Track Kicks Off Season In Flagstaff
Jan. 15, 2009
Just five months after the UA men’s and women’s track and field teams wrapped up the 2008 season with Top-25 finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, they will hit the track again this weekend as they open up the 2009 Indoor Season at the Lumberjack Invitational in Flagstaff, Ariz.
UA head coach Fred Harvey returns a strong veteran group of athletes to team with an impressive bunch of newcomers as both squads enter the season ranked in the USTFCCCA Poll’s Preseason Top-25, showing that Harvey isn’t the only one with high expectations from his team.
“My expectations are relatively high,” Harvey said. “This is a team that has put in a lot of time and hard work and I would like to see them achieve the things they want to achieve.”
“We a good team that just needs to go out there and show the rest of the country what we can do.”
The team returns an impressive cast from last season that includes indoor 400m All-American Bobby McCoy and the NCAA Outdoor National Champion in the high jump in Liz Patterson. They will team up with the likes of shot putter Zack Lloyd, multi-event athlete Shevell Quinley and high jumper Jasmin Day - all of whom earned All-American honors indoors and outdoors last soon - to help lead a squad with a lot of returning stars and a lot of promising freshmen to what hopes to be a strong season for Wildcat track and field.
“I love our leadership and our captains have been true captains,” Harvey said. “They have really stepped up and shown tremendous leadership as far as the attitude and culture that this team is going to be about.”
In a shortened indoor season, no athlete has any time to waste as they work to earn qualifications for the NCAA Indoor National Championships in March. Athletes have only a handful of opportunities to claim an automatic bid and no one can hope that a provisional qualification will be enough.
Because of this, Harvey hopes to see his team hit the ground running, jumping and throwing right off the bat and have impressive performances this first weekend to set the tone for the rest of the year.
The Lumberjack Invite will kick off Friday at 8:30 a.m.
The men’s and women’s track and field squads of last season wrapped up the 2008 campaign in the Top 25 as they finished 23rd and 20th at the NCAA Championships, respectively. For the women, it was the best finish in five years while the men stretch their streak to 5 consecutive years in the Top-25 at the championship meet.
The highlight of the meet was obviously then-sophomore Liz Patterson’s upset of favorite Sharon Day in the women’s high jump to claim the National Title in the event. Patterson cleared a mark of 6-1 1/4 to claim the honor, giving jumps and multi-events coach Sheldon Blockburger his fourth NCAA Champion in as many years.
Fellow sophomore Jasmin Day also earned All-American honors in the event with her seventh place finish, giving her the perfect All-American season after also claiming the prestige during the indoor season.
The men’s shot put team continued to show why the UA is regarded as one of the top throwing schools in the country as three members earned All-American status in the event. Departed seniors Shawn Best and Jarred Sola wrapped up their careers as Wildcats with 5th and 7th place finishes. Then-junior Zack Lloyd finished in fourth while also laying claim to the top collegiate mark on the season of 21.03m, earned at the Pac-10 Championships.
A LOOK AT THE SEASON AHEAD
The Real McCoy
Senior Bobby McCoy enter the 2009 season as one of the UA’s banner athletes (literally, his banner hangs from a light poles just east of Bear Down Field). McCoy will only have indoor eligibility for the season and has already used up his eligibility for the outdoor season. His indoor eligibility comes as a benefit of having missed an indoor season in order to participate in spring training during his stint on the football team.
With that said, McCoy will look to defend and improve upon his fourth place All-American finish at last least NCAA Indoor Championships. McCoy impressed many with the performance, especially after not having even earned a bid to the NCAA Championships until a last chance qualification meet held at Iowa State, and Coach Harvey expects even more impressive performances out of him this season.
“He is looking great. His fitness level is up, his weight is down. He’s just starting to look like an elite 400-meter runner,” Harvey said of McCoy.
McCoy also enters the season as the UA’s all-time record holder in the event. With the coaches praises in mind and the talent McCoy has displayed over the year, it would not seem like too far of a stretch to imagine McCoy as one of the top contenders for the individual 400m title this season.
Wildcats In The Rankings
In the first set of rankings released by the US Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association for the 2009 indoor season, both Wildcat squads find themselves in the top-25 to start things off.
The UA women look to have been propelled by their returning All-American’s and will begin the year ranked No. 15 by the coaches and are the third highest ranking team in the Pac-10, falling behind last year’s Indoor National Champion, Arizona State, and Oregon who will begin the season ranked 6 and 8, respectively.
Stanford is the only other Pac-10 team to crack the initial rankings on the women’s side, coming in at No. 17.
The men enter the preseason rankings in the No. 19 slot and are also the third highest ranked Pac-10 squad, also following behind Oregon and Arizona State, who give the conference a dominating position to start the season coming in at Nos. 1 and 2.
UCLA and Stanford helped to balance out the rankings by rounding out the top-25 in the 24 and 25 positions, giving the Pac-10 5 squads in the initial rankings.
One of the most interesting storylines of the UA season is the impressive amount of freshman that the team will be competing with as the season progresses. Not only will they see plenty of reps as the meets go on, but the coaches are already expecting them to contribute big time marks and score plenty of points for the team right off the bat.
One of the freshmen Harvey is expecting to make a big splash is home-town high school product, James Eichberger. Eichberger, an alumnus of Catalina Magnet High School in Tucson, bring four individual and two relay state titles to the table in the 400m, 800m and 4x400m relay events. His top 800-meter marks were among the best in Arizona high school track’s history.
Harvey believes Eichberger had an impressive season of training leading up to 2009 and expects him to have some big-time performances as the year progresses.
Sprinter Chris McSwain is another athlete that Harvey believes can have an immediate impact and will accomplish some impressive feats during his tenure at Arizona even if its not right away.
“He will perform well this weekend but it will be interesting to see at what level he brings it,” Harvey said. “He’s going to be a big time player at one point or another in his career at Arizona.”
On the women’s side, two athletes that Harvey feels are going to have an immediate impact are what he call the “Hannah Twins”. Freshmen Hanna Henson and Hannah Moen combined to win 7 Arizona high school state titles during their time as prep athletes at the 4A-II level and are now bringing that competition to the next level.
Both enjoyed plenty of success during the Fall cross country season, consistently scoring points for the team and will aim to score points of another sort as the season progresses.
Hurdles Dahlys Marshall and Georgeanna Moline are two other freshmen that could make a splash right off the bat, especially on a team that was looking for depth in the hurdling spots.’
Marshall is an accomplished sprinter as well and will begin the season as the top runner on the 100m, 200m, and 100m hurdles depth chart based upon her high school times.
Moline owns the second fastest 300-meter hurdle time in Arizona prep history and carries with her multiple state titles as she steps on to the big stage beginning Saturday
The Road to Nationals
Unlike the outdoor season, indoor track and field requires a much different set of criteria in order to qualify for the national meet. During the outdoor season, athletes aim for a regional qualification and must perform well at the regional meet in order to advance to Nationals. During the indoor season, there is no middle ground and every meet serves as a chance to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
In order to make it to the grand stage - hosted in College Station, Texas in March - each event has an automatic qualifying mark that athletes must achieve in order to advance. If not all the automatic marks are met, then athletes still have a chance to move on based on provisional scores where the best marks that did not meet the automatic criteria will move on based on a descending order list.
With only eight weekends available to earn a qualification, it is pivotal that athletes waste little time getting into the swing of things because before anyone knows it, the deadline has passed and the opportunity to move on has passed with it. This is why Harvey feels its very important that his team has a strong showing this opening weekend in order to instill in his athletes that there is precious time to waste.