The following article on men's tennis player Domonick Sylve was featured in the Pointer View on Apr. 30, 2009 and was written by Eric Bartelt.
Top collegiate athletes tend to spend many years trying to perfect their craft, or as close to perfection as humanly possible, before their college days so they can shine at the NCAA level.
Now imagine trying to succeed at something you didn’t take up until your senior year in high school and that something was the hurdles in track and field.
Army head track and field coach Troy Engle said the hurdles are arguably the most technical of the track events and the athlete needs to have a unique combination of natural talent and athleticism to go along with being a student of the event to be technically proficient.
That’s where Yearling Domonick Sylve jumps into the picture, a guy who didn’t start participating in track and field until he was a high school senior, but is now one of the best hurdlers in the Patriot League.
Sylve will be trying to repeat as the Patriot League outdoor 110-meter hurdles champion Friday and Saturday as the Patriot League Championships take place at Shea Stadium at West Point.
This season has been building to its championship climax as Sylve has continued his onslaught against his competition, earning three PL male track athlete of week awards during the spring. He is coming off his second-best hurdles run of the season April 24, when he ran a 14.26-second 110m hurdles at the Penn Relays.
However, nothing has quite compared to how he capped off last season by earning the PL championship in the 110m hurdles, running a career-high 14.07-second race, which ranks second all-time in Army men’s track behind T.J. Peterson’s 13.89-second run in 1996.
“I felt really good coming out of the blocks that day,” Sylve said. “I wasn’t floating over the hurdles. I felt fast in the air to where my foot came down quick, but there was something about that race where it was great weather, it was at Navy and there were two Naval Academy midshipmen in the (final) race.
“I hadn’t beaten (Navy’s) senior Ron Belany all season (indoors and outdoors), so I wanted to make sure I beat him before he graduated because that was my last chance to race him,” he added.
Last year’s triumph hasn’t given him a big head as he continues to participate successfully in the 110m hurdles, 100-meter dash and the 4x100-meter relay with teammates Firstie Brandon Thurman, Yearling Alfred McDaniel and Plebe Jermaine Wright.
Sylve finished with the thirdbest time in Army history in the 60-meter hurdles during the indoor season but didn’t win the Patriot League championship (losing to Bucknell’s Andrew Yehl), which has been eating away at him since the end of the indoor season.
“It stays in my mind all the time, and every time I think back ... I know I had a great season but I didn’t reach my goal of being the Patriot League champion in the 60m hurdles,” Sylve explained. “So I’ve been pushing myself and working much harder. I lift a lot more and I’ve taken my workouts a lot more seriously to try to get better over the rest of the season.”
The Long Beach, Calif., native has been working feverishly on his technique with assistant coach Joe Rogers, who taught him a lot and changed his hurdling style, form and technique to better Sylve’s development. The biggest change is improving his block starts in the
“My plebe year, when I first started, the blocks were the worst part of my race and that should be your strongest part ... that’s where your power is coming from, that’s where your push is,” Sylve said.
“I’ve been doing more power lifting and more practice coming out of the blocks and we do a lot of harness workouts from the blocks.
“A teammate will hold the harness coming out of the blocks, so it works you by pulling the extra weight so it’ll feel more natural to push off stronger during a race,” he added.
Engle believes Sylve has the potential to make it past the regionals and into the NCAAs. While Sylve couldn’t put into words what it would mean to make the NCAAs, Engle sees the talent for that type of future success.
“Two or three years ago, to think he would be where he is now, you may have been able to predict it but it would have been a stretch goal,” Engle said. “But now, I absolutely see the NCAAs in Dom’s future.
“Ideally, we would love to see it happen in the short term, but there’s no question that it can happen longterm and it should be a long-term goal of his to make the NCAA championships,” he added. “He’s got the tools, the physical attributes and the attitude to make it.”
Engle has been blessed with many talented athletes, including Thurman and McDaniel with Sylve as his prime star runners. They’ll be needed to get Army back on track as men’s champions in the Patriot League this spring.
While the women earned their first PL title in 10 years last year, the men’s 16-year reign as champions took a hit by Navy in the overall team prize in 2008. Seeing his team win the PLs would be as exciting as winning the cross country meet versus Navy in the fall.
In fact, Engle’s biggest thrill this year was seeing his squad win the Army-Navy cross country meet just a couple of weeks after his arrival as Army coach. He missed the beginning of the season because he had previously committed to coach the U.S. Paralympic Team in Beijing in September.
“For those guys to step up and compete as hard as they did and reach the upper limits of their potential on that day and beat Navy down there was my first real solid affirmation that the cadets at West Point are the real deal,” Engle, who specializes in distance running, said. “It’s a great satisfaction for me to watch the athletes reap the benefits of their hard work.”
In his opinion, Engle feels the men are in a position where they could run the tables in the Patriot League. As a first year head coach, it’s important to finish off strong, especially knowing how successful Jerry Quiller, his predecessor, who won 12 men’s outdoor titles here and 37 titles—among the men’s and women’s cross country, indoor and outdoor seasons—was.
“Nobody will ever replace Q. He was a unique guy and a fantastic coach and his record and longevity that he developed in the Patriot League is going to go down as the gold standard,” Engle, who coached under Quiller on two separate occasions in the 1990s as an assistant here, said. “With the transition, you don’t try to replace someone like Q, just like Q didn’t try to replace his predecessor Ron Bazil. You step in, you bring your unique personality and coaching style to the job.”
The last year has been an incredible ride for Engle that has taken him from being the head coach of the U.S. Paralympic team to receiving his dream job––coaching at Army.
Engle, who’s track and field team earned the second-most medals at the Games behind only China, was honored to represent his country in the sporting world, but felt being named head track and field coach at Army was “my life’s dream.” “My boss’ at the USOC, when the job came up, response was simply, ‘look, I’ve known you for two years (the amount of years he worked for the USOC) and I could have predicted this because it’s the only place you’ve ever talked about that you really wanted to coach again,’” Engle said. “Since I was here before, it’s been the one place that everybody who’s known me knows I wanted to come back, too.”
When Engle first came here in 1995, it was for a job. But, ever since it’s never been just about coming back for a job, it’s been the experience of working with the cadets.
“Like a lot of people who come here for a job, you might come for one reason or another but when you’re here it certainly isn’t the thing that brings you back (if you leave) or keeps you here,” Engle said. “It’s not the reason that for the last decade I kept on trying to figure out if this job was ever goingto open up again. I came for a job the first time, but I came back for the experience that I had with the cadets—they are the best kids in the world to coach.”