SEASON OUTLOOK - 2008 Sun Devil Track & Field
Jan. 25, 2008
THE SUN DEVIL WOMEN
The Arizona State University women's track and field team entered the 2007 season with high expectations and a roster laden with talented veterans and top-notch newcomers. One year later, the expectations remain high and the roster remains filled with both veteran and newcomer talent. The only difference between the starts of the two seasons is that in 2008, the Sun Devils carry the bulls-eye square on their backs as defending champions of the Pac-10 Conference and the NCAA, both indoor and outdoor.
'We are excited to start our title defenses in 2008,' Head Coach Greg Kraft said. 'Our goal is nothing short of defending all of our titles from 2007 and we have reason to feel that we have a chance to do so. We return a core of student-athletes this year that put us in a position to contend again against the cast of usual suspects for the national team titles.'
In 2007, the Sun Devils carried the top ranking in the nation to open the year before winning their first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) title, which led to the program's first NCAA Indoor Championships crown. At the onset of the outdoor season, the Sun Devils were again tabbed as the top team in the nation and carried that banner through three titles, including their second-consecutive Pac-10 Conference title and their first NCAA West Region Championship before topping the year with their second national crown, the 2007 NCAA Outdoor Championship.
Even though ASU captured all the titles they could in 2007, that does not translate into an easy path in 2008, especially with the loss of a few student-athletes that scored in the championship meets.
'On the national scene, we really have 49 points (out of 60) returning for the outdoor championships and that is a big chunk of points which, typically, is enough points to finish in the Top 3, if not win,' Kraft said. 'That is the good news. The bad news - it's not that bad - is that we have three champions returning outdoors and two indoors and they have maxed out what they can contribute (move up from first) point-wise. With that said, we look at those athletes in their secondary events to produce more points, such as Sarah Stevens and Jessica Pressley, both of which are returning champions in the shot put.'
All four women that earned national titles in 2007 return this year with Stevens and Pressley joining indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon champion Jacquelyn Johnson and outdoor pole vault champion April Kubishta. With a solid pack of front-runners to lead the team, Kraft will look for those champions to continue to win while other returners and a group of newcomers make up for the lost points.
'When you look at the Pac-10 meet, we return over 90 points and the bulk of those points are from the field events,' Kraft said. 'To the same degree, there is not much more we can do having won the shot put and the discus, but we have Johnson returning as a favorite in the heptathlon and we have some strength in the discus as well. In the sprints, we only return three points, but it is our deepest and most versatile sprint group that we have had on the women's side. We have a lot of unknown commodities, but looking at their fall training, they are not short on talent and I would rather have talent over experience.'
But the sprints and throws will not be the only areas Kraft sees production coming from in 2008.
'Despite the losses of several strong competitors Amy Hastings and Anna Masinelli, I still see our distance group having another strong season on the track,' Kraft said. 'When you look at the losses we had in our distance group and for them to start off the fall and finish fourth in the nation in cross country shows you that, again, we are going to be a definite presence in the distances at the Pac-10 meet.'
A new wave of sprinters mixed with several veterans will comprise the sprint/hurdle/relay group in 2008 with many of the new faces looking to put ASU sprinting back into the forefront.
'When you look at our team last year, we didn't score in five events (at the Pac-10 meet) and, surprisingly, for our women to not score in the 100m and 200m and win the Pac-10, that must have looked like a typo in the results,' Kraft said. 'We have added Charonda Williams, who won the California state meet in the 100m and 200m at Laney College, as well as an outstanding prospect in Dominique' Maloy, who won the 100m, 200m and 400m at the Nevada high school meet last year. I am confident that however we decide to enter our athletes at the conference meet that we will get significant production from the 100m and 200m events.'
While Kraft looks for more production out of the short sprints in 2008, he also will look for the quarter-milers, a staple of ASU track & field, to continue to lead the way.
'In the 400m, we lost the Pac-10 champion in Latosha Wallace, but, by committee, we will fill that void this year,' Kraft said. 'Jeavon Benjamin was the junior college national runner-up in the 400m last year and we have two members of the championship 4x400m relay team returning in Jordan Durham and Shauntel Elcock. With these athletes, I feel we have an excellent chance in the 400m this year.'
Speaking of program staples, the Sun Devils appear to have replenished their stable of sprinters with their sights set on remaining one of the top relay teams in the conference as they strive to move up in the national standings as well.
'With the personnel I have talked about, we will be much improved in the 4x100m this year,' Kraft said. 'We will also be looking to win our third 4x400m relay title in the last four years having won two of the past three. Having a strong relay to close out a meet is key and I feel we have a group that can get the job done for us.'
'When I look at the short hurdles, Chaney was a scorer last year as a freshman after sitting out one month with a stress fracture,' Kraft said. 'We also look for Chaney to continue to improve in the intermediate hurdles. I also think Johnson is going to contend to win the 100m hurdles at the Pac-10 this year. The hurdles is one of her top events and really gets her going in the multi-events. She has improved each year and I am confident we will see improvements again this year.'
A talented group of veterans return to the track in the mid-distance and distance events this year after seeing these same athletes place fourth at the 2007 NCAA Cross Country Championships - ASU's second Top 4 finish in three years - during the past fall.
'When you look at our middle distance group, Kari Hardt was very significant for us last year at 1,500m,' Kraft said. 'She is a very talented athlete, as are all of our distance runners, and Coach Louie Quintana has done a great job bringing in runners. It is undetermined where we will elect to put our personnel, but Hardt and Jenna Kingma are both strong in the 1,500m run and we will look for them to provide a spark in these events.'
Both women could be asked to provide a spark in the longer distances as well where ASU has flourished in recent years. With runners like 2007 cross country All-Americans Kingma and Ali Kielty, the Sun Devils are poised for another solid season in the steeplechase, 5,000m and 10,000m events.
'Traditionally, we are very strong in the steeplechase and historically, it has been someone under the radar that has stepped up and performed well in the event and I feel that will be the case again this year,' Kraft said. 'Because the steeplechase has been the springboard for us at the championships (first day events with the 10,000m run), I feel we will do fine again this year with finding a few athletes that will excel and start us off strong in the meet.'
In years past, the Sun Devils have had conference champions in the three long runs (steeplechase, 5,000m and 10,000m), including winning six of the seven steeplechase titles contested at the Pac-10 meet. Whether it is a veteran runner or a newcomer that steps into the role of a point-scorer in the longer races, Kraft sees the weather as being a possible advantage this year.
'Regardless of the location of the meet, I feel that Coach Quintana does a great job preparing his runners for the distance events every year,' Kraft said. 'But, I do believe, to a certain extent, that the weather and the heat in May [in Arizona] will play a psychological role on the distance runners at the Pac-10 meet and I think that will only help us in a 'home field' advantage for the meet for our distance group.'
Although the depth is not prevalent, the talent is great in the jumps and pole vault area, especially with the return of 2007 NCAA outdoor pole vault champion April Kubishta and five-time NCAA multi-event champion Jacquelyn Johnson.
'We are going to be thin in the jumps this year,' Kraft said. 'Johnson has won the Pac-10 high jump title in the past (2004) and she will be our go-to competitor in that event. In the long jump, we have two excellent prospects in Johnson and Stephanie Garnett, a returning All-American who had injury problems last year, but is looking to return to form this year.'
Under the guidance of volunteer coach Ron Barela, the Sun Devils will once again turn their gaze to the sky above in search of points and another individual national title.
'We have two scorers back this year, most notably our outdoor national champion, April Kubishta,' Kraft said. 'Alana Waterford was somewhat of a surprise for us last year finishing in sixth place at the Pac-10 Championships and we look for her to be much improved from that performance this year.'
Two national titles, seven All-America honors, two Pac-10 titles and a member of Team USA at the IAAF World Championships were just some of the accolades earned from the throws group in 2007. With all of its members back this year, the expectations for success could not be any higher.
'What can you say? Coach David Dumble has built one of the finest throws programs in the nation,' Kraft said. 'When you have two national champions returning in the same event, it doesn't get much better than that. We have two women in Sarah Stevens and Jessica Pressley that really can make up two-thirds of our Olympic Team in China this year. When you look at their success in the shot put and what they bring to the team in the discus and hammer, you stop and realize how many points they can score.'
But Stevens and Pressley will not be the only athletes asked to lead the women in 2008.
'Kind of overlooked last year because of their national titles was Tai Battle, who was instrumental in helping us win the outdoor national title by finishing runner-up in the discus,' Kraft said. 'Tai really exemplified what our team was about last year by finishing second in the nation and gave us eight team points, but arguably she was the third-best thrower on our team. That is not any disrespect to Tai, but it is a testament to how our women get prepared to compete and the tremendous job Dumble has done with our throwers.'
Another interesting aspect of the group is the potential carried by the javelin throwers.
'Jacquelyn Johnson can absolutely do anything she wants and should be a factor in the event this year,' Kraft said. 'We also have some talented throwers behind her, like Lissa Regets, who set the school record last year. We are very interested in Addison McGrath, who has never competed in the event, but has been our water polo team's leading scorer and Coach Dumble is excited to see what she can bring to the event with her strength.'
Five-time NCAA champion Jacquelyn Johnson returns for her final season of collegiate competition in 2008 and will look to add to her trophy collection, as well as her growing legend, in the indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon.
'I have said it before, but Jacquelyn Johnson is a phenomenal athlete,' Kraft said. 'She has found ways to win at the national meet and we expect that she will win two more titles this year.'
The two-time pentathlon champion and three-time heptathlon champion will also be looking to add her name to an elite list come championship time as very few have found as much success as Johnson. Indoors, only eight other women in NCAA history have won the same event three times in a career while outdoors sees a list of just three others that are four-time champions. Johnson, a two-time Pac-10 heptathlon champion as well, will look to add her name to a list that includes former Sun Devil Maicel Malone.
THE SUN DEVIL MEN
Hidden amongst the success their female counterparts enjoyed in 2007 was a strong showing from the Arizona State University men's track and field team. The Sun Devils turned in several impressive performances that have set the team up to once again contend for conference championships as well as success on the national stages.
'When I look at our men's team, I really see a parallel to our women's team from two years ago,' Head Coach Greg Kraft said. 'I saw a core of (women's) athletes that were very talented, very competitive and very united and were able to run off and win the Pac-10 and trophy indoors and out. I feel the men have a group of talented and competitive individuals that will come together as a team when the time comes.'
The goal of a Pac-10 Championship -- the men's first since 1981 -- was nearly realized in 2007. With only two individual champions in Aaron Aguayo and Matt Turner, the Sun Devils missed out on giving ASU a clean sweep of the top position on the team podium.
'The men got beat in the Pac-10 by three points last year (to Oregon) and we only had a couple of Pac-10 champions in Aaron Aguayo in the steeplechase, who will be sorely missed, and Matt Turner in the long jump,' Kraft said. 'USC and Oregon had far more Pac-10 champions than us and it just shows you the type of team we have and the balance we have at the Pac-10 Championships from the 100m to 10,000m through the jumping and throwing events.'
Similar to the women in 2006, the Sun Devil men of 2008 will turn to a core of experienced athletes to lead the way while also looking to a youth movement for assistance.
'I think we will mirror our women from two years ago when we go to the meet and come out with a team title,' Kraft said. 'We will have an opportunity to overwhelm teams with our balance and, like the women, the bottom line is talent and we have both talent and balance this year. Our expectation is to win the Pac-10 this year and to not just be in the Top 10, but trophy (Top 4) at the national meets, especially the outdoor championships.'
While the goal of trophies at both NCAA Championships is the larger goal, the men will have their best opportunity to bring home the hardware on the outdoor surfaces of Des Moines, Iowa, in June.
'I think our men's team plays well to be more successful outdoors with the addition of the 4x100m relay, the steeplechase and 400m hurdles,' Kraft said. 'Our teams - men and women - are always built to win the Pac-10 and, if we are able to do that, then we should be set up well to trophy at the national championships. Overall, I expect our teams to continue to contend for championships and keep Arizona State at the top of the standings in every event we enter.'
With the additions of several top-notch short sprinters this year, the Sun Devils are feeling good about their chances to not only find success in the individual events, but also bring the tradition of the program's relay success back to national prominence.
'We have a pair of junior college athletes coming in this year for the short sprints and we are excited about what they bring to the table,' Kraft said. 'Marcus Duncan won the junior college national title in the 100m dash the past two years and was one of the top under-19 runners in the country. We feel he is an immediate threat to win the 100m and 200m events at the national meet this year. He is a big-time talent with big-time ability and that will lead to big-time expectations. Along with Marcus, we also look for Calvin Abram to provide depth in the short sprints after a successful stint at Barton County.'
'We have Jimmie Gordon back in the 400m this year and are excited for what he can do,' Kraft said. 'He sat out his first year with a hamstring issue and then began making some great progress last year, advancing to the semifinals of the 400m dash at the NCAA meet. He is much improved than he has been and will be yet another 45-second quarter-miler on ASU's long list of 45-second 400m runners. We also have Justin Kremer, who qualified for the U.S. junior team in the 400m dash, but declined his invitation. He looks to make another step in his career after a solid year of training at the collegiate level.'
With the additions of Duncan and Abram, the short sprints have seen an immediate upgrade this year. The same can be said about the intermediate hurdles with two junior college standouts ready to compete at the Division I level.
'Marquis Profit made the finals in both hurdle events one year ago and I feel he will be back there this year,' Kraft said. 'But, right now, he is arguably our third-best hurdler on the team with the additions of Darryl Elston and Joel Phillip. Elston was undefeated at Barton County in the 400m hurdles and won the national title in 50.58. We look for him to contend right away at the conference and national levels. Phillip (51.50) is an outstanding athlete and we look for the 400m hurdles to be an event that we earn significant points and that could be the event that gets us over the hump at the Pac-10 Championships.'
Historically, ASU track & field has been led by its sprinters with the relays setting the tone. With the wealth of talent assembled this year in the sprints, the Sun Devils appear poised to make a name for themselves in both the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.
'Our 4x100m relay team is very interesting this year,' Kraft said. 'We have run fast under Coach Terry Winston, but have done so primarily with 400m runners. When you look at Abram and Duncan, that could take this group back to the sub-39-second range and I am very optimistic about this group of sprinters this year. We are not extremely deep for the 4x400m relay this year, but with the talent we have in guys like Gordon, Elston and Phillip, we should be back in the finals at the NCAA Championships this year.'
Similar to the sprints, veterans will be key this year in the mid-distance/distance area, but the addition of talented newcomers should also play a larger role in the team's success in 2008.
'Jack Mann is a returning scorer and did a wonderful job for us last year and we look for him to do so again this year,' Kraft said. 'What I am looking forward to is perhaps one of the most exciting prospects to come out of the Northwest in quite some time in Nectaly Barbosa, who has run 1:49 and 4:08. He ran that before being injured and I think had he stayed healthy, he would have been on everyone's radar as the top middle-distance runner in the country. We look for him to come in and make an immediate impact in the shorter distance races this year.'
The longer distances will be bolstered by several returning athletes, including a trio of runners that helped ASU to a 26th-place showing at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in the fall. One of those runners is Kyle Alcorn, an early favorite to contend for the national title in the steeplechase.
'When you look at the longer events, we are going to be led by Kyle Alcorn, who also is a talented mid-distance runner, but his best event is the steeplechase where he has run 8:35 and is a returning All-American,' Kraft said. 'We look for him to pick up where Aaron Aguayo left off last year. He is a returning scorer in the steeplechase and 5,000m at the Pac-10 level and we expect him to contend to win both events this year at the conference meet.'
The distance corps also will have a pair of runners that are coming off a strong cross country season, including Jeff Helmer, the team's top finisher at the national meet in his first run at that competition.
'Jeff Helmer and Joey Heller did outstanding jobs for us this year in cross country, taking us back to the national meet, and I look for them to really step and earn points for us on the track,' Kraft said. 'Just like the women, I feel our men's distance runners will be prepared to compete in the heat in Tempe during the Pac-10 meet and I am optimistic in what they will bring to the team this year.'
The jumps group features the Sun Devil men's lone returning Pac-10 champion in Matt Turner, who captured the long jump in 2007. The conference's runner-up in the high jump and fifth in the triple jump, Turner will be looked to build upon his success from last year in helping lead the team in his senior season.
'Matt Turner transferred here last year from Cal State Fullerton and really, for the first time in his career, had a presence at the national meet,' Kraft said. 'He was an All-American, he won the Pac-10 and improved by over one-foot. He had great marks and, not to put the jinx on him, he is way better this year than last.'
Along with Turner, the Sun Devils could produce some high finishes at the Pac-10 meet, especially with addition of a talented junior college competitor.
'We look for Turner to have some support from Jeremy Egboro and Joel Phillip,' Kraft said. 'Phillip was the national champion in the junior college decathlon last year is a very talented competitor. We also see him supporting Turner in the high jump.'
A pair of men return for the pole vault this year and, with one year of experience under their belts and more time to train under Coach Ron Barela, expectations are high for continued improvement in the vault.
'Joe Fazio, who jumped five meters last year, will lead us this year,' Kraft said. 'He has slimmed down this fall and we look for him to make the move to clearances in the 5.10m to 5.20m range. If he can do that, he will score at the Pac-10 meet for us. He will be backed by Corey Phallen, who we look to see improve throughout the year as well.'
Similar to the women's group, the men's throws has continued to grow under the direction of Coach David Dumble and 2008 should be no different with two-time All-American Ryan Whiting leading the way for a young and talented group of student-athletes.
'We have excellent depth and great talent up front this year in the throws,' Kraft said. 'We are led by returning indoor and outdoor All-American Ryan Whiting, who accomplished that feat as a redshirt freshman last year. We look for him to contend for Pac-10 titles in the shot put and discus this year and really in the shot put as well nationally. He is an outstanding talent that had a tremendous fall and I feel that is going to translate into another solid year of competition.'
Whiting will not be asked to carry the group on his own, especially with a pair of talented throwers behind him that carry the skills to score at the conference and national levels.
'Jason Lewis had great success in the shot put, hammer and discus last year as a redshirt freshman and is really evolving to where his performances will play out in the championship events,' Kraft said. 'Tomas Navarro has scored in the shot put at the Pac-10 Championships and, with his improvement, it is not out of the question that we could have three shot putters at the national championships this year.'
The javelin produced 14 points last year at the Pac-10 Championships as Andrew Smith (second) and Brad Roth (third) had break-out seasons with each moving into the Top 5 all-time in ASU history. Despite the loss of Smith to graduation, the coaching staff knows Roth is ready for 2008.
'Brad Roth had an outstanding spring for us last year and, unfortunately, strained his groin before the regional meet and that really hurt his chances in the post season,' Kraft said. 'He is definitely going to contend for a Pac-10 title in the javelin this year and we are excited for him because he has worked very hard this fall.'
The indoor heptathlon and outdoor decathlon could be another place for points to be scored with the addition of NJCAA decathlon champion Joel Phillip. The only question is how the talented athlete will be utilized during his first campaign with the Sun Devils.
'Joel Phillip is an outstanding athlete and we look for him to compete in the decathlon at the Pac-10 meet,' Kraft said. 'But, he might not compete in the national meet because of his talents in individual events. He could possibly help the team more in the 4x400m relay and the intermediate hurdles and we will have to make that decision when the time comes.'
THE COACHING STAFF
While the athletes are the ones competing in the events, the coaching staff Kraft has assembled has worked tirelessly to build one of the top programs in the nation.
'Both of our programs have gained some national notoriety for being so balanced and that is really a credit to out coaches working so hard to develop their event groups and not letting 12.6 scholarships limit what our goal is, to field a championship track & field team,' Kraft said. 'When you look at our coaching staff, you see a group that is passionate about what they do and are great teachers.
'When you look at the fall that we had, there were only eight schools that had both their men's and women's teams at the national cross country meet and that is really a credit to Coach Louie Quintana,' Kraft said. 'At this point in his tenure, this is certainly his team. A number of the athletes before, you could credit Coach (Walt) Drenth for and he will always have his fingerprints on this program, but Coach Quintana is just a tireless worker and is truly the total package when it comes to bringing the top talent and molding them into successful athletes both individually and for the team.
'In the sprints, I believe we have two of the emerging elite coaches in the country in Coach Terry Winston and Coach Kenny McDaniel,' Kraft said. 'Winston is really on the brink of making some noise on the national level this year with the caliber of athletes he has assembled. He is excited to get the season underway, but he is wise enough to know the races that matter are in May and June and I know he and Coach McDaniel will do their best in preparing our sprinters for championship runs.
'Coach David Dumble has really built arguably the best throws program in the country,' Kraft said. 'When you look a the success Sarah Stevens had, not just winning multiple Pac-10 titles (shot put and discus) and a national title, but going to Osaka, Japan (IAAF World Championships), in the shot put at this young age is nothing short of phenomenal. What he has done across the board with his men and women has really put our program on very solid footing.
'Along with our full-time coaches, our volunteers mean a lot to our program as well with the time and effort they put in daily,' Kraft said. 'Ron Barela, our pole vault coach, is more than a volunteer. He really embodies what we talk about. He is selfless with his time that he gives to our program and our athletes and no one was more deserving in having a national champion in the pole vault than Coach Barela.
'Dan O'Brien, multiple world champion and Olympic champion decathlete, brings an enthusiasm to the team with his positive nature,' Kraft said. 'Ryan Cole is just like the graduate assistants before him. Whether it was Jeremy Rasmussen or Louie Quintana or Jason Dunn, Ryan is just like them in he enjoys what he is doing and is a tireless worker that is really an unsung hero in our program.
'The success that we enjoy as a program really is aided by those that are within the program, like our sports performance coach Ben Hilgart and our athletic trainer Frank Perez and his assistants,' Kraft said. 'They are hidden heroes that people don't see and those are the ones that work with the athletes every day and really help us achieve our goals. Without all of these staff members, we would not be where we are today as a program.'
JOE SELLEH TRACK AT SUN ANGEL STADIUM
Prior to the start of the 2008 track and field season, Joe Selleh Track at Sun Angel Stadium was resurfaced with the newest Mondo product, Mondotrack FTX. The first track in the world to have the surface (second will be Beijing's Olympic Stadium), Sun Angel Stadium should be one of the faster venues in 2008.
'We are going to have one of the finest facilities with the resurfacing that has taken place this year,' Kraft said. 'It is one of the top running surfaces in the world and I know that will translate into an exciting season of meets this year and in years to come.'
The running lanes, along with the runways for the pole vault and javelin in the `D' zones, will be maroon while the exchange zones on the track and the remaining areas of the north and south `D' zones will be gold.
Along with the new running surface this year, ASU will be adding the Pac-10 Championships to the events it will host, meaning numerous teams and athletes will be competing on the top surface in the world in one of four quality meets in Tempe.