USC Women's Track Has Sights Set On Its First-Ever NCAA Title

Jan. 25, 2001

Let the word go forth: USC women's track and field is on the verge of something big.

One season removed from a second-place finish at the 2000 NCAA Track and Field Championships--their highest finish ever--the Women of Troy are in a strong position to challenge for all the marbles in 2001.

Consider:

* USC returns athletes who scored a total of 36 1/2 points at the 2000 NCAA meet in Durham, N.C.--more returning points than any other team. The returning point total is higher than what all but four teams scored at the entire championship meet.

* USC returns the top collegiate times in the 100m, the top two times in the 200m, the top time in the 800m (plus the top incoming time by a recruit), the seventh-longest triple jump, the fifth-best hammer mark and the top time in the 400m relay.

* USC returns one of the greatest collegiate sprinters ever in Angela Williams, who won her second straight NCAA 100m title last year and is seeking an unprecedented third in a row. What's more, she is also ready to challenge for supremacy in the 200m, where she is the defending Pac-10 champion.

* USC returns school record holders in four events: the 100m, 800m, hammer and 400m relay.

* USC returns its entire national champion 400m relay squad that ran a school and Pac-10 record 43.14 at Durham, as well as three-fourths of its 1600m relay squad that finished third at the NCAAs.

* The Women of Troy signed an incoming recruiting class ranked fourth by Track and Field News. It includes several newcomers with the potential to score NCAA points in the middle distances, hurdles and throws.

* USC is ranked second going into the season by Track and Field News, while Sports Illustrated for Women picks the Women of Troy to win their first-ever NCAA title.

'This is our shot,' said USC Director of Track and Field Ron Allice. 'We have never had a better team than we have at USC right now. There has never been another team that has had this much talent as this team does. We've finished third and second the last two years. If we're going to win it all, this is the year to do it.

'I think there's an unwritten, unspoken feeling by the team that we need to go back to the NCAAs and get that flag. The key is for us to stay healthy and to make sure we get qualifying standards.'

Sprints and Relays

No school has more talent in the sprints and relays than the Women of Troy in 2001. The aforementioned Angela Williams (11.04, 22.78w), a junior, is the two-time defending NCAA 100m champ and one of the rising stars in the sport of track. This season, she will try her hand at the 200m, an event that she won at last year's Pac-10 meet in 22.78w--second-fastest in the nation. It's also second-fastest on her team to junior Kinshasa Davis (22.69, 53.04), who owns the nation's top returning time in that event. Davis finished second in the 200m at the NCAAs and is also an excellent 400m runner. Solid seniors Candace Young (11.48) and Malika Edmonson (53.02) are veteran sprinters who provide consistency in the 100m and 400m, respectively. As for the relays, Williams (leadoff leg), Young (second leg), Edmonson (third leg) and Davis (anchor leg) comprise USC's 400m relay squad that won the NCAA title last year in a school and Pac-10 record-breaking time of 43.14. In the 1600m relay, Edmonson, Davis and senior Brigita Langerholc return from a group that took third at the NCAAs with a time of 3:30.89. Senior Carla Estes (53.20) is the favorite to replace the graduated Natasha Danvers on that relay.

'This is probably as good a sprint corps as this school has ever had,' said Allice. 'Angela Williams is the best-ever at USC. She should have been on the Olympic team, but she was sick at the Trials. Kinshasa Davis has a chance to win the 200m. She runs kind of like a freight train--it takes a while for her to get going, but once she is going, she is pretty fast. Candace Young is one of the most improved sprinters on the west coast. Malika Edmonson is a warrior on the track, especially in the relays. Carla Estes is vastly better than last year. She had a very good fall.'

Middle and Long Distances

The middle and long distances are in good hands again in 2001. Senior Brigita Langerholc (1:58.51), a three-time All-American and school record-holder in the 800m, is fresh off a fourth-place showing in the half-mile at the Sydney Olympics, where she competed for her native Slovenia. She is the top returning 800m runner in the country and is also a stalwart member of USC's 1600m relay team. Last season, she also ran the fastest time for the Women of Troy in the 400m (52.93). She'll be joined by two outstanding newcomers in juniors Aleksandra Deren (2:00.31) and Lucyna Ligaj (2:04.00), who both hail from Poland. Deren could be an All-American in the 800m this year, while Ligaj also runs the 1500m (4:17.00) and 3000m (9:30.0). Both are a good bet to continue USC's fine tradition of international distance runners. Sophomore Brooke Thomas (10:23.6) gives the Women of Troy depth in the 1500m and 3000m.

'If Brigita Langerholc runs anywhere close to her personal best,she'll be in contention to win the NCAA championship in the 800m,' said Allice. 'I'm very impressed with Aleksandra Deren. She has a great work ethic and has the ability to run the 1500m as well. Lucyna Ligaj has good credentials in the 1500m and 3000m. Brooke Thomas has been a help to us in the distances.'

Hurdles

USC lost perhaps its top all-around athlete ever to graduation in 2000 NCAA 400m IH champ Natasha Danvers, who holds the school record and was also a 2000 Olympic finalist in that event. Another Natasha--junior Natasha Neal--is a former prep All-American from Logan High in Oakland, Calif., who transferred to USC from Texas in the fall. She'll give the Women of Troy immediate help in both the 100m HH (13.22w) and the 400m IH (56.86). Last year, she qualified for the NCAAs in the intermediates.

'We were devastated by the graduation of Natasha Danvers,' said Allice. 'But we were fortunate enough to be able to get Natasha Neal to transfer in. She will be a big help to us in the 400m IH, the 100m HH and maybe even the 1600m relay. If she can run her personal best at the right time, she can be an All-American.'

Jumps

The horizontal jumps are solid thanks to sophomore Tatyana Obukhova and senior Stephanie Jones. Obukhova (43-9 1/4w), who is a native of Ukraine, won the triple jump at the 2000 Pac-10s (10th at the NCAAs) and is also an excellent long jumper, with a personal best of 21-3. She enters the season third on the Women of Troy triple jump list, but by year's end she just might be at the top of that list. Jones (20-5 3/4) is eighth on the USC long jump chart and finished fourth at last season's Pac-10 meet.

'Tatyana Obukhova is a different athlete than she was a year ago,' said Allice. 'We think she'll be better all around than she was last year and, if she continues to improve, she will score points for us at the big show. Stephanie Jones gives us another 20-foot long jumper with potential to score at the NCAAs in our arsenal, which is always good to have.'

Throws

Along with the sprints, the throws will be USC's bread and butter in 2001. Senior two-time hammer All-American and school record holder Jennifer Vail (204-3) returns after placing sixth at last year's NCAA meet. She also is solid in the shot put (48-11 3/4) and the discus (162-1). Junior Cynthia Ademiluyi (52-10 1/2 shot, 172-4 discus) finished third in the shot at the Pac-10s and fourth in the discus. She qualified for the NCAAs in both events. Redshirt freshman L'Orangeril Crawford is an emerging force in the shot and could be one of the best in USC history before she is through. Sophomore Julianna Tudja (201-6), a transfer from SMU, teams with Vail to form a formidable hammer duo, while junior Amy Thiel of Moorpark (Calif.) College, gives the Women of Troy a boost in the shot (50-6), discus (166-1) and hammer (184-10). Meanwhile, a pair of freshmen javelin throwers--Inga Stasiulionyte (180-9) of Vilnius, Lithuania, and Leslie Erickson (170-6) of Lacey, Wash.--have the potential to both be All-Americans before they leave USC.

'The women's throws program is as strong as it has ever been,' said Allice. 'We have a lot of depth. L'Orangeril Crawford is probably our top shot putter and she hasn't even competed yet. She is going to be something special. The hammer will be very strong with Jennifer Vail and Julianna Tudja. Amy Thiel can do all three throws, so that just makes us even deeper. We spread Cynthia Ademiluyi thin last year, but with the depth that we have now, it enables us to let her focus on the shot, which is her best event. Leslie Erickson is a great freshman with tremendous upside and I think Inga Stasiulionyte will be a difference-maker for us.'

Despite his positive outlook for the women's program, Allice is duly cautious: he knows the twists and turns that can happen in track and field as well as anybody.

'I don't make predictions,' he said. 'I can't just sit down and dope out what's going to happen. There are too many variables. But I do know that this is our chance.

'The future is now.'

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