AUBURN — St. Dominic Academy indoor track and field coach TJ Niles started practice by asking who wanted to lead the team in stretching.

“I guess,” volunteered senior Sydney Sirois.

There weren’t many options, especially with one-quarter of the team (one person) unable to attend the beginning practice that day. St. Dom’s only has four athletes on this season’s indoor track team: Sirois, Ella Brown, Clare Kramer and Kyle Blaich.

“I knew the numbers were going to be low,” Niles said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that low.”

Niles was recently hired to take charge of the Saints’ indoor and outdoor track programs. He previously coached at Lewiston High School, including three years (2012 to 2014) as the head coach. He also was a cross country coach.

He left the Blue Devils’ programs when a job change made it so he no longer had time to coach.

Recently, his work schedule — he is a team leader and administrative assistant at Becket Family of Services — changed again, so he found another track program to coach.

Niles said Lewiston’s numbers weren’t great when he first started, so he launched a recruiting effort that included visiting the middle school and sending athletes already on the team out with clipboards to sign more up.

Niles will work to grow the track teams at St. Dom’s as well, but he didn’t have much time for that prior to the indoor season. He did visit the Saints’ cross country teams in the fall, but many of those runners play other sports during the winter.

Niles said, that success by the team will be the best recruiting tool.

“Once you start winning, kids want to be part of a winning team,” Niles said. “Most kids want to be part of a team that’s successful. Maybe one day they’ll think about indoor track.”

At Lewiston, Niles was part of a cross country state championship in 2013, and several region and conference titles in track and cross country.

It is clearly an objective of Niles’ to have similar success at St. Dom’s. Eventually.

“You can’t win championships with four people,” Niles said.

There is an advantage to the small group the Saints have this year.

“At Lewiston, I was having 100 kids come out,” Niles said. “I didn’t have time to coach them a lot. Now, I’m going from only spending 30 seconds with each kid to spending maybe a half-hour.

“I get to have a more personalized approach.”

The athletes appreciate the extra attention.

“It’s really nice,” Brown said. “Because there are so few people, Coach TJ, he’s able to spend a lot of time on us individually, and there is a lot more of focus just on us personally and how we’re going to do this season.”

Blaich is especially in need of the in-depth coaching. Not only is this his first season of indoor track, but he is a cross country runner who is learning to be a sprinter. It isn’t easy for a distance runner to learn things like block starts.

“It’s really helpful,” Blaich said. “You get more tips and stuff, instead of the coach saying, ‘Hey, I’ll have you for five minutes, then I’ll have this person for five minutes, and I’ll get to you another day.’ It’s much better.”

Blaich is the only boy and the only junior on the team. Kramer also is a sprinter, along with throwing the shot put, so she and Blaich are training partners.

Some of what Niles is teaching the Saints comes from Poland coach Rick Kramer. Niles graduated from Poland in 2003, and Kramer was one of his coaches during his time there. Rick Kramer also happens to be Clare Kramer’s dad.

“Now I’m teaching his daughter,” Niles said with a laugh.

Brown and Sirois are the other set of training partners. They also are members of the St. Dom’s cross country team, but unlike Blaich, they are sticking to distance running during the indoor track season.

Despite the small team, the athletes say preseason track workouts are fun, and that Niles has injected an extra dose of energy into the program.

“He’s really enthusiastic, and he’s so passionate about running,” Sirois said. “He really wants to see the athlete succeed on their own spectrum.”


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