2007 Sun Devil Women's Track & Field Season Outlook
Jan. 18, 2007
2007 SUN DEVIL WOMEN'S TRACK & FIELD OUTLOOK
To say the 2006 track and field season for the Arizona State University women's team was a banner year would be a huge understatement. The Sun Devils exploded onto the national scene at the NCAA Indoor Championships with a third-place national finish. They followed that by winning their first Pac-10 Championship before heading to Sacramento, Calif., where they tied for fourth place nationally. As the 2007 seasons approaches, expectations and goals are high for the Sun Devil women.
'We are looking at moving up on the national list, which is a short list,' Greg Kraft, the program's 11th-year head coach, said. 'We return 29 of our 30 points that earned us a third-place finish at the indoor national championships last year and also return 27 of our 37 points from the outdoor meet. We have matured and improved a lot from last year. Losing Victoria Jackson will have an impact on us after she won an outdoor national title and accounted for 18 points at the Pac-10 Championships, but a lion's share of our points are back this year and I feel all of those women, from the 100 meters to the 10,000 meters and all nine of the field events, that we are significantly better in 2007.'
After securing four trophies last year (including a fourth-place showing at the 2005 NCAA Cross Country Championships), the women have national crowns in sight.
'We definitely have team goals this year, but it is a collective effort by everyone taking care of their own business and controlling what they can control,' Kraft said. 'The only thing they can control is what they do; their training and resting, etc., and the team goals will be taken care of if they continue to take care of their own business.'
With so much returning talent on the roster and the addition of several key components, the Sun Devils have put themselves in a position to succeed.
'I think this will be one of the first times we enter the season with a target on our chests,' Kraft said. 'In the past, we have played the `Boise State-Fiesta Bowl' chip that no one respects us and we are under-ranked. Track and Field News came out in December and had us projected in a three-team race with South Carolina and Texas A&M for the national title, all within three points of each. It is flattering they are paying attention to us, but on the flip side, we still have to continue to train and show up ready to compete each and every time.'
As the fall and early winter training winds down and the competition dates draw near, the Sun Devils look ready to pick up where they left off in 2006.
'Everyone has been training well this fall and I am very excited to see what we can do once competition begins,' Kraft said. 'I like the maturity of our team. What I like about our women's team is that from No. 1 to No. 40, every athlete is competitive.'
All puns aside, the throws group has certainly become a strength for the women's program in recent years, especially with the emergence of All-Americans Sarah Stevens and Jessica Pressley. The duo earned four All-America honors between them in 2006 and will be counted upon to continue their surges toward the top of the standings again in 2007.
'One of our strengths certainly is the throwing events and Sarah Stevens and Jessica Pressley really do lead this group,' Kraft said. 'Stevens was a Pac-10 Champion and All-American as a red-shirt freshman and has the potential to be a four-time champion in the shot put and not many women can say that. Right behind her is Pressley who, combined with Stevens, are going to have a big impact on what we do at the conference level, particularly at the national championships indoors. It will be exciting to watch them compete after the great fall of training they had.'
Although Stevens and Pressley will be carrying the load up front, the program has another talented newcomer waiting in the wings. Tai Battle brings solid depth to the throws group and has the potential to give the Sun Devils extra points in the championships.
'Battle, a transfer from Moorpark Community College, is right behind Stevens on the US Junior list in the discus,' Kraft said. 'The discus looks like an event that we could have the potential to finish 1-2-3 and that is really huge for us, especially as we try to defend our Pac-10 title.'
Kraft also looks for two other women to add points to the team total while competing in the javelin.
'Becky Holley has done a nice job and improved each year,' Kraft said. 'We feel she is ready to do some nice things for us on the conference level. Jacquelyn Johnson also has improved in her field events and we feel she could potentially score for us in the javelin this year as well.'
DISTANCE & MID-DISTANCE
A big key to the Sun Devils' successful run to a conference championship was the running of the distance athletes, who accounted for 71 of the team's 154 points.
'This group really got us going last year and came in to save the day with a great 5,000m run showing,' Kraft said. 'There are five distance events and we are a little thin on the 800m and 1,500m side of things, but that will depend on how we decide to use our personnel. Jessie McLaughlin and Whitney Lemieux really need to step up and give us a presence in those events and I feel they will do so.'
They will not be alone as the team could also send out Jenna Kingma, the cross country team's top finisher much of the 2006 season.
'Kingma was a scorer for us in the 1,500m last year and has evolved after exploding on the scene since then,' Kraft said. 'She scored indoors last year and really helped us to a third-place team finish. For her to score in the 1,500m and then run in the 5,000m as a redshirt freshman in the Pac-10 Championships, that is no easy double by any stretch and Kingma showed she is capable of competing at a high level for us.'
Depth is certainly not a concern of the longer races for this group, including the 3,000m steeplechase, an event the Sun Devil program has dominated at the conference level, winning all six races run. And speaking of depth, five different women have won the event for ASU.
'The steeplechase has always been an event our women have excelled at and we have three women on our roster this year who are former Pac-10 champions in the event in Amy Hastings (2004), Anna Masinelli (2005) and Brooke Bennett (2006),' Kraft said. 'Having the potential to go 1-2 to start the meet, just as we did last year, and add in an improved Corey Randall, it is a big deal to earn 20-plus points to start and we need to do that again this year.'
Another big deal last year was the Sun Devils' presence in the final distance event of the conference meet, the 5,000m run.
'I always tell the teams that at the conference championships, we need to have a presence in the last three events (200m dash, 5,000m run and 4x400m relay) to make a run at a title,' Kraft said. 'When we lined up eight runners in the event last year, it sent the message to everyone what our intent was. To have five women score was a big deal and really helped us win. I feel the 5,000m run should help us again this year with four returning scorers.'
Despite losing the conference champion in Victoria Jackson at 5,000m, the Sun Devils do return third-place finisher and indoor 5,000m NCAA Champion Amy Hastings, along with Kingma (fifth), Bennett (seventh) and Randall (eighth). Several of these women also will be counted upon to pick up valuable points in the 10,000m run as the team looks to repeat as champions.
'The 10,000m was another strong event for us last year and going 1-2 was big,' Kraft said. 'Cassie Rios finishing fourth to earn more points for the team was huge not only for the team race, but it was a stepping-off point for her this fall in cross country. Losing Jackson is certainly a loss for us and we will have to do this by committee, but having Hastings up front and Rios continuing to improve is great. We now just need someone to step into Rios' shoes and get some points we might not have counted on.'
SPRINTS, HURDLES & RELAYS
The group in the program that has continued to improve and appears ready to make some noise in 2007 is the sprinters, hurdlers and relays. Although the group does not possess the depth of other areas, they do have several key components that will help the team in its quest for championships.
'We have a similar situation to the distance group in that we are thin in the shorter events like the 100m and 200m,' Kraft said. 'Bridgette Williams had a great fall and I look for her to double for us at the Pac-10 meet; I am just not sure what two events that will be. Latoya Imadiyi has really improved in the 100m and 200m this fall and we look for her to break through and score in one of the events this year.'
Moving into the longer events, the 400m dash and the 400m hurdles, the women will look to count upon an improved Latosha Wallace to propel the team on.
'In the quarter mile, Williams is vastly improved, but Wallace is really the heart and soul of the team,' Kraft said. 'She had an incredible double last year in the 400m hurdles and the open quarter before running in the 4x400m relay. She will have to do the same thing again this year and, just like Williams, she has improved greatly this fall. Both had great junior college careers, have really improved every day they have been on campus and I look forward to seeing them shine for us in 2007.'
Although she is considered the heart and soul of the team, Wallace will have two younger athletes with her as the coaching staff hopes to see them learn from the veteran leader.
'True freshman Jasmine Chaney came in under the radar as a multiple state champion and we are hoping she can break through to the finals in both the 100m and 400m hurdle events this year,' Kraft said. 'Shauntel Elcock came last year as a mid-year student after a storied high school career in Indiana, but truthfully came in out of shape and did not have the impact we were hoping for. She needs to step up this year to really help us over the hump and I feel she will.'
The sprint group also will rely on the skills of Jacquelyn Johnson, the third-place finisher in the 100m hurdles at the 2006 Pac-10 Championships.
'Johnson was a third-place finisher in the 100m hurdles last year and is one of the top returning hurdlers in the conference,' Kraft said. 'The success she enjoys in the multi-events really starts with the hurdles. She is a great competitor and I expect nothing less of her than to earn points in the events again this year.'
Last year, the women earned several points from the jumping events, including the long jump and the high jump. Heading into the 2007 season, the coaches feel that will be the same this year with more points and the addition of points from another event.
'We are thin in this area, but, just like the other event groups, good up front,' Kraft said. 'Jacquelyn Johnson is a former Pac-10 champion in the high jump and was the runner-up last year following a marathon jump-off. She also was sixth-place in the long jump and that shows she can do it all. We can't have her do it all for us to win and I feel there are several women ready to step up.
'Stephanie Garnett was an All-American in the long jump indoors and a MPSF runner-up indoors, but tired a little outdoors and only finished eighth in the conference,' Kraft said. 'I know she is better than that finish and I look for her to move up the standings this season.'
Several years ago, the Sun Devils did not have a pole vaulter on the roster. Entering the 2007 campaign, the women now boast three vaulters that could have a significant impact on the team races, both on the conference and national levels.
'In the pole vault, we return a deep squad that is led by April Kubishta, who seemingly recorded personal best clearances by a centimeter each week last year,' Kraft said. 'She was in position to be a significant scorer at the indoor national meet, but a really bad illness hit her that really held her back much of the rest of the season. For us to reach our goals, she just needs to do what she is capable of and that is jump very high. I like the fall training she had this year and I am excited to see her compete. Supporting her are Cara Walker and Alana Waterford, both of which could be four-meter or better jumpers. If they do that at the right time, they could score significant points for us.'
Jacquelyn Johnson returns for her junior year and is holder of three NCAA titles after sweeping the indoor pentathlon and outdoor heptathlon in 2006. One of the top athletes in the nation, Johnson has her sights set on repeating her national sweep as well as adding a third Pac-10 heptathlon crown.
'Johnson can do it all,' Kraft said. 'She continues to improve and is one of the top athletes in the nation. I am excited to see her compete and I look forward to watching her contend for more national titles in 2007.'