March 13, 2014
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Six Spartans will represent the Michigan State track and field team this weekend at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships. Hosted by the University of New Mexico, MSU will have competitors in six events held on Friday, March 14 and Saturday, March 15 in Albuquerque, N.M.
"Our objective at the beginning of the year is to get people qualified for the nationals," said director of track & field/cross country Walt Drenth. "We have some exceptional athletes in the program right now, so as a result you're going to have more numbers at the NCAA finals. Indoors is a little bit unique. You advance based on a performance. Outdoors you go to the regional meet and you qualify based on head-to-head competition. This is a little different kind of challenge. For the most part, we thought everyone that qualified had a chance. Rachele (Schulist) would be the exception, but she made so much progress over the winter and once she got running we thought she would make it.
"The thing about track and field is the only thing you can control is yourself. You can't change into a new defense or make adjustments to new matchups. You just have to be your best. We try to remind them in this environment to just do what they've done all year. You don't change anything now. Hopefully you're a little better from training and from a little bit more resting."
Albuquerque or Bust
Junior Tori Franklin and redshirt junior Antonio James will be making their second appearance at the indoor national meet, as both competed in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Last season, James earned a silver medal in the weight throw, while Franklin won bronze in the triple jump her freshman season. The highest-seeded Spartans, Franklin holds onto the No. 3 spot in the triple jump (13.56m/44-6), while
James enters the meet at No. 4 in the weight throw (22.74m/74-7¼) and No. 8 in the shot put (19.93m/65-4¾), Franklin hold onto the No. 3 spot in the triple jump (13.56m/44-6).
Joining them and making their first appearance at the indoor national competition will be Kurt Schneider in the heptathlon (No. 7 - 5,738 points), Leah O'Connor in the mile (No. 3 - 4:34.35), while Rachele Schulist (No. 11 - 9:06.85) and Caleb Rhynard (No. 16 - 7:53.34) each qualified in the 3,000-meter run.
"They prepared physically and mentally for national level marks," said Drenth. "AJ (Antonio James) made it last year. His wasn't a surprise. We redshirted Kurt Schneider last year in preparation for this. We thought he was a genuine national-level person; he just needed to learn some of the events a little better. Tori (Franklin) made the nationals again; she just continues to make progress. That's our expectation for our athletes - to get here and continue to grow. Sometimes things happen and interrupt that process, but she's done a wonderful job of staying healthy. She's well-coached, so that makes a big difference. For the distance runners, it's a matter of time and the maturity and opportunity to just grow as they get older."
NCAA Indoor Championship History
Michigan State has won five NCAA Indoor event titles in school history, four by the men and one for the women.
Last season, the Spartan throwers represented MSU at the national meet and came away with two silver medals. Redshirt junior Antonio James, who entered the competition ranked fourth in the county, threw a career-best mark of 22.25m/73-0 to earn a second-place finish. James won the first flight of competitors with his school record-breaking throw. Former Spartan Beth Rohl also earned a silver medal in the weight throw competition. After winning her flight, she set a new Michigan State record with her throw of 22.31m/ 73-2½ to place second in the finals. Rohl, who entered the competition ranked third in the country, passed the second-ranked athlete in the nation with her record-setting mark. It was her third trip to the national meet and the highest finish of her MSU career.
Climbing the Rankings
The Spartans are hitting their stride all the way into the postseason, moving up the USTFCCCA national weekly rankings. The women's team improved to 19th in the nation, while the men hold strong onto No. 22 in the NCAA.
Regionally, the Spartan women finished second in the Great Lakes Region, while the men moved up to a seventh-place finish.
Regional Athletes of the Year
Redshirt junior Leah O'Connor was named Track Athlete of the Year and junior Tori Franklin received Field Athlete of the Year honors for the Great Lakes Region, as announced by the United States Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
It marks the first indoor regional honor for Michigan State since former assistant coach Chris Bostwick was named Assistant Coach of the Year for the Great Lakes Region in 2012. Shane Knoll was the last Track Athlete of the Year honoree, receiving the award in 2009.
Junior Tori Franklin won the title of 2014 Big Ten Field Athlete of the Championships, as announced by the conference office. She competed in a total of four events, two field and two track, over the two-day meet, winning a gold medal in the triple jump. Her mark of 13.56m/44-6 is the new Michigan State, SPIRE Institute and conference meet record, and breaks the Big Ten record previously set in 2003 by the former Nicole Whitman, wife of assistant coach Randy Gillon. Earlier this season, Franklin was named Big Ten Field Athlete of the Week back-to-back weeks after improving on her then-school-record mark in two straight-meets. She has won the triple jump at the last four meets in which she has competed.
Earning First-Team All-Big Ten recognition was Franklin and O'Connor for their individual event wins, while Erin Billette, Alicia Evans and Aubrey Wilberding were named to the All-Big Ten second team for their performances in the record-setting distance medley relay that won a silver medal.
With a win in the shot put, James earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors on the men's side, while freshman Tim Ehrhardt received Second-Team All-Big Ten recognition for his runner-up finish in the pole vault.
"One of the great things about being in the Big Ten is that it is national-level competition," said Drenth. "So you leave the Big Ten and you go to the nationals and you're rubbing shoulders with people who you have competed against two weeks earlier. It's a little bit less distracting and your comfort level is higher. Caleb is in the 3,000 and there are three or four guys from the Big Ten in that race. So 25 percent of the field is from the Big Ten in nearly every event where in we contest. We've been at the nationals a few times. You take Kurt Schnieder and he was third in the conference and one of the top guys in the country. The same goes with AJ. He's fourth in the Big Ten and fourth in the country. Again, you go back and look at the comfort level and look at the people you have contested with most of the year."
Party like its 1999
Michigan State took home a total of nine medals at the 2014 Big Ten Indoor Championships, including three gold, two silver and four bronze medals. It is the most MSU has won since the Spartan men recorded 11 medal-winning performances en route to earning the 1999 Big Ten Championship title in Madison, Wis. Below is a list of the 2014 Spartan medal-winners.
- Tori Franklin - Gold - triple jump
- Antonio James - Gold- shot put
- Leah O'Connor - Gold- mile
- Tim Ehrhardt - Silver - pole vault
- Women's distance medley relay - Silver
- Caleb Rhynard - Bronze - 3,000m & 5,000m
- Kurt Schneider - Bronze - heptathlon
- Rachele Schulist - Bronze - 3,000m
Record Breaking Spartans
Entering the conference meet, the Spartans had already set seven new records over eight weeks of competition the season. Over the two-day meet, Michigan State matched that total, adding seven record-breaking performances at the Big Ten Championships. The records broken by the Spartans at the conference meet were no small feats. MSU did not merely improve the marks by inches or a half second, but shattered the previous records spanning over two decades old.
Tori Franklin and Leah O'Connor's set new conference championship records that were a combined 37 years old. Franklin's mark in the triple jump not only broke the meet record, but is the best jump in the Big Ten since 2003. Accompanied by the storied history of the mile, O'Connor broke the previous meet record set by Suzy Favor-Hamilton in 1988.
ESPN3 will stream the meet live on Friday, March 14 beginning at 7:55 p.m. ET and Saturday, March 15 from 7:50 p.m. ET. A tape delay of the championship will air Saturday, March 22 from 7-9 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Below are the links to the live stream: