MSU Spartans
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Track & Field
2007 Track And Field Season Preview
Justin Zanotti
Justin Zanotti

Jan. 7, 2007

EAST LANSING, Mich. - A reorganization of the Michigan State cross country and track and field program was completed in the summer of 2006, with intent to establish Michigan State as one of the premier programs in the Big Ten and the Midwest. Walt Drenth took the reigns as director of the program, and Chris Bostwick, Randy Gillon and Kathy Rounds were added to the Spartan staff that also included Rita Arndt-Molis and Chris Campbell. While philosophies haven't changed, the Spartans are getting back to the basics.

"This is an exciting time for us, the athletes, and people interested in the program," Drenth stated. "This is an opportunity to have an influence on the long term well-being and progress of this program. It is our goal to field consistent, competitive athletes at both the conference and national level.

"I think the coaching staff is highly qualified, capable, well educated and well informed. What we've done is bring in coaches that have had success as athletes and as coaches at different programs and levels. Most importantly, the coaching staff is very competitive, and that will ultimately have a huge influence on the program."

The Spartans will begin the season with a nine-event indoor schedule, not including the Indoor NCAA Championships. Michigan State will embark on a nine-event outdoor season as well, in addition to NCAA Regionals and Championships.

"Indoor is preparation for outdoor," Drenth said. "We are going to score indoors and send people to nationals, but we want to set ourselves up to be competitive outdoors. Our goals are to score big points at the Big Ten level, make the NCAA Championships, and send athletes to the Olympic Trials or Senior National Championships."

Senior Jason Brown will lead a throwing group of eight athletes in 2007. A regional qualifier, Brown has the ability to score multiple points for the Spartans in both the shot put and discus, while he is also becoming a force in the weight and hammer throws.

"Jason came through indoor and outdoor in a phenomenal way last season," Drenth said. "His experience is going to be really important for us. He had a great summer of lifting. He is stronger and technically more aware.

"We will probably redshirt the freshmen to give them an opportunity to mature physically. We have good athletes ,and with another year we feel they will be ready for Big Ten competition."

Leading the jumpers are senior Mark Langlois and sophomore Jonathon Allen. A two-time regional qualifier, Langlois took second in the Big Ten in pole vault last season and competed at the NCAA Championships in 2005. Allen was also a regional qualifier a year ago, after jumping a career-best 49-11 in the triple jump at the Bulldog Invitational.

"Mark comes to practice and is a leader for that group," Drenth said. "Jon had a great summer and fall of training. We will be looking to him as a steady scorer in both events at the conference meet."

Pacing the sprint group is junior Jeremy Orr and senior John Childress. Orr is the men's lone returner with national experience, having competed in the 400m at the NCAA Championships. In his first season at Michigan State, Orr was tabbed Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Childress has been a constant for MSU in hurdle events, qualifying for the regionals in the 110m event. Both Orr and Childress also provide leadership on the Spartan relays.

"Jeremy is transitioning from a pretty good quarter-miler to a great quarter-miler," Drenth said. "We think he has a chance to run in the 45-second range, which will make him one of the fastest quarter-milers in school history. We expect big things out of him. It is very realistic for him to be to be a Big Ten Champion and an NCAA scorer.

"John made a lot of progress in the spring last year. He went from a being a guy who was on the outside looking in, to becoming not only a Big Ten scorer, but a regional qualifier and running personal best right at the end of the year. He'll help our 4x100m relay and he could help our 4x400m relay as well."

Other key members of the Spartan sprint group will be senior Ryan McMillian, a critical member of the Spartan relays, who could have a breakout season. Senior Kyle Sweeney will be a competitor in the hurdles, while sophomore Michael Smoot will also be looked to step up in the 400m.

Middle Distance
The senior duo of Bobby Sherman and Phil Marlatt, along with junior Kevin Dacres, will head the returning group of middle-distance runners. Sherman was the Big Ten Indoor runner-up in the 800m, while Marlatt took eighth in the event at the Mideast Outdoor Regional. After gaining experience the last two seasons, Dacres will look to make a statement this year.

"Those guys have made progress each year and have the chance to be something very special," Drenth said. "Phil has been unbelievable. He leads that group which is not the easiest thing to do in the fall. Both Phil and Bobby are integral parts to our 4x400m relay. Kevin could be the dark horse in this whole thing. We could really use his help in the 4x400m. We'd like to see him step into bigger role and become an impact guy."

A solid group of distance runners experienced great success during the fall cross country season, which should equal to even greater success in the track season. Seniors Matt Bartlebaugh and Justin Zanotti, as well as juniors Stephan Shay, Dustin Voss and Jim Pancoast, are veteran leaders of the group. Plenty of young talent will also provide MSU with extra firepower in the distance events.

"Matt has been two-time 10,000m NCAA provisional qualifier," Drenth said. "Dustin is a regional qualifier in the steeplechase and has state championship pedigree. He knows how to win and succeed at a high level. If Stephan and Justin's progress on the cross country course is any indication of what they'll do on the track, I can see both being NCAA qualifiers in the 10,000m, and point scorers in the Big Ten. Jim scored in the 1500m and in the mile. He is the anchor for our distance medley and will help us qualify for the national meet. You can look to some young guys like Dave Bills, Ian Boyle and Adam Sprangel to make quite a bit of progress."

Leading the women's throw group are seniors Melinda Buckmaster and Erica Bailey. Buckmaster battled through a back injury much of last season, but recorded the third-longest javelin throw in school history in 2005 and earned five points at the Big Ten Outdoor meet. Bailey has worked to clean up her mechanics in all of the throwing events, and will look to score at the conference meet.

"Melinda and Erica are the upperclassmen and they have to step forward and make statement in terms of where we are going and what kind of progress we are going to make," Drenth said. "Erica has to come through at the conference meet, that is a key component. True freshman Ashley Lawrence should have an impact on the throws group as well."

Perhaps one of the strongest women's events, thanks to senior Taren James, is the jumps. James claimed the Big Ten Triple Jump Championship in 2006, while placing second in the long jump. She set a personal best in the triple jump of 42-0 ¾ and has her eyes set at going even farther. Junior Chaquerra Allen, multi-eventer Anna Coster and several talented newcomers also provide depth.

"The key is Taren," Drenth said. "She was a Big Ten Champion, Big Ten runner-up and regional qualifier. She is leading a young group of jumpers we think have a chance to be really successful. Chaquerra has an opportunity to take herself to the next level. The two people we feel have great potential are freshmen Brittany Howard and Britanny Ruckes.

"Anna will be another big help. In the pole vault, we have Katie Shaw, who is the state record holder in Michigan. She has been battling a foot injury, but if she is able to come back and jump as well as she did in high school she'll score right away indoor and outdoor. That group, along with sophomore Leanne Pare, has an opportunity to score."

Junior Jackie Walton and senior Marquita Allen are the key members of the sprint group and will be joined by a host of underclassmen. Walton ran a personal-best time of 13.67 at the Mideast Regional in the 100m hurdles and Allen provides strength in the 400m.

"Jackie scored at the conference meet last season, and is starting to find her place on the track from a competitive standpoint," Drenth said. "The coaches feel like she has potential to do great things, be a big-time scorer and an NCAA qualifier. She'll be part of our 4x100m relay and possibly our 4x400m relay. Marquita is having the best fall she has ever had.

"Two other people to mention are junior Roshanda Venyah and freshman Michelle Gay. Roshanda is really taking well to the system in place this season. Michelle has the potential to make a big impact on both of our relays and make the finals in the Big Ten."

Middle Distance
Senior Sarah Stornant and junior Lisa Senakiewich lead the middle distance pack. Several others have the opportunity to step up, as the Spartans are young in the event.

"Sarah has done an unbelievable job of trying some new things and taking some chances this fall to see if she can move into a higher level of competing," Drenth said. "We have a state champion in freshman Laurel Bennett, her growth will determine whether we redshirt her or not. Lisa has had a lot of success on the track. She is a Big Ten scorer and provisional qualifier when full-strength."

Alissa McKaig

Like the Spartan men, the women's distance group is strong and experienced great success in the fall cross country season. The top returner is All-American Nicole Bush, who placed fifth at the NCAA Championships and shattered the school record in the 3000m steeplechase last season, setting a new mark of 10:01.04. Senior Michelle Rafferty and junior Emily Adama were both Mideast Regional Qualifiers in their respective events. Also in the equation is sophomore Baylor transfer Alissa McKaig, who has All-American potential, and senior Katie Kelly and sophomore Sarah Price.

"Nicole and Alissa are two who don't even realize their potential," Drenth said. "They could score in just about any of the distance events. We see Nicole continuing to take herself to the next level, after her experience at the NCAA Championships. Alissa is just an amazing athlete. Michelle has been consistent for us over the past three seasons in the 5000m. This is an athletic and fast group that could do a lot of damage on the conference, regional and national level."




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