Long A Dominant Addition For Ashland Track Team

KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
February, 2020
Article Body: 

Matt Long’s decision to quit basketball for indoor track was difficult but the Ashland High junior is getting comfortable with what’s transpired — he’s undefeated in the 300-meter run and he’s already set a school record in that event.
The 6-foot-1, 150-pound Long, however, is no stranger to record-setting efforts. Last year as a sophomore captain in outdoor track, he set two school records, one in the 200-meter run and the other in the 400. And, if he gets adventurous and experiments in the indoor 600 and the outdoor 800, there could be more accolades on the horizon.
“Matt wants to be the best,’’ said Chris Avery, the Clockers’ track coach. “He works hard and he’s determined and dedicated. A natural athlete who’s got a terrific stride, his mental approach is excellent. Matt’s not the fastest out of the blocks but he’s exceptionally fast at the end of a race.’’
Long, a native of Natick who arrived in Ashland as a three-year-old, started running in the seventh grade. Basketball, nevertheless, remained a sport that he loved.
“I still miss it,’’ he said. “But, I want to run track in college and I felt that my future would be brighter if I focused on track. It’s a decision that I’m comfortable with now.’’
The 17-year-old Long has posted quality times in his record-breaking events. He ran the 300 in 36.67 seconds at the MSTCA Speed Classic, a statewide meet. His best outdoor times include a 23-second clocking in the 200 and a 50.55-second time in the 400. Long also runs the 55-meter dash indoors and often runs a leg of the 4x200 or 4x400 relays.
A leader on a variety of fronts, Long is a National Honor Society student and he was a captain last fall in cross-country. “
“It’s been a thrill to serve as a captain in both cross-country and outdoor track,’’ Long emphasized. “I was young to be a captain as a sophomore but it was pleasing to know that the coaches viewed me as a leader. I was also honored to be a captain in cross-country even though I’m not the best runner. Cross-country, however, has helped me to build endurance. In both roles, I tried to lead by example and by being supportive.’’
Long was a Tri Valley League and Metrowest News all-star last year in outdoor track and it’s attributes like a dynamic work ethic, speed, resiliency, technique, and a positive mindset that landed him on those elite squads. And, when he ran the 400 in the State’s Freshman-Sophomore meet last year, he not only excelled, but he also set a meet record.
“I ran the 400 in 51.15 seconds,’’ Long recalled. “The meet was at Plymouth South and I was losing with about 70 meters to go. When, I crossed the finish line, I won by a second. That’s been my best race so far.’’
Long’s goals for the rest of the indoor season are lofty— he wants to win the 300 at the TVL meet and also in Division 4. “I’m also hoping to finish in the top five at the All-State Meet,’’ he said. “The TVL meet is within reach but the division meet will be challenging. Finishing in the top five at All-States is realistic but it’ll take lots of hard work in practice.’’
Long is acutely aware that there’s always room for improvement no matter how many records he owns. “I’m continuing to work on getting out of the blocks quicker,’’ he noted. “And, since I haven’t run the 55-dash that often, I’ve got to keep striving to lower my times because I may run that race in post-season meets.’’
A pro-active mindset has been a major plus for Long and it’s helped him get results. For two years, he’s competed at mini-meet events at Boston University. “I’ve face top-notch talent and many of the runners are older competitors,’’ he said. “The meets help me prepare for our TVL and post-season events, and they could lead to qualifying for national races.’’
The Clockers’ indoor squad has endured a difficult season so far. Ashland is winless in four TVL meets, primarily because it’s the smallest school enrollment-wise in the Large Division. “We just don’t have the numbers to compete against schools like Westwood, Medfield and Hopkinton,’’ Long offered. “The Large Division is tough but we’ve got to stick with it and work hard every day.’’
Calling his teammates “a close-knit group,’’ Long is pleased with his coaches’ advice and encouragement.
“Two juniors who are good contributors are Johnny Hampson (55-dash, relays) and David Ball (600),’’ Long said. “Johnny works hard, has speed and starts quickly. He holds the indoor record in the 55-dash. David has great endurance and continues to lower his times.’’
Long rates Avery highly in terms of helping him improve his technique. He also likes her ability to motivate the troops. “Coach Avery helps us work on our weaknesses,’’ he said. “She’s been a plus in my getting off to a good start and assisting me to leave the blocks faster.’’
Relying on a philosophy that stresses winning and reaching his potential, Long credits sports as a venue for learning valuable life lessons. “Athletics have helped me to be supportive of my teammates,’’ he noted. “I’ve also learned to be a leader and to hold myself accountable. Mental toughness is another valuable lesson.’’
A quality student, Long hasn’t decided where he’ll attend college or what his major will be. But, he’s planning to run track collegiately and is open to competing at any level. Avery believes Long’s positive attitude and ability “could earn him a track scholarship.’’
Long hasn’t encountered any serious injuries since he’s run track in high school but he was injury-prone in his earlier years. He suffered a broken ankle, a broken wrist and a fractured thumb during his middle-school days.
A fan of track because “it promotes a community atmosphere with teammates and opponents,’’ Long is passionate about the sport for another reason. “I also like it because you compete for yourself and at the same time you can score points for your team,’’ he said. “It’s both an individual and team sport.’’
Long’s three school records were set early in his career but there could be more on tap as he heads into his final two years. “I definitely want to break the 50-second barrier in the outdoor 400,’’ he said. “I’m pleased and proud to have set three records, especially in the 400, because I’ve been running that event since Grade 7.
Matt Long’s decision to put basketball in his rear-view mirror has been a bonus for the Clockers’ indoor track program.