Eagles looking at new and returning athletes to successfully place at Big Sky Championships in February
The Eastern Washington University men’s and women’s track and field teams are feeling confident when it comes to the upcoming 2012 indoor season, as they return a number of Big Sky Conference placers.
The indoor season will begin Friday (Dec. 2) in Cheney, Wash., as the fourth-annual Candy Cane Invitational will be held in the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse. The invite is a dual meet against the University of Montana. The meet will begin at 11 a.m., and will continue on Saturday (Dec. 3) at 8:30 a.m.
“Our current training program is to focus on the Candy Cane event,” said men’s head coach Stan Kerr. “It’s not a big event, but the athletes can certainly qualify for the conference championships. As they head into Christmas break having already qualified, it will help them focus on getting better once they come back for the rest of the season.
“A number of our sprinters and hurdlers are anticipating qualifying,” he added. “The jumpers are too -- they’re already hitting qualifying marks in practice.”
Aside from Candy Cane preparation, the Eastern men are vying for a bigger goal – a Big Sky championship.
“We recruit athletes to win a championship,” said Kerr “Within our men’s squad, having roster limitations, it can be tough to win that championship, but we’re going to continue to push for a top three finish. We have great depth in all the event areas. I’m looking forward to a very strong performance at the conference championships at the end of February.”
On the women’s side, the expectations are high. But with a number of athletes being redshirted, women’s head coach Marcia Mecklenberg won’t be surprised if it’s a building year.
“I think we’re going to be all right,” she said. “I know we lost Erica Chaney, but we’re returning (senior) Mari Bingham and getting some freshmen back who redshirted last year. So we still have plenty of experience that will help us out quite a bit.”
The Big Sky Conference Championships will be Feb. 24-25 at Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Ariz.
“They have a great facility,” said Kerr. “It’ll be a great place to have the championships.”
Without Chaney – who won individual Big Sky titles as an Eagle -- the Eastern women will be looking at Bingham to fill the throwing void. Bingham redshirted last season, and according to Mecklenberg, she has looked very good during practice so far in the shot put.
Junior Vania Tauvela, who placed fourth in the weight throw in the 2011 Indoor Championships with a throw of 54-0, also returns. Sophomores Emma Murillo and Olivia Midles will also be throwing for the women.
On the men’s side, sophomores Jon Buchanan and Jordan Arakawa and junior Marlyn Anderson will return in the shot put. Buchanan and Anderson placed third and tenth, respectively, at last year’s championships.
Buchanan also placed 12th in the weight throw. Junior Zach Nielsen led Eastern in the event, finishing fifth with a throw of 56-1.
“They all will be bringing experience with them this year,” said Kerr. “They have the mindset needed to advance to the championships this year.”
The men’s team is looking to be anchored by senior Brad Wall, a three-time conference champion in the 400-meter run, and sophomore Michael Okoro, who won the 200-meter run last season as a freshman. Junior Steven Warner, who placed eighth at conference last year in the 60-meter hurdles, will also be returning.
“In Brad’s case, I might put on my fan hat as well as my coaches hat this season,” said Kerr. “It would be great to see him win a fourth title down at Northern Arizona.”
Seniors Chelsea Lawhead and Nicole Nida will be leading the women in the sprints. Brianna Okoro will be redshirting this season.
“We have a very good group of sprinters this year,” said Mecklenberg. “It will be the year for the 400-meter runners. Chelsea and Nicole are poised to do great things this year for the team. They’re really going to step it up.”
Senior Kyle King will be leading the men this season after redshirting this past fall during cross country. King, the conference champion in the 5,000-meter last season, is prepared to reclaim his crown.
“Kyle is eager to race,” said Kerr. “He should be relaxed and refreshed after sitting out cross country.”
Senior Jordan Curnutt is also expected to have a solid season in distance running, according to Kerr.
On the women’s side, Mecklenberg hopes for contributions from several freshmen, including Berenice Penaloza and Chelsea Stokes. Both sat out during cross country season.
Jumps and Pole Vault
Jumps and the pole vault could be Eastern’s strongest area this indoor season.
With Venezuelan Keisa Monterola – who placed fifth at the Pan Am Games this past October -- on the squad, the sky is the limit for the Eagles.
“Keisa will be great,” said Mecklenberg. “We think she’s going to really do well for us. And I think the other athletes are seeing her level of competition and it’s going to help them raise their level and give them an opportunity to get even better.”
Besides Monterola, Eastern vaulters to keep an eye on include Robin Taylor and incoming freshman Nick Stearns. Stearns has a personal record of 15-7.
“They’re all improving quite a bit and have made progress from last year,” said Eric Allison, EWU’s vault coach. “We can do a lot of damage at conference and score a lot of points. I think everyone will hit a new personal record this season.”
In the high jump, the Eagles will be looking at sophomore Cody Fishel, who tied for second in the Big Sky last year, to lead the team. C.J. Wright is also expected to do very well.
“Cody is passionate and understands the sport,” said assistant coach Jon Hill. “He’s talked to world champions; he’s drilled them about how to get better. Now pairing Cody with C.J., we have as good a tandem since Stephen Praast and Adam Stewart.”
Kerr also mentioned Phillip Puccino as someone who could turn some heads in both the long jump and triple jump.
On the women’s side, senior Shene Davis will be returning from injury. The Eagles have been high on Davis since she stepped foot in Cheney.
“We have got big plans for Shene,” said Hill. “Is it OK that we’re shooting for Olympic Trials types of accomplishments? We would like to see her advance to regional and national postseason competition. We really think she’s going to reach that potential. In her first year long jumping, she broke the school record and she was still unhappy about it – she knows she has flaws. We think she has a chance to win a league title and compete at national meets.”
Also, sophomore Morena Mannucci is returning from an injury.
“Last year, she was still getting used to the English language and then injured herself,” said Hill. “She kind of limped her way through her first season, but she has a lot of experience internationally so I know that will carry over really well into the collegiate level.”
Seniors Kersee Lind and Tim Armstrong return for their final stint as Eagles, competing in the heptathlon indoors and the decathlon outdoors.
Lind, the school’s record holder in the heptathlon, is expected to do even better this season. Hill is looking for him to start off stronger than he ever has in the past.
“We expect big progression numbers all across the board,” he said. “He has got a great training partner in Tim and I see them as mirror images of each other. I think Tim might have a little bit more natural physical gifts, but Kersee is a warrior. When it comes down to a ten-event competition, Kersee is lurking and you know he’ll make a big move by the time it’s over.”