BOONE, N.C. (Nov. 30, 2007) - Coming off a remarkable 2006-07 season, the East Tennessee State track and field team is looking to carry over the success into its new season, as they gear up for the start of the indoor campaign by competing in Saturday's Appalachian State Invitational from the Holmes Convocation Center.
The Bucs will face a 12-team field which consists of host Appalachian State, Charlotte, UNC-Asheville, Western Carolina, Wofford, Radford, King College, South Carolina State, Davidson, Gardner-Webb and Milligan.
The ETSU men's squad is coming off a conference championship sweep, winning both the indoor and outdoor Atlantic Sun crowns. Head coach Dave Walker's group will be gunning for its third straight indoor conference title, which will be held the weekend of Feb. 29 and March 1 inside Memorial Center.
"We are defending back-to-back indoor champions and coming off our first outdoor title in years, so we know there is a bull's-eye on our back as the season gets underway," mentioned associate head track and field coach Michelle Byrne. "With our success, we think it has solidified us as one of the premier programs in the league. Our staff is very excited about this season after bringing in a very solid recruiting class to mix in with our championship caliber athletes."
The ETSU track team will compete in six meets during the indoor season, including the famous Niswonger Invitational on Jan. 18-19, in Johnson City. After kicking off the season at Appalachian State, the Bucs will return back to work on Jan. 11 and 12 at the Virginia Tech Invitational. Following the VT Invite and Niswonger, ETSU travels to Chapel Hill, N.C. to compete in the Carolina Invitational during the first weekend of February. The Bucs enjoyed the trip to North Carolina last season, as three ETSU student-athletes broke school records at the meet. ETSU will make its final tune-up before the conference championship when they head back to Blacksburg, Va. for the Hokie Invitational on Feb. 8.
Below is a breakdown of the men's and women's teams.
Sprints / Hurdles / Multi's
After having much success in the short sprints with conference champion and all-conference sprinters in James Rainer, Johnny Tucker and Derek Carey, the Bucs will feature a different look in 2007-08. ETSU will turn its success to long sprinters as sophomore Chris Harrison (Woodbridge, Va.) leads the attack, alongside newcomers Zack Titman (Damascus, Va.) and Mike James (Palm Bay, Fla.). Harrison, the reigning conference champion in the 400-meter event, set a personal-best and conference mark with a blazing time of 50.28 last season. The native from Woodbridge, Va. can also be counted on in the 4x400-meter relay as well. Titman will look to carry over his stellar high school career over to the Division I level. The high school speedster was a state champion in the 200-meters his junior and senior year, and holds the school record in the 100, 200, 400, 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relay.
"James (Rainer) and Johnny (Tucker) laid the championship foundation in the short sprints, and we hope the winning tradition can carry over to the long sprints for Harrison and Titman," mentioned Byrne.
Looking to guide the Bucs in the hurdles includes all-around star Mike Wright (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and James. The hurdles will be one of many events Wright will shine in, while James will be the number one primary athlete in this event.
"Mike (James) is a very talented hurdler and we will count on him and Wright to represent us well in this event," added Byrne.
Senior Mike Wright and sophomore Nicholas Chernikow (Seymour, Tenn.) will lead the Buccaneers in a plethora of events this season. Wright has won consecutive conference championships in the heptathlon, and also competed in the 55 and 60-meter hurdles, as well as in the high and long jump. Chernikow is coming a spectacular rookie season where he claimed the 2007 decathlon conference crown and provided a scoring performance in the heptathlon at the conference meet inside Memorial Center.
"I am very excited about what each of these athletes has to offer to our program," Byrne said. "A few of them have championship experience, and now it's their time to be leaders both on and off the track."
Sophomore sensation Kenneth Rotich (Nairobi, Kenya) looks to carry his dominant success from the 2007 cross country season over onto the track. Rotich, who suffered a series of injuries during the track season a year ago, hopes to stay healthy as coach Walker looks to use him primarily at the 3,000-meter level. During the cross country season, Rotich won three Atlantic Sun Runner of the Week awards, two individual championship titles, and was an all-conference selection.
Looking to join Rotich in the 3,000 will be senior Jordan Ladd (Lyn, Ontario) and junior Jeff Crane (Taylors, S.C.). Ladd will also be asked to compete in the 5,000-meters, while Crane will also showcase his talents in the mile, where he posted a scoring performance for the Bucs a year ago. Crane hopes get back to where he was back in the 2006 season, when he walked away with the gold medal in the 3,000-meters.
Rounding out Walker's distance group is a pair of youngsters in Josh Jaynes (Elizabethton, Tenn.) and Manny Gonzalez (Maryville, Tenn.). Both runners are coming off their ETSU cross country debut in 2007, and will be used in the 400 and 800-meters, as well as the mile run.
"The group of Rotich, Ladd and Crane will need to step things up this season in order to help us win another conference championship," added Walker. In order for them to contribute, they will need to continue to work hard and keep focused on each of their goals."
Senior Shane Estes (Maryville, Tenn.) and Mike Wright will guide the Buccaneer high jumpers in 2007-08. Estes battled through an injury plagued junior season, and will look to pick up where he left off in his during his freshman and sophomore campaigns. During that stretch, Estes won four consecutive conference crowns in the high jump, and will be seeking number five and six this season. In 2006, he won the A-Sun Indoor Championship with a leap of 6-4.75 (1.95m) and took home gold at the outdoor championships with a personal-best mark of 6-6.75 (2.00m).
The high jump is one of many events Wright excels in, as he took home the silver medal in the event last season at the conference championships. He earned all-conference honors with his leap of 6-04 (1.93m).
Looking to join the senior duo in the high jump will be newcomers Josh Cloyd (Telford, Tenn.) and Andrew Houston (Crossville, Tenn.). Cloyd transferred to ETSU from King College where he received All-American status in the high jump, finishing with a mark of 23-05.50 at the indoor nationals, held in Johnson City. The Telford, Tenn. native will be the lone Buccaneer long and triple jumper, as he won the NAIA national long jump championship in the 2007. Houston, who arrived at ETSU this fall, was a letterwinner in basketball and track and field at Cumberland County High School. The Tennessee native holds the school record in the high jump, and received all-state honors in basketball.
"We have a very strong high jump program in place, and if these four athletes continue to work hard our team will have a lot success in the event," mentioned Byrne. "Shane needs to return to his freshman and sophomore season form, and he will also be pushed a great deal by Mike (Wright) and Andrew (Houston). Andrew is a very versatile athlete and has the pedigree to become a champion in the high jump."
The Buccaneer throwers will be led by the powerful Jarrod Burton (Bastian, Va.). As a freshman, Burton broke school records in the indoor weight throw and shot put, and also set a new conference championship mark in the weight with a heave of 57-10.25 (17.63m). The expectations are running high for the sophomore sensation in 2007-08.
"We expect Jarrod to reach at least a NCAA Provisional mark in the weight throw this season," said ETSU throws coach Meg Stone. "He has been working on changing his form in the shot put, and we hope he can have the transition in place by conference, so he can make a run a championship in the event as well."
Junior Guy Hornsby (Morgantown, W.Va.) joins Burton as the lone returning thrower to this season's squad.
"Guy has been practicing very well this fall and we hope he can carry his performance over into the indoor season," mentioned Stone.
Rounding out the Buccaneer throwing field will be freshmen Gavin Proffit (Boone, N.C.) and Stuart Bowen (Crossville, Tenn.). Both of these rookies have the opportunity to step in and make an immediate impact to the ETSU throwing squad.
The combination of senior Dave Thomas (Maryville, Tenn.) and junior Drew Beamer (Johnson City, Tenn.) will lead the Buccaneer attack in the pole vault. Thomas' season hit the backburner last year, as he suffered the injury bug; however, the hometown hero in Beamer stepped things up in a big way. Beamer broke the ETSU indoor record in the event at conference championships with a mark of 15-01 (4.60m). The result was also strong enough for a scoring effort at the meet as well. Thomas competed in five indoor meets a year ago, and put together a scoring performance at the Atlantic Sun Championships.
"Both of these athletes are strong in their event area; however, if Dave (Thomas) can remain healthy he can definitely be a larger threat in the pole vault," Byrne said.
Women's Track and Field Preview
With redshirt senior Jenny Knox (Connelly Springs, N.C.) only competing in the outdoor season, all the attention will turn to junior star Nae-Nae Bailey (Statesville, N.C.). Bailey will look to light up the track in the sprints area. She competed in the 55, 60, 200, and 400-meter events last season, and posted scoring efforts in the 60 and 200 at the conference championships.
With Octavia Burgess (Glen Gardner, N.J.) redshirting the 2007-08 season, the quartet of Ashton Bishop (Gate City, Va.), Danielle Davis (Johnson City, Tenn.), Jasmine Ingram (Frederick, Md.), and Judy Johnson (Knoxville, Tenn.) will be asked to carry the load in either the short/long sprints or hurdles.
Looking to compete with Bailey in the sprints are Ingram and Johnson. Johnson transferred to ETSU from King College after accumulating All-American honors on the NAIA level; while Ingram held numerous school records in the 400-meters at Tuscarora High School and won state and regional championships in the 400 event.
"This group of sprinters is very talented and can be expected to make a lot of noise this season," added Byrne. "We are a young group, but learning under Knox and Bailey will help them grow quickly."
Bishop, a four-year letterwinner in track and field at Gate City, will look to strengthen the Buccaneer hurdles squad. The Gate City, Va. native was named all-district and all-region all four years and holds eight school records and 11 state championships. Leading the hurdlers in 2007-08 will be the local standout in Davis. The Johnson City star redshirted her freshman campaign and will look to show the Buccaneer faithful what she is capable of doing on the track.
"This duo will be able to give us an impact in the hurdle events this season," commented Byrne.
The high jump will not be the same after losing three-time indoor conference champion Anna Marie Ricciardi, but Ashton Bishop will look to fill some big shoes as she takes over in the event. Bishop won numerous high jump titles in her high school career, and is one of the biggest recruits ever signed during Byrne's tenure at ETSU.
"Bishop has some huge shoes to fill in the high jump (replacing Ricciardi), but she is a natural athlete and excels in this event area," said Byrne. "She has the ability to rewrite the ETSU history books, and continues to build on one of the Buccaneers' strongest events."
After guiding the Lady Buccaneer cross country team in 2007, sophomore Vicki Currie (Dumfries, Scotland) will look to carry the load for the ETSU women's distance runners. The Scottish sensation is gunning for her first conference title after placing second in the 800-meters last season.
Also joining Currie in the distance events will be sophomore Christin Zink (Herndon, Va.) and freshman twins Terra and Tesha Haggard (Morristown, Tenn.). Zink will be called upon in the 400 and 800-meters, while the twins will be performing in the 3,000 and 5,000-meter events.
"I expect big things from Currie this season," mentioned Byrne. "She had a big fall and has been practicing very well for us this off-season. I am excited to see her compete and win at this level."
Despite only having one woman thrower this season for coach Stone, this lone ETSU athlete is capable of leading the charge for herself. Sophomore hurler Zachlynn Blackburn (Tazewell, Va.) will carry the load this season for the Lady Bucs. After a spectacular freshman season, the Virginia native will look to build on what is all ready an impressive collegiate resume. Blackburn claimed all-conference honors in the weight throw and posted a scoring performance in the shot put during the indoor season last year. She stepped her competiveness up to another level during the outdoor campaign, receiving conference titles in the discus and hammer en route to being named "Most Outstanding Freshman Performer" after the weekend concluded.
"Zachlynn has been working hard this fall and she knows what we expect of her this indoor season," added Stone. "I am excited to see her compete after having a year of Division I experience under her belt, and we hope to see solid results from her as the season goes on."
After not having anyone compete in the pole vault last season, the ETSU coaching staff went out and recruited a talented star in Taylor Isgrig (Weaverville, N.C.). Isgrig was an all-conference athlete in track, basketball and volleyball at North Buncombe High School. She currently holds the school record in the pole vault at 11-0, and was also a two-time Mountain Athletic Conference champion in the event. Isgrig can be useful in other events, as she set a personal best in the long jump with a leap of 16-01.
"Taylor can step right in and make an immediate impact to our pole vault team," added Byrne. She had success at the high school level and we can't wait for her to showcase her skills at the collegiate level."
Fans can watch the Buccaneers in action this weekend when they kick off the 2007-08 track and field season at the Appalachian Invitational in nearby Boone, N.C. The meet kicks off with the throwers beginning at 11 a.m. and the sprints starting at noon. Please check www.ETSUBucs.com for a full recap of the daily events and news.