Jan. 18, 2013
Season Outlook: Men’s and Women’s Track and Field
by Allie Long - ASU Media Relations
TEMPE, Ariz. - As the Sun Devil athletes advance to the starting line of the 2013 season, the Men’s and Women’s Track and Field teams exhibit promising qualities that may make for a very successful season. Head Coach Greg Kraft is optimistic about both the men’s and women’s teams as he enters his 17th year as spearhead of the program. Kraft explains that, although the team remains a work in progress, the women appear strong in the outdoor events and ready for the NCAA National Championship with returning veteran and two-time NCAA runner-up in discuss, Anna Jelmini and returning PAC-12 champion in long jump, Constance Ezugha.
The recipe for success on the men’s side this year consists a mix of the talent and leadership skills of the returning and “battle-tested” veterans such as Jordan Clarke, and the continued maturation and improvement of several promising newcomers such as Trae Armstrong and Josh Dixon. In addition to the newcomers, the returning members of both teams are now being expected to step up in new and important ways.
Distance runners Nick Happe and Darius Terry will be expected to come forward and truly perform for the program. The women’s team sports Asiah Gooden and Brianna Tate as its most improved sprinters who are expected to start the season with a bang. With this in mind, the teams size up the competition with fierce determination.
“As a group of coaches and athletes, we’re excited,” Kraft said. “We understand where we need to go and what it takes to be successful.”
SPRINTS, HURDLES & RELAYS
To begin the 2013 season, Assistant Coach Ronnie Williams will take hold of the women’s sprinting events to give firm direction to the group. Arizona State boasts a proud tradition in its relays and Kraft explains, “Coach Wiliams really brings a sort of attitude and toughness to that group… the training is taking a bit of an ‘old school’ approach… it’s really about being tough and accepting pain. He’s brought a lot of urgency to what we do every day.”
Kraft indentifies returning junior, Asiah Gooden, as a key aspect of the team saying that he was pleasantly surprised with her measurable fall improvement. Gooden’s involvement with last year’s fourth-place run at the Pac-12 Championships as part of the 4X100m relay team and her NCAA West Regional Championships appearance were only stepping stones on the road to bigger and better things this season.
The team will also look to sophomore quarter-miler Brianna Tate to continue and improve into her second season while the additions of two exceptional junior college hurdlers will add to ASU’s depth in that event in the likes of California state champion Ke’Nya Hardge and Lauren Rose.
The men return several members from a team that was borderline dominant at times. The team went 1-2-3-4 at the MPSF Championships indoors at 200 meters and 1-2 in the 60-meter dash before going on to sweep the 4x100 and 4x400m relays at the Pac-12 Outdoor Championships.
Ryan Milus, a second-team All-American indoors last season, returns for his junior season and will look to put himself in the record books. An untimely injury at last year’s NCAA West Regional Championships kept Milus out of the NCAA Championships, but the former Hamilton prep star could be primed for big things in 2013.
One of the more pleasant additions to last year’s roster was D-II transfer Chris Burrows, who advanced to the NCAA Championships last season at 200 meters as the lone competitor in an individual running event on the Sun Devil roster. Burrows was crucial to the team’s success in both relays and will be knocking on the door of some of the top times in ASU history if he continues to improve.
Will Henry is a former USA junior runner-up in the quarter mile and will also play a big role on the mile relay this season while Cameron Taylor showed flashes of brilliance in the high hurdles last season as a freshman and will be someone to keep an eye on during his sophomore campaign.
A true Freshman hailing from Glendale, Ariz., Trae Armstrong is expected to generate powerful momentum for the Sun Devils this season. According to Kraft, the former 9-time state champion is “arguably one of the top sprinters to ever come out of the state of Arizona.”
When added to the talents of Armstrong, Devan Spann’s contributions might just be enough to send the program over the edge to success. The red shirted freshman and Sun Devil football transfer is expected to have a significant impact on the outcome of the season.
Coach Kraft describes the gifted environment surrounding these athletes as one capable of nurturing each one to the best of his abilities. The group of sprinters in the 4X400m relay, for example, has stumbled across an unprecedented synergy that could very well propel it to the top.
“I think our 4X4 should be in the NCAA finals,” said Kraft, “Our quality and our depth, at this point in time, are very strong in sprints.”
DISTANCE & MID-DISTANCE
Shelby Houlihan, last year’s Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year for both cross Country and track, seeks even more this coming season. Already in possession of abundant talent and a familiarity with success, Shelby’s primary task this season will be maintaining health and quality of performance.
The squad will also look toward the continued emergence of promising prospects such as Carly Paracholski, Macy Bricks and Peyton Schutte while the team hosts two experienced seniors in the longer runs in the likes of seniors Natasa Vulic and Hailey Hanna.
The men’s side may have some breakout stars of its own to wield this season in the form of a pair of red shirted seniors. Nick Happe, a veteran in distance competition, demonstrates his well-rounded athleticism competing in the 1500m, mile, 3000m and the 5000m. Happe set the school mile record last season indoors and boasted top-five times in the 3000 and 5000m indoors as well.
In addition to Happe’s strength in various events, All-American Darius Terry seeks to put a stamp on this season – his last - as well. Terry runs the equivalent to a sub-four-minute mile and became ASU’s first 1,500m All-American in 2011 before redshirting last season.
“We know they’re talented, but now they’re in a position where we’re going to have to count on them,” says Kraft, “You need to go into championship events with guys who have been battle-tested.”
Others who will look to contribute to the cause this season include redshirt sophomore Garrett Baker-Slama, Steven Schnieders and talented redshirt freshman Daniel Wong in the steeplechase while the team while Brian Pierre received an extra year of outdoor eligibility and will team up with fellow graduate transfer Zach Zarda – an NCAA West Regional qualifier last year – as two guys that could provide a lot of depth in the longer runs.
The athletes competing in these events compile to make an experienced and hard-working team eager to taste competition. Kraft sizes up the Sun Devils: “When you look at our track team, from the 60m to the 10,000m, we’re pretty strong.”
On the Sun Devil success in throwing, Coach Kraft comments, “We’ve always taken a lot of pride in being a ‘lunch pail’ program and just being tough and outworking people. Coach (David) Dumble is just relentless in his pursuit [of success].”
No athlete is as prominent a figure (both figuratively and literally) to the ASU program as three-time national champion in shot put, Jordan Clarke. The redshirt senior out of Anchorage, Alaska has made quite a contribution to the ASU program in one obvious way.
Coach Kraft says “[He] is the main reason we’re ranked, preseason, at No.6, and I would dare to say that we may be a little under-ranked.”
Clarke was the Pac-12 Men’s Athlete of the Meet at the Pac-12 Championships last season after finishes first in the shot put, second in the hammer and third in the discus. Clarke swept the indoor and outdoor shot put titles to run his streak up to three consecutive NCAA titles in the event and we would be looking at history if he were to achieve four and five this season – a senior campaign in which he began the year on the Bowerman Preseason Watch List.
ASU has some added depth this year in the form of Kyle Lillie, to the squad this year
The Sun Devils have now won the last four NCAA outdoor shot put competitions. Ryan Whiting went back-to-back in 2009 and 2010 before graduating and handing the crown off to Clarke in 2011. In addition, ASU has now won eight of the last 10 total shot put titles between the indoor and outdoor campaigns between Whiting and Clarke since 2008 - all under the tutelage of throws coach Dumble.
Returning for the women in the ASU throwing events is two-time NCAA runner-up, Anna Jelmini. As only the third athlete in ASU history to have top-ten marks in three events (shot put, discus, hammer), Jelmini comes back to the program with four All-America honors and three Pac-12 Championship titles to her name and she is just a sophomore.
The team will continue to look towards Alex Hartig to get better this season and the redshirt sophomore adds quality depth in the discus and shot put events.
Another aspect of the Sun Devil track and field squad that has its athletes and coaches abuzz with excitement is the team’s jumping capability. Kraft noted that, “We feel very good about the balance of our team and the quality we have up front. We’re very eager to see how the season plays out.”
Some of those character “up front” include two returning Pac-12 champs in the long jump, Christabel Nettey and Constance Ezugha, and both are expected to dominate for the Sun Devils in 2013. Nettey, an All-American who recorded the second-best long jump in ASU history last season, is out to reach her full potential this season. Just behind Nettey, however, is Ezugha. Having notched the Pac-12 title in the event last season in the long jump, Kraft believe Ezugha has room to improve both within the confines of the team and within the Pac-12.
The team also hopes to see junior Shaylah Simpson rise of the ranks as far as elite pole vaulters are concerned. Simpson notched the second-best pole vault in school history last season, but has had to come back from a tough hairline fracture in her leg to prepare for this season. Even, coaches are confident that Simpson will shine and give ASU points in an event where anything can happen.
Kraft explains that, in addition to these veterans, the newcomers will show improvement and maturity, which may boost ASU to the top three in the PAC-12.
Although the men’s team doesn’t exhibit quite as much depth this early in the season, the incredible quality of its jumpers more than compensates. Senior Chris Benard, last year’s runner-up in the NCAA indoor triple jump championships, shows no signs of cooling off this season. The school record holder indoors and outdoors, Benard was granted one extra season of indoor eligibility and can contend in both the triple and long jumps and will look to guide talented freshman Josh Dixon before passing of the reins.
Additionally, pole-vaulter Derick Hinch and high-jumper Bryan McBride return as seasoned veterans and bearing much improvement from the Sun Devil’s intensive fall training. Hinch finished third last season at the NCAA Championships while McBride matched the school record in the indoor high jump on his way to All-America accolades.
Returning for the Sun Devils in multis is experienced senior, Keia Pinnick. Having earned second place in the Pac-12 in the heptathlon and winning the MPSF title in the pentathlon, Pinnick is prepared for what’s to come in 2013.
“[She is] a potential national champion in the heptathlon” says Kraft.
Pinnick is one of ASU’s most versatile athletes and will be a valued competitor not just in the multi-events, but in the hurdles, sprints, long jump and relays as well as she looks to add to the great heritage of a program that produced the likes of Jacquelyn Johnson and Gea Johnson.
On the men’s side, Jeremy Marcinko will have one more year to strut his stuff in the decathlon as the senior has shown marked improvement in the event through the years and could be a Pac-12 scorer this season.
While the Sun Devils prepare for what can only be considered an exciting upcoming season, fans can look on as key members of both the men’s and women’s teams mature and improve to deliver impressive outcomes. With the help of seasoned veterans and talented newcomers, the Devils have all of the ingredients to prepare a delicious track and field season.
“Expectations have been set for this program.” says Kraft, “It should be an interesting year for us.”