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Jan. 1, 1997

1997 MSU Men's Track & Field Preview

A new era is unfolding for the Michigan State men's track and field team, building a solid foundation for the future.

Under the direction of second-year head coach Darroll Gatson, the Spartans are refocusing their goals to bounce back after finishing a disappointing ninth at the indoor and outdoor Big Ten Championships last year.

"We did not have a very good indoor meet and only scored 27 points," Gatson said. "Outdoors, we scored 50 points compared to the year before when the team scored just 15 points. There is some light at the end of the tunnel."

"This year's outlook is very interesting as we are trying to build a total team. We will see a turnaround in our track and field team. It's just going to take some time and patience. We are going to do this right."

Helping make that turnaround this season will be 16 returning letterwinners and a host of talented newcomers. Leading the way will be seniors Brad Fields, Pat Hoard and Ryan Kennedy, junior Jim Jurcevich, and sophomores Jason Coulter and Steve Schell, who transferred from the United States Air Force Academy.

"We look at these guys for building the foundations to help us get to the next level in the Big Ten," Gatson said.

Fields, who has outdoor eligibility remaining, is a three-time All-American in the 200-meter dash after placing fifth at the 1996 NCAA Indoor Championships in 21.17 seconds. He also was named All-Big Ten At Large last year, finishing second in the 200 meters (21.68) and third in the 55-meter dash (6.25) at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.

At the 1996 Big Ten Outdoor Championships, Fields was second in the 200 meters (20.61) and third in the 100 meters (10.24), qualifying for the NCAA Championships.

Complimenting Fields in the sprints will be juniors Damon Heard, Octavis Long and Jermaine Stafford.

In the middle distance events, Coulter leads the pack of seniors Eric Eichinger, Todd Richman and newcomer Kyle Baker.

Coulter won the 600 meters (1:22.68) at the Silverston Indoor Invitational and the 800 meters (1:54.76) at the MSU Indoor Invitational. Outdoors, he was runner-up in the 800 meters (1:52.54) at the Western Michigan Invitational.

Hoard and Kennedy will set the pace for the distance runners after running cross country in the fall. Hoard finished sixth in the 10,000 meters (31:30.92) at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships last year and held the team's top three times in the 5,000 meters.

At the indoor conference meet, Kennedy took fourth in the mile with his time of 4:13.16. He recorded the team's three best times in the indoor mile, including a season-best 4:07.63 at the Michigan Intercollegiate.

Jurcevich and Schell add solid depth to the distance events as does Brendan Banyon, Mark Goodfellow, Brant Lutz, Jim Marcero, Dean Rugh, Chris Wehrman, U.S. Air Force Academy transfer Jacob Nay, and freshmen Aaron Freudigman, Matt LaFave and Joe Leo.

Leo, who hails from Northville, was the top prep distance runner in the state and was a 1995 track All-American and three-time all-state selection.

Striding out front running hurdles will be senior Ramsey Watkins, who finished second in the 55-meter hurdles (7.48) at the Central Collegiate Indoor Championships. He also ran on the seventh-place 1,600 meter relay team at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships.

Junior Andre Howard and freshman Okoineme Giwa-Agbomeirele give MSU additional strength in the hurdles.

One of the things Michigan State is concentrating more on this year is the field events.

"We did a pretty good job last year as far as running," Gatson said, "but now we've built a more overall team with more quality and more depth. Those are the things we are working on in preparing for the 1997 season."

"Our focus is branching out. At first, we were a running team. Now, we are trying to get more diverse to create an overall team. With the recruits we're bringing in, it's the beginning of a new era, especially in the field area."

The Spartans will rely on Giwa-Agbomeirele in the jumping events and freshman Keith Sudheimer should master the high jump. Giwa-Agbomeirele is the high school state record holder in the long jump with a leap of 24-6.

"Okoineme adds a lot of quality to the team," Gatson said. "He's a classy young man and an excellent student."

The throwing events will be manned by full-time shot putter and discus thrower Peter Owen, a sophomore transfer from Albion.

"We have added areas we've never had before," Gatson said. "This is the starting foundation to turn this whole team around. This is a new era for Michigan State. We're getting student-athletes in here who are going to make it academically and athletically."

As far as Big Ten the competition is concerned, Michigan State is setting its sights closer to the top of the ladder.

"Our goal is to finish in the top five in the Big Ten," Gatson said. "That is a team goal and a reachable goal. You have to get in the top half to see where you are and where your program is going, and it is a reasonable goal with what we are trying to do. We are going to reach that goal.

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