The University of Rhode Island men’s and women’s track and field teams have been preparing in the offseason to return to their conference dominance this season.

The men’s team finished second in both the A-10 and New England Championships last season.  However, they lost some key athletes since then, including senior sprinters Jalen Young and Tyler Oliveira.

“Our distance runners will be fine,” head coach John Copeland said. “New leadership is needed every year. We have an outstanding group of leadership on this team.”

The Rams will return with junior Ondrej Honka, a Czech Republic native. Honka is a premier pole-vaulter who established himself last year by winning the heptathlon at the conference championships.

“I expect [Honka] to be a conference champion, and if not the top in New England, certainly top three,” Copeland said.

Copeland named junior John Stallworth as one of several potential breakouts this season. Stallworth had a strong sophomore year, which concluded with a second place finish in the 110m hurdles at the Atlantic 10 Championship.

The women’s team is hoping to take a big step forward and get closer to returning to the top of the conference. Head coach Laurie Feit-Melnick is pleased with their progression and believes they could certainly contend with an abundance of talent, especially in cross country, where they are looking for their first title in program history.

“With added depth from a recruiting class for 2016-17, this is a team that can place top three in the conference in cross country,” Feit-Melnick said. “We are also looking forward to hosting the Indoor Atlantic 10 Conference meet in February and plan to contend for the title in both indoor and outdoor [track and field].”

One athlete to watch is sophomore Alyssa Brehler, who was just named A-10 Cross Country Performer of the Week after winning the Ted Owen Invitational on Saturday. Brehler will also be running distance for the track and field team, and hopes to build on the momentum she gained in her first year.

In addition, the team boasts an impressive freshmen class. The key to their success will likely be health, which has been a problem in recent years.

“We need to return key stand out runners, Jackie Burr and Courtney Hawkins to the lineup,”Feit-Melnick said. “They are working very hard and will race indoor. I am incorporating pool running into the training week because we have so many distance runners returning from injury or illness.”