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Maryland track and field still rebuilding after cuts

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Maryland student Dan Russo stops by Testudo Times to preview the upcoming Terrapin Invitational.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

To the Maryland men's track and field team the Terrapin Invitational Saturday is more than the first home meet of the season.  The spring season opener is the next big step in rebuilding a track program that was on the chopping block only three years ago.

In 2012 the university cut men's cross country and indoor track.  Men's outdoor track was also slated to be cut but a whirlwind of fundraising saved a small 14-man team.

Maryland men's track and field sophomore hurdler Clyde Gross, who is racing in the 110-meter hurdles and the 1600-meter relay Saturday, hopes the Terps' home meet can start to revitalize a program that has flown under the radar its past two outdoor seasons.

"This is definitely a big way to set your name back up because home meets are usually only done by big-time schools like Florida Relays or Texas Relays," Gross said.  "So to have a home meet is a strong way to get your name back out there."

Athletic department budget cuts handcuffed the Terps to a small 14-man roster in the 2012 and 2013 spring seasons. But eight new roster spots in 2015 gave Coach Andrew Valmon enough space to recruit key transfers and freshmen.

The Terps recruited Gross from the University of Kentucky among other transfers and freshmen to quickly rejuvenate the men's program for the 2015 outdoor season.  But Coach Valmon emphasized a gradual rebuilding of the men's team.

"We didn't want to jump from the 14 all the way up," Valmon said.  "We wanted to build and bring in quality men that were ready to compete on this level."

The Terrapins' roster rounds out at 22 men for the 2015 spring season and Valmon plans to grow the team to a 26- to 28-man roster in 2016. Valmon's quality over quantity rebuilding philosophy trickles down to his athletes.

"I think my role is to just come in here every day and work hard so when it comes to meet time I can put up some big numbers and be a part of a good relay because I think that's what attracts recruits the most," freshman sprinter Alex Leto said.

As the first home meet in the Big Ten, the Terrapin Invitational is the perfect setting to send the message that Maryland men's track and field is back.

"Heading into the Big Ten anything we do is new, and so for us we're competitive and we want to stay that way," Valmon said.

The women's track and field team will also have their home opener Saturday, a quick turnaround for senior Thea LaFond, who just two weeks ago placed fifth in the high jump at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.

Though LaFond has an indoor season of fierce Big Ten competition under their belt, the All-American said she is excited to be reunited with the men's team on the track.

"... The entire theme this year has been bigger and better things," La Fond said. "And with our full team we are bigger and there's just more support, which makes us better."

Gross, who only competed twice so far this year, and Leto, who missed his last season at Old Bridge High School in New Jersey, are itching to race. The sophomore and freshman hope their hunger to compete translates to performances Saturday that will reach future recruits.

"So to rebuild the team we need some talent," Leto said, "And talent's going to come if they see it already here."