Feb. 13, 1997

Men's Track and Field Turns Attention To Big Ten Championships

UP NEXT:
Thursday Feb. 13 MICHIGAN STATE OPEN JENISON FIELD HOUSE 5 p.m.

THE FRIENDLY CONFINES:
The Michigan State men's indoor track and field squad closes out the regular season with the Michigan State Open, held Feb. 13 at Jenison Fieldhouse. Field events begin at 5 p.m., with running events taking off at 6 p.m. The co-ed meet marks the fourth home meet of the season for the Spartans, as they also hosted the Michigan State Invitational (Jan. 18), the Spartan Invitational (Feb. 1) and the Central Collegiate Championships (Feb. 7-8; see full story below). After winding up this Thursday's meet, the Green and White turn their attention to the granddaddy of them all, the Big Ten Championships in Iowa City, Iowa, held Feb. 22-23.

BAKER BUSTS 3,000 BEST:
While the Spartan indoor track and field team was preparing for the Central Collegiate Championships held Feb. 7-8, head coach Darroll Gatson decided to dispatch his dynamic duo of distance runners, senior Ryan Kennedy (Rochester Hills) and sophomore Kyle Baker (Anderson, Ind.), to the Cannon IV Classic for that weekend. Held at Butler University in indianapolis, Ind., the classic is known for historically fast times and stiff competition. Gatson's strategy was for the quick pace to spur both Baker and Kennedy to reach NCAA Championships qualifying times.

Although it may seem like a questionable move, it proved to be a brilliant strategy that succeeded beyond Spartan expectations. In what may turn out to be the highlight of the 1996-97 indoor season, Baker shattered the Michigan State University indoor record in the 3,000 meters, busting through the finish line in an extraordinary 8:06.02. His time topped the mark set by former Spartan great Anthony Hamm, 8;11.04, set in Hamm's tremendous 1991 season. Baker reached the NCAA provisional qualifying time of 8:12.00. In crushing Hamm's record by more than five seconds, Baker became the first Spartan to etch his name in the record books since 1992, when both Larry Harden (55 high hurdles; 7.30 seconds) and Chris Brown (600 meters; 1:18.85) left their marks in MSU track history.

Despite the record, Baker's time placed him third in the event. However the two that topped him, Mark Croghan (unattached, 7:56.91) and Tony Casey (Team Adidas, 8:04.36), left Baker as the highest- ranking collegian in the race. In his spectacular 1997 season, Baker has not been outdistanced by an opposing collegiate runner. Fellow Spartan Ryan Kennedy was the only one to find a chink in the armor, edging him out in the mile during the Spartan Invitational (Feb. 1).

Not to be upstaged, Kennedy also made headlines. He surged to the finish line in the mile, also eclipsing an NCAA provisional qualifying time. He stopped the watch in 4:06.07, placing him sixth in the contest. But more importantly, Kennedy slipped in under the NCAA provisional mark of 4:06.50. He heads into the final part of the season with tremendous momentum and will be a strong contender for the Big Ten Championship after placing fourth last season in a time of 4:13.16.

Both Baker's and Kennedy's times would have gained race victories in the Central Collegiates. Eastern Michigan's Ben Reese, named Central Collegiate Championships Athlete of the Year, won both events in their absence. He timed in 8:35.57 in the 3,000, while stopping the watch in 4:12.15 in the mile.

THE CROWN JEWEL:
The 71st annual Central Collegiate Championships, one of the biggest men's indoor track and field meets in the country, found its 1997 home last week at Jenison Fieldhouse. Eastern Michigan collared the coveted title, clinching the victory with a thrilling win in the final race. Leading second-place Michigan by only a few points heading into the last event, the 4x400 relay, EMU came from behind to pass both Central Michigan and Michigan in the final leg and moved into first place for the race. The Eagles (148.5 points) took home the title by outdistancing Michigan (139) and Central Michigan (91). Toledo (65) used three points in the 4x400 to push themselves into fourth ahead of Michigan State (64). Western Michigan (60.5), Eastern Illinois (52), Notre Dame (26), DePaul (22), Detroit Mercy (16), Loyola (14) and Bradley (2) rounded out the competition. Eastern regained the event championship, ending the Wolverines' two-year reign. EMU has finished in either first or second in every Central Collegiate during the 1990s, including five straight event titles to open the decade.

SPARTAN HIGHLIGHT REEL:
Michigan State propelled their way into a fifth-place finish at the Central Collegiate Championships using a balanced attack from the field event crew, the sprint squad and the distance team. Despite missing their two top runners, Ryan Kennedy and Kyle Baker, the Spartans displayed a strong effort, tallying 64 points, just one shy of fourth-place Toledo. Sophomore Jason Coulter (Flint) was the Spartan star, sprinting his way to a thrilling victory in the 600-meters. He busted through the finish line in a solid 1:19.19, crushing his competition by almost a full second. The ten points gained from his victory placed him as the highest-scoring Spartan on the day. His victory marked the first MSU individual win in the Central Collegiates since 1995, when Brad Fields won both the 55 dash (6.32) and the 200 dash (21.34) and Chris Lett won the honors in the 3,000 (8:25.10). Coulter narrowly missed the MSU indoor record of 1:18.85, set by Chris Brown in 1992. The only Michigan State victor during the meet did much to impress second-year head coach Darroll Gatson. "Jason Coulter had a breakthrough run. We saw the real Jason Coulter today - he ran aggressive and like a Big Ten runner. This was just the tip of the iceberg for Jason - he's starting to get his confidence, run aggressively and do some of the things we had talked about in his training," stated Gatson. Battling sore knees, freshman Okoineme Giwa-Agbomeirele (Midland) was the lone Spartan to chalk up points in two events. He grabbed five with a fourth-place finish in the long jump (23 feet, 0.5 inches) and took four more tallies with a fifth-place leap in the triple jump (46 feet, 9.5 inches). Fellow frosh Everett Edgar (Southfield) bounded 21 feet, 2 inches, in the long jump and 42 feet, 3.5 inches in the triple jump, finishing 10th and 15th, respectively, in those events.

The 5,000 featured a foursome of Spartans, as freshman Joe Leo (Northville) led the group by crossing the finish line in 14:47.81, landing him in third place overall. Immediately behind Leo was fellow Spartan Brendan Banyon (So., St. Joseph's), as he hit the tape in 14:53.82, good for five points and a fourth-place finish. Sophomores Jake Nay (Columbus, Ind.) and Chris Wehrman (Pinckney) rounded out the crew, timing at 15:12.50 and 15:17.65, respectively.

Sophomore Lee Mays (Muskegon Heights) almost upstaged Coulter in the 600, finishing third in 1:20.68. Had it not been for Coulter's dramatics, Mays' time would have been the best by a Spartan this season. Mays and Coulter combined for 16 points, making this the most productive race for the MSU squad. Freshman Tim White (Arlington Heights, III.) also competed in the event, finishing eleventh in 1:25.06.

Junior Tyrone Garland (Cliffwood, NJ) continued his strong presence in the shot put, launching the rock 52 feet, 4 inches. His fourth-place finish gained him five points for the Spartan charge. In other field event action, the freshman duo of Keith Sudheimer (Farmington) and Matt Ingram (Lyons) each bounded 6 feet, 3.25 inches in the high jump, finishing 10th and 11th, respectively. As the lone Spartan sprinter in the finals of a sprint event, senior Ramsey Watkins (Flint) faced tough competition in the 55 high hurdles. In what proved to be a photo finish between Central Michigan's Greg Richardson (7.40 seconds) and Michigan's Neil Gardner (7.41), Watkins held his own, picking up two points with a seventh-place finish in 7.72 seconds.

A trio of Spartans garnered points in the 3,000-meters. An event MSU has dominated this season, they again ran well despite missing their best 3,000 runner, Kyle Baker. U.S. Air Force Academy transfer Steve Schell (So., Dearborn) led the Green and White band, hitting the tape in fourth, 8:39.39. Junior Jim Marcero (Monroe) and freshman Jason Kokoczka (Jackson) finished in a virtual dead heat in seventh and eighth place, as they reached the finish line in 8:47.01 and 8:47.02, respectively. Despite Ryan Kennedy's absence, the Michigan State milers continued their strong running. Junior Mark Goodfellow (Oxford) finally made his mark on the 1997 campaign, reaching the finish line in a strong 4:15.95, good for fifth place. Wehrman (4:20.01), junior Jim Jurcevich (Defiance, Ohio, 4:22.00) and sophomore Andrew Brittain (Monroe, 4:32.55) helped solidify the Spartan effort. The lone MSU 800-meter runner, senior Todd Richman (Kalamazoo), ran valiantly, but finished 25th in a time of 2:04.93.