 2019, she finished 10th at the regional championship meet that same year, her first appearance at the event.
Nevertheless, Bilotti has her sights set on winning the NJAC, as well as qualifying for nationals in the spring 2021 season. Using the long off-season to get back into shape, she has been focusing on body weight workouts to keep her muscles strong and loose, while staying cautious due to a herniated disc that she suffered from a few years ago.
“I didn’t really lift anything heavy because of my back injury,” Bilotti said. “I obviously couldn’t go to the gym because of the [pandemic], so I was running, doing pushups and stretching. It was more important that I did workouts to get my back to heal.”
As Bilotti prepares for a potential 2021 outdoor track and field season, she is also adjusting to COVID-19 protocols and procedures established by the Montclair State athletic department. The throwers begin their practices on Nov. 12 and will start virtually until the team is allowed to practice in “pods,” or in groups of 10.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage on, there are still several questions as to how the outdoor track and field season will operate. However, for throwing events such as the javelin, social distancing may not be a huge concern. Individuals typically throw their implements with a significant amount of distance around them to ensure that nobody is struck by one.
Bilotti believes that it would be safe to conduct outdoor meets, but also feels outdoor meets could be limited.
“With throwing events, there are various ways to avoid anyone getting the virus,” Bilotti said. “However, with other sports only competing against NJAC teams, we will probably have to do the same. We won’t know about regionals or nationals until next spring.”
Right now, Bilotti’s focus is on what she can control. There may not be a Division III national outdoor track and field meet in the spring, but Bilotti believes that she’ll be ready for it when the time comes.
With this being her last season as a Red Hawk, Bilotti wants to make sure her back issues do not restrain her from reaching her ultimate goal.
“I want to go to nationals so badly,” Bilotti said. “[My marks] have always been off by a few meters to qualify. I just want my back to be okay so that I can throw more often.”