UA Track & Field Soars Through 2003 Season

July 1, 2003

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The University of Arizona's men's and women's cross country and track and field program ushered in a lot of changes when the 2002-2003 seasons began. The biggest change being a new look to the coaching staff. Long-time associate head coach Fred Harvey took the reigns as Director of Track & Field and Cross Country for the Wildcats. The Wildcats also welcomed Dr. James Li to head up the UA cross country teams and serve as the distance coach during the track season.

The 2003 track and field season was capped off by some incredible performances at the 2003 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Sacramento State University. The Wildcats came home with two All-Americans and four top-ten performances. Junior Connie Jerz and sophomore Sean Shields earned All-America honors at the meet. Jerz finished second in the pole vault with a personal best vault of 14 feet, 1 1/4 inches (4.30m). Shields placed 10th in the shot put final with a throw of 59-1 1/2 (18.02m)

The 2003 NCAA meet was also highlighted by freshman Robert Cheseret's third-place finish in the 5,000 meters. Cheseret held off Seth Hejny of Stanford in the final 100 meters to hold on to the number-three spot, finishing in a time of 13:52.17. Also, junior Ilona Rutjes was fifth in the women's discus final. Rutjes hit a long throw with her first attempt of the competition, which also turned out to be her best. She finished with a throw of 177 feet, 3 inches (54.02m).

The Wildcats' 2003 season was also highlighted by three top-ten performances and two All-Americans at the 2003 NCAA Indoor Championships. Shields was a sixth-place finisher at the indoor meet in the shot put, hitting a mark of 63 feet, 2 3/4 inches (19.27m), making him an All-American. Junior Amy Linnen was sixth in the pole vault, clearing a height of 13-7 1/4 (4.15m). Linnen suffered an injury during the meet, causing her to miss much of the outdoor season. Junior Kevin Opalka was tenth in the men's pole vault, clearing a height of 17-0 (5.18m).

The NCAA Championships were only part of the highlights during the 2003 season. The Wildcats were all over the record books, rewriting them in every way they could find possible. Altogether, the Wildcats broke five school records and had numerous performances that rank in the top ten in school history.

The record-breaking began during the indoor season for these young Arizona squads. On January 18, the women's 4x400 meter relay squad broke the indoor school record at the Northern Arizona University Invitational. The squad was made up of Sharifa Jones, Chelsea Powell, Lindsay Scarborough and Angel Perkins. They ran a quick pace, crossing the finish line in 3:45.63.

At the Boise Elite Classic on February 8, Sean Shields broke the indoor shot put record with a throw of 64 feet, 3 inches (19.58m), surpassing the old mark by over 15 inches.

The men's distance medley relay team ran their way into the record books on March 1 at the Boston Adidas Classic. Eclipsing the old record by over five seconds, the squad ran a blistering time of 9:41.55. The team was comprised of Graeme Wells, Jevon Mason, Aaron Powell and Robert Cheseret.

The outdoor season was a little less active with record breaking performances, but full of top-ten performances. Though two Wildcats did manage to earn that top spot in the UA record books. In the 400 meter hurdles final at the Pac-10 Championships on May 18, Jeff Hunter ran a speedy 50.47 seconds to take over the top spot in his sophomore season.

Freshman Robert Cheseret wasted no time in making himself a well-known runner across the nation. He also wasted no time in making himself one of Arizona's best distance runners. Cheseret broke the freshman school record in the 5,000 meters at the Mt. SAC Relays on April 17. The young Kenyan ran a time of 13:45.88, which also puts him at number seven on the all-time list.

The Wildcats were at their best during the 2003 season, and that was proven by the numerous performances that rocketed their names up the all-time performances lists. Hunter now holds the record in the 400 meter hurdles, but he also earned the No. 3 spot in the 110 meter high hurdles with a time of 13.76 seconds.

Jevon Mason cranked out a 46.36 second 200 meters to put him at No. 6 at Arizona. The 4x400 meter relay team, made up of Hunter, Matt Lea, Adrain Thomas and Mason, is No. 9 with a time of 3:07.79. Sean Shields moved up to No. 3 in the shot put with his throw of 63-5 1/2.

Richard Legarra made a move up this list in the discus. His throw of 188-10 3/4 stands at No. 7 overall. Legarra took over the No. 6 spot in the hammer with a throw of 199-8. The senior also holds the No. 7 shot put mark in school history. Ryan Moore and Scott Sharpe made their way into the top ten of the hammer, holding the No. 8 and No. 9 spots, respectively.

The Arizona men weren't the only ones making their way into the Wildcats' record books. The Wildcat women had just as great of a season with quite a few outstanding performances. Altogether, the women's team put together 21 top-ten performances during the course of the 2003 season.

Senior Seynabou Ndiaye just continued to improve meet after meet in every race that she prepared for. The sprinter from Senegal made her two years at Arizona memorable as she became quite the competitor. Ndiaye holds the second-best ever performance in the 100 meters with a time of 11.57 seconds, which she ran at the NCAA West Regional. The performance helped her earn a berth to the NCAA Championships, where she made it all the way to the semifinals.

Ndiaye also joined Arizona's top-ten as the leader of the women's 4x100 meter relay squad. The squad's season-best time of 44.86 seconds ranks second in Arizona history. Ndiaye anchored the relay which included first leg Sharifa Jones, followed by Angel Perkins and Marquita Taylor.

Perkins, Jones and Taylor also made strides in their individual events, each becoming an important part of the women's team. Perkins quickly became the team's leading 400-meter runner in her freshman season. Her best time of the season was 52.49 seconds at the double-dual meet with Arizona State and Northern Arizona. Perkins ranks No. 3 on the all-time list. Perkins also holds the No. 7 time in the 200 meters with a time of 23.90 seconds, a race she only ran once all year.

Jones, a sophomore-transfer from Michigan, enjoyed the attention she received in her first season with the Wildcats as she improved to be one of the Wildcats' best hurdlers. She ended the season with a personal best time of 13.36 seconds in the 100-meter high hurdles, placing her at third on the top-ten list. Jones holds the No. 8 spot in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 60.26 seconds. The sophomore also showed off her long-jumping abilities. She rankes No. 2 on the all-time list with a leap of 21 feet, 3 1/2 inches (6.49m).

Taylor, another young freshman on the women's squad, definitely benefited from her teammates throughout the season. At the Pac-10 Championships, Taylor ran a personal best time of 11.80, which prolonged her season and qualified her for the NCAA West Regional. Taylor's time ranks No. 10 in Arizona history.

Sophomore Chelsea Powell was the only Wildcat to break the one-minute barrier in the 400-meters intermediate hurdles for the UA women. Powell's season's best time of 59.73 gives her the No. 7 ranking in UA history. Powell also made her way into the top ten as a member of the 4x400 meter relay team. The team, made up of Jones, Powell, Cocoa Sanford and Perkins, ran a season's best time of 3:40.29 for the eighth fastest time at Arizona.

Junior Beth Hoge enjoyed a successful run during the 2003 season. She had top-ten performances in both the 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters. She ranks No. 4 in the 1,500 meters with a time of 4:21.10 and No. 7 in the 5,000 meters after clock a time of 16:21.86.

Connie Jerz and Juanita Braun made their way into the record books as members of a very strong women's pole vaulting squad. Jerz ranks No. 2 all time behind teammate Amy Linnen with a vault of 14-1 1/4 (4.30m) at the NCAA Championships. Braun continued to enjoy great improvements as she cleared two personal best heights at the NCAA West Regional. Her best vault of 12-10 1/4 (3.92m) ranks her No. 4 on the all-time list.

The women's throwers were definitely a force to be reckoned with as they claimed seven top-ten performances during the 2003 season. Junior college transfer Amber Varner had three of those performances. She sits at No. 4 in the shot put (50-0 1/2, 15.25m), No. 9 in the discus (163-9 1/2, 49.93m) and No. 3 in the hammer (179-3, 54.63m). Amber's younger sister, Rachel, holds two of those spots after her freshman season with the Wildcats. Rachel holds the No. 9 mark in the shot put (47-7 3/4, 14.52m) and No. 8 in the discus (165-8 1/2, 50.51m).

Ilona Rutjes, the junior college record-holder, made herself the No. 4 discus thrower at Arizona with a season's best mark of 178-6 (54.42m). Jackilyn Drake stands at No. 6 in the hammer with a toss of 170-5 (51.94m).

The Wildcats enjoyed a lot of success throughout the 2003 indoor and outdoor seasons. With the new recruits the Wildcats bring in for 2004 and the experience of this year's squad, Arizona continues to take the steps needed as they pursue national prominence and that first national title. If the 2003 season says anything about this program, the 2004 season is going to be an exciting one for the Wildcats.

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