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Feb. 17, 1997

Big Ten Championships Right Around the Corner

Saturday-Sunday Feb. 22-23 Big Ten Championships Iowa City, Iowa

With the regular season completed, the Spartans focus their attention on the biggest meet of the year, the Big Ten Championships. Held Feb. 22-23, this year's event will call Iowa City, Iowa, its home. Michigan State will be looking for its first overall title since 1972.

The Big Ten competitors will be quite unfamiliar to the team from East Lansing. MSU has only faced Indiana and Michigan during the 1996-97 season. They fell to the Hoosiers, 69-52, and the Wolverines, 76-41, during a double dual meet at Michigan on Jan. 11. The Spartans also battled their rivals from Ann Arbor during the Michigan Intercollegiates (Jan. 24) and the Central Collegiate Championships (Feb. 7-8). The Spartans are assured of meeting some pretty stiff competition, however. Last year's champ, Wisconsin, is ranked No.11 in the country by, which also ranks Illinois at No.23 in the land.

Second-year head coach Darroll Gatson confirms the Spartans unfamiliarity with their Big Ten foes and reflects on the squad's mentality heading into the championships: "We don't know where we stand in the Big Ten. But we're going to be competitive. Once you learn to compete, you can get to that next level. We know (Kyle) Baker, (Jason) Coulter and (Ryan) Kennedy are going to be there for us, but we need to see who steps it up. It doesn't matter how we do, but it's how we compete. We're working towards being a competitive team. It's time for some of our athletes to step up."

1996 RECAP:
The Spartans hung tough with their conference rivals, but fell to the back of the pack, finishing ninth, tallying 27 points. Wisconsin came away from Columbus, Ohio, wearing the Big Ten crown, piling up 123 points, 45 better than runner-up Ohio State.

Individually, only Jarion Bradley tasted first place, as he seized the heptathlon's 60-meter high hurdles in 8.12 seconds. Of returning Spartans, senior Ryan Kennedy (Rocchester Hills) displayed the best performance, placing fourth in the mile run in 4:13.16. Junior Jim Jurcevich (Defiance, Ohio) took eighth place in the 5,000 meters, crossing the finish line in 14:48.54. REPEAT OFFENDERS: In an effort to reach an NCAA qualifying time in the distance medley relay, Gatson led a foursome of Spartans to Ypsilanti on Feb. 14, as they competed in the EMU Classic. The strategy paid off for Gatson, as the team of Kennedy, sophomore Jason Coulter (Flint), sophomore Kyle Baker (Anderson, Ind.) and senior Dean Rugh (White Lake) reached the NCAA provisional qualifying status by crossing the finish line in 9:47.95. This easily surpassed the time needed, 9:52.00.

The squad's time also marked the second-fastest time in that event in school history. The 17-year-old school mark of 9:42.14 was set by the team of Tim Kenney, Calvin Thomas, Michael White and Keith Moore in 1980. Despite last week's quick time, Arkansas took home the race victory at the EMU Classic with a smoking time of 9:40.37.

Two members of the MSU squad are now dual provisional qualifiers for the NCAA Championships. Baker and Kennedy both reached the marks individually in the 3,000 meters and the mile, respectively, at the Cannon IV Classic on Feb. 8.

Gatson had high praise for the Spartans' dynamic distance duo of Baker and Kennedy. On Baker's school record 8:06.02 in the 3,000-meters at the Cannon IV Classic, he stated: "It was an outstanding time in a good field. It shows how good an athlete and how good a kid he is - he works incredibly hard. He wasn't satisfied in the way he ran in cross country (11th in Big Ten), and he came into indoor track with a vengeance. He's got an unlimited future."

On Kennedy's solid 1997 season: "He's a veteran. We're looking for him to lead us in the Big Ten (Championships). He's a valuable asset to our team and one of the top runners in the country."

To close out the 1997 regular season, the Spartans hosted their fourth event of the season, the Michigan State Spartan Open, held Feb. 13 at Jenison Fieldhouse. A rare Thursday event was attended by Central Michigan, Saginaw Valley State, Lansing Community College, Southwestern Michigan and Macomb Community College, as well as the hometown Spartans. No team scores were kept, but Central Michigan and Michigan State both had solid meets, while Macomb and Saginaw Valley State ran surprisingly well.

In an effort to rest some of his top runners, the Spartans' lineup featured some new faces as Gatson seized the opportunity to give many of his reserve runners a chance to prove themselves before the Big Ten Championships.

"It was a low-key meet, we just wanted to give some kids a chance to run. It'll get us ready for the Big Tens. It was a fun time - the kids were relaxed and had a good time," said Gatson.

Despite the "low-key" atmosphere, serious competition marked the meet. Any question of that could be answered by the intensity of Central Michigan's Greg Richardson, as he sprinted his way to the 55-high hurdle title in 7.45 seconds. Not all of Michigan State's top runners rested, as distance star Ryan Kennedy looked to better his NCAA provisional qualifying time in the mile. Although he finished behind his best mark, he still won the Open title, breaking the tape in 4:10.32. In that mile race, Spartan senior Eric Eichenger (Kalamazoo; 4:29.08) and junior Brant Lutz (Midland; 4:31.17) finished eighth and 10th, respectively.

Freshman Okoineme Giwa-Agbomeirle (Midland) continued his strong leaping, playing a key role in the long and triple jump events. Known more for his long jump ability, he crushed the field in the triple jump with a leap of 45 feet, 8 inches. However, he was upset in the long jump, falling to JR Kirk of Saginaw Valley State by one inch, 22' 9" to 22' 8". Freshman Everett Edgar (Southfield) also jumped well, hitting the sand at 43' 5 1/4" in the triple jump and 21' 9 1/2" in the long jump.

In other field event action, the freshman duo of Matt Ingram (Lyons) and Keith Sudheimer (Farmington) took second and fourth place, respectively, with leaps of 6' 6" and 6' 4". Sophomore Justin Selden (Reese) made a contribution in the shot put, heaving the rock 44' 3 1/2".

In the 3,000 meters, junior Jim Marcero (Monroe) made a statement, winning the race in 8:42.52. He combined with third-place finisher, Brant Lutz (8:53.91), as two Spartans placed in the top three. Another Monroe native, sophomore Andrew Brittain (9:10.72) placed eighth for MSU, while teammate Christian Dorsch (So., Rochester) finished right on his heels in ninth, clocking at 9:11.15.

Senior Ramsey Watkins (Flint) had the unenviable task of attempting to unseat CMU's Richardson in the 55 high hurdles. Although Richardson flew into the winner's circle, Watkins ran a strong race, reaching the finish line in third place, stopping the watch in 7.78 seconds. In the 400, sophomore Lee Mays (Muskegon Heights) displayed fine form in the 400, striving into the finish line in 49.79, good for third place. A pair of Spartans trailed Mays into the finish line, as junior Damon Heard (Ypsilanti; 51.81) placed sixth and Trystan Bevan placed seventh, in a time of 51.96.

In a tight 800 meters, senior Todd Richman (Kalamazoo; 1:55.00) narrowly missed a race victory, falling to Chris Thompson of Central Michigan by just .09 seconds. The freshman tandem of Chris Cozad (Trenton; 1:57.96) and Tim White (Arlington Heights, Ill.; 1:59.19) finished fourth and fifth, respectively. The Spartan 4x400 relay squad placed second in 3:26.81.

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