Michigan State Track Season Outlook
Jan. 3, 2001
OUCH! In one word, Coach Darroll Gatson can sum up his team's 2000 track and field season.
"Injuries, lack of bodies, you name it and we had the problem," said Gatson. "I gave out redshirts like they were a fashion trend."
Despite the injuries, Gatson looks to bounce back from the disappointment of going from winning the Big Ten Indoor Championship in 1999 to his team's 10th-place finish last year.
"We are reloading right now," explained Gatson. "It's a matter of gaining back the confidence and getting the mentality back to where it was when we won the championship."
"This is one of the best recruiting classes we have had since I became head coach," said Gatson. "There is just so much depth and quality talent with this group, as well as may of them being exceptional student-athletes."
If there was a theme to this season, coach?
"The best thing I can think of is, like the movie Back to the Future, " said Gatson. "We have to take what we did in the past and apply it to this season as we try and get back on track."
According to Gatson, coming off the down year could end up to be a blessing in disguise.
"Playing the role of champs is nice, but hard to live up to all the expectations that championship puts on your team. Now that we are a season removed from it, there is no reason why we won't be stepping it up and making a run at another title."
But Gatson is quick to add that he isn't pressuring his athletes to have to win the title.
"I want this year's team to regain the confidence, it's a hard thing to rebuild, but if we can do that, and win a title along the way, I will consider this season a success."
To regain that championship swagger, Gatson is going to have to count on several athletes that are coming off of injuries.
"It was like a rehab year," said Gatson chuckling. "All the injuries were serious, nothing you can fix with a band-aid and some ice. Some of our top guys are back and better shape than they were before the injuries, we just hope that everyone stays healthy."
As for the talent, the Spartans are going to be fishing from a distance-oriented pond.
"There are some good runners at the middle distance events and we have a solid three in the multi-events. Those areas are going to make up the core of this program."
Gone is All-American Steve Schell, who placed sixth at last year's NCAA Championship in the 10,000 meter. Gone is four-time letter winner Okoi Giwa-Agbomeirele, and school record holder (discus, 166-6) Justin Selden. But for once the coach doesn't have a short list of names. So who is Gatson expecting to fill the voids?
"We have got at least six or seven guys that we see as our "star" performers," said Gatson. "Paul Terek, Andy Lixey, Matt Deering, Jeff Kus, Jasmine Alverson, I can go on. It finally seems like the we have a strong core to this team."
The team also has a strong supporting cast of athletes that will help the team back into the elite of the Big Ten. Ben Logan and Matt Ingram are guys who have the ability to make an impact on the team and where the Spartans finish in the Big Ten.
"We are expecting Steve Manz to step it up for us in the field events," said Gatson. "He is a quality athlete who has the ability to score points for us in big meets."
"Our distance area has carried us before and we are still expecting them to do a great job," explained Gatson. "We have lost
Steve Schell, and with him the seasons of experience, but there are a lot of runners who are going to be able to step in right where he left off."
"The strength of this team is definitely going to lie in the middle distance, multi-events and field events. We are going to have to wait and see how the other areas pan out over the season, but I have alot of confidence in those guys to get the job done for us," said a confident Gatson.
Michigan State has a great tradition of distance runners and the past few years have been no exception. Kyle Baker, Jim Jurevich, Steve Schell, all competed in this year's USA Track and Field Olympic Trials. "It's not easy to bounce back after losing that kind of talent," Gatson says.
Schell, an All-American at 5,000 and 10,000 meters, Big Ten Champion at 3,000 meters and school record holder at 10,000 meters, will sorely be missed by this year's squad.
"Steve meant alot to us obviously, but we have got some young legs ready to step it up," Gatson responded. "There is going to be a lot of overlap from the top performers in the cross country year and the track season."
Cross country youngsters like Jason Mueller and Jared Aldrich are thought to be the second coming of Schell and Jurevich. Mueller, who was voted cross country team MVP as a freshman, finished in the top five MSU runners in every cross country meet last season. Aldrich was a picture of consistancy
Ben Evans was the top freshman finisher in the NCAA cross country regional meet last year and has the potiential to blaze the track as well.
While Gatson is confident that this group is capable of having a stellar year in 2001, he says the key to the distance group's success will come from their abilities to "grow up".
"It's hard to put this kinda of pressure on a group of guys that only have a year of experience," says Gatson. "But sometimes having youth in your corner can be a plus, it's just a matter of learning the ropes...quickly."
The Spartans might also get a boost from incoming freshmen such as Steve Padgett, Mike Thorson, Andy Marsh, Andrew Alley and Steve Sherer, who have made their mark in the high school ranks and are now looking for similar success at the collegiate level.
There are a few seasoned veterans to lead the younger runners on their path to success. Junior Andy Lixey and senior Matt Jackson have run the team's top 800 meter time. Lixey, redshirted last season, looks to repeat his '98 Big Ten fourth place finish in the 800.
"We have Andy coming back after the injuries last season, he's definitely a nice boost to the middle distance, and we are probably going to be bumping him up to the mile and possibly throwing him into some of the relay events."
Jackson ran the team's fastest 800 time last season.
Gatson admits that over the past few years the sprints have been a weakness of his Spartan teams. But as of this year, he thinks he might have found a ringer in hurdler Jasmine Alverson.
"Jasmine adds a lot to this team, especially in the way of leadership," says Gatson.
Alverson, a transfer from Alabama , ran during the indoor season, but was reshirted for the outdoor. His time of 8.18 in the 60-meter hurdles was the second best time recorded last season. Alverson is expected to improve on the time, as he ran NCAA provisional times at Alabama.
Even with the addition of Alverson to the squad,Gatson still looks for more improvement out of this year's sprinters and hurdlers.
"These guys just need that extra push," said Gatson. "Confidence is vital, and it's important that we keep these guys thinking that they can run with the best."
Terry Jenkins as a sophmore is considered the veteran of the hurdles and sprints, as he looks to improve on a "roller-coaster" of a freshman year.
Wilson Ogbeide, a transfer from Wayland Baptist College, will enter into his first season as a Spartan, expected to make a strong impact on the sprinting unit. Ogbeide has already run a 46.33 in the 400 meter.
The times when the field and multi-events were a weakness for the MSU team are all but a distant memory. This year's group of athletes is more then ready to prove their dominance.
"I can remember back to when we weren't all that good in the field events," said Gatson. "But now I can't do anything but praise the strength of the area. In fact, if
everything pans out, we could be looking at six of our guys sitting at the top of the Big Ten in several different events."
Leading the way for the team will be four multi-eventers that all could possibly finish in the top five in the Big Ten.
"It's a little easier for them, because even in practice they are competing with the best of the best in the Big Ten," said Gatson. "It's going to be interesting on how they finish in the championship."
The "them" that Gatson is referring to are Jeff Kus, Paul Terek, Matt ingram and Ben Logan. Together they form one of the most impresive group of multi-event athletes in the country.
Terek, who holds the school record in four events (decathlon, hepathlon, pole vault and javelin), is coming off a redshirt year, as a back injury prevented him from participating in the '99 season. Popping up in his place last year was Jeff Kus, who finished third in the Big Ten in the decathlon. Kus also continued his success in the high jump, as he again recorded the team's top jump of 6'10 1/4". Matt Ingram placed in both the indoor and outdoor Big Ten Championships last season and will be thrown into the mix of several relays. Along with those three there is junior Ben Logan. Logan was redshirted last season, but carries a reputation of being an exceptional athlete and will be expected to step in and make an immediate impact on the team.
"All of these guys are unbelieveable," Gatson says shaking his head. "I think that we are going to be gaining big points for the team in the multi-events."
The Spartans also have a power- house lineup of throwers and pole vaulters to add "umph" to the team. Junior thrower Joe Keller challenged senior Justin Selden for the top spot of last year's squad. Keller topped Selden's school record in the hammer (181'4") and weight throw (55'31/2").
Redshirted last season, freshman Steve Manz, steps into the throwing circle ready to top the school's records. His toss of 55'4" at a USA Junior National meet topped both Selden's and Keller's best from last season.
As far as the team's "high-fliers" go, Gatson can't help but sing the praises of Matt Deering. "This guy is going to continue to do big things for us," said Gatson. Deering recorded the team's top jumps in both the indoor and outdoor seasons.
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