JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 15, 2007) - A year ago the ETSU men's track and field team won the inaugural Atlantic Sun Indoor Conference Championship and this weekend they will look to keep the title at home as they try for a repeat at the conference championships. The meet begins Friday with the heptathlon kicking things off at 8:30 a.m. inside Memorial Center.
On the men's side, ETSU is the front-runner (154 points) along with Belmont (90 points) and Gardner-Webb (82 points). The men will look to become the first team in school history to post back-to-back indoor championships. Both the men and women will look to win individual titles in their respective events, while the women as team will shoot for a spot in the top three. Jacksonville is heading in as the favorite (146 points) followed by Belmont (94 points) and ETSU (91 points) for the top spots.
"It's really important for us to build off this season's success and execute everything we have worked on this weekend at the A-Sun Championships," said associate head coach Michelle Byrne. "All of our athletes have been training very well and this is the healthiest the team has been all season. We feel very confident heading into the meet this weekend, and as long as we advance in numbers and score high both teams will control their own destiny."
The Bucs will look to Johnny Tucker (Spartanburg, S.C.) and Derek Carey (Nassau, Bahamas) for a top finish in the 60 meters. Both sprinters will be expecting to rack up huge point totals in the event area as they rank second and third among A-Sun leaders. Tucker enters with the second fastest time at 7.02, which was set at the Clemson Indoor Openers and Carey finished 7.06 at Niswonger, placing him third overall. The South Carolina native picked up four points in the 60 meters last season with a time of 7.07.
In the 400-meter event, three ETSU sprinters can be expected to take home the top spot and claim a chunk of points in the area. Freshman Chris Harrison (Woodbridge, Va.) holds the second fastest in the in the conference at 51.19, while teammates Tyler Woodruff (Sevierville, Tenn.) and Josh Rock (Spotsylvania, Va.) are right behind the youngster. Woodruff ran 51.59 at the Clemson Indoors and ranks fourth overall in the A-Sun, while Rock ranks sixth at 51.84. Rock came up big last season in the event, claiming eight points for the Bucs with a mark of 51.74.
"Our sprinters are talented enough to win conference titles in their respective event areas and we have a lot of depth here," added Byrne. "The guys need make sure they are prepared not only physically but mentally as well. If they come with the correct mindset we will do really well this weekend."
Senior Josh Hicks (Riceville, Tenn.) is the favorite to repeat in the 800 meters again this season. Hicks won the title last year with a time of 1:57.11, he and still holds the top mark this season with his 1:57.90 finish at the Niswonger Invitational, which was also held in Memorial Center. Competing in the 800 event with Hicks is local native David McDaniel (Elizabethton), who has the sixth fastest time in the conference at 2:01.28.
Head coach David Walker's distance runners had several outstanding performances last season as his runners posted 21 of ETSU's 153 points at the championships. Like Hicks, Jeff Crane (Taylors, S.C.) will look to repeat in his 3000-meter event where he blew away the field a year ago (8:43.69). Joining Crane will be teammates Michael Deren (Blasdell, N.Y.) and J Penny (Telford, Tenn.). Deren holds the Bucs fastest time this season in the event with his mark of 8:49.07 set at the Carolina Invitational a few weeks ago. In the 5000 meters, Deren and Penny can expect to pick up points for ETSU as the New Yorker has the second quickest time in the A-Sun coming at the Niswonger (15:19.81), and Penny holds the sixth fastest time in the league.
The relay teams combined for 18 total points a year ago, and the DMR team will look to keep the title in Buccaneer Country for the second straight season. The 4x400 relay squad ranks first in the A-Sun this season with a time of 3:24.73, and the DMR team ranks second with a mark of 10:43.35. Three of the four members of last year's DMR title squad will be back again this season.
The trio of Nate Strickland (Morganton, N.C.), Mike Reber (Sunbright, Tenn.) and Eric Snapp (Bristol, Va.) will compete for points in the jumps. Reber put together top-five finishes in both events last year at the championships, while Strickland holds the fifth longest leap this season in the conference, and freshman Snapp has been improving all season long for the Bucs.
"Our jumpers are clicking at the right time and hopefully it will turn into positive results at the A-Sun Championships," said coach JaRod Tobler. "They can all do excellent things and they will be feeding off each others success and excitement."
Last year's heptathlon winner Mike Wright (Chattanooga, Tenn.) will compete again the event and will also look to score points for ETSU in the 60-meter hurdles and high jump events as well. Wright crushed the field in the heptathlon last year as the nearest athlete was 256 points behind the Tennessee native. During the weekend the multi-talented athlete scored the most points than any other competitor, finishing with a 32 total points.
After his spectacular performance a year ago coach Byrne is hoping for the same this year. "We are hoping for Mike to step things up and put 30 points on the board for us. He can really help us win the meet as a team if he comes out focused and willing to give it his all."
The group of athletes looking to make the biggest impact for the Bucs this weekend will come from coach Meg Stone's throwers. Freshman Jarrod Burton (Bastian, Va.) has been tearing it up for ETSU since stepping foot on campus. He has already rewritten the record books five times this season, and holds the best marks in both the weight and shot put in the A-Sun. Burton's heave of 56-11.25 at the Carolina Invitational is over five feet better than Gardner-Webb's Cody MacAuthur who ranks second. The freshman hurler has a one foot advantage over the Runnin' Bulldogs Matt Knippen in the shot put. Burton will look to end Knippen's run in the throwing events after he swept away the competition last year. Also looking to do some damage for the Bucs will be another freshman in Dakota Cagle (Rutherford College, N.C.) as he holds the third best mark in the shot put at 50-06, which was set at the Carolina Invitational.
"Our men have been throwing well all season and I hope it carries over into the championships this weekend," added throws coach Meg Stone. "Jarrod and Dakota both have the opportunity to win in the weight and shot put, but in order to do so they will have to bring their A game this weekend. As long as we fire on all cylinders we should be able to show everyone in the conference how strong we are and bring home both titles in the throwing events."
With the powerful punch of Jenny Knox (Connelly Springs, N.C), Nae-Nae Bailey (Statesville, N.C.) and Octavia Burgess (Morganton, N.C.), the ETSU women's short sprinters are likely to score a bundle of points in their respective event areas. The pack of runners hold the third, fourth and fifth fastest times in the A-Sun, with Knox leading the way with a 7.78 mark, coming at the Clemson Indoor Openers. One-tenth of a second behind the senior is Bailey and Burgess, both coming at Niswonger. Bailey has the leg up in the 200 meters over Knox by seven-tenths of a second with a time of 25:18. Bailey's time is the third quickest in the league, followed by Knox in fourth.
"We are hoping for Knox to provide the senior leadership for our younger runners," added Byrne. Both Bailey and Burgess have been improving all season, and can score us some points this weekend."
In the 800-meter event the Bucs will turn towards their top freshmen combo in Vicki Currie (Dumfries, Scotland) and Valerie Boothby (Glen Gardner, N.J.). With a solid outing, the duo can expect to take home the top two slots as they hold two of the three quickest times in the A-Sun. Boothby (2:19.44) and Currie (2:19.70) are right behind Gardner-Webb's Katherine Warden (2:19.00).
"Currie and Boothby are in the hunt for a conference title in the 800 meters, but it depends on how bad they want it," added coach Byrne.
The Bucs will hope to get a lift from either junior Ali Carney (Sevierville, Tenn.) or sophomore Heather Adkins (Kansas City, Mo.) in the long distance events. Adkins will be competing in her first meet of the season, while Carney has been the only athlete on the women's side to run in the 3000 and 5000 meters.
The relay teams can expect to score some points in their respective areas for ETSU. The DMR team currently ranks third in the conference, while the 4x400 team holds the fourth fastest time in the league.
Senior Anna Marie Ricciardi (Canfield, Ohio) has a great shot of repeating her title in the high jump. Ricciardi all ready set a new school record with her NCAA Provisional mark of 5-10 (1.78m) at the Carolina Invitational two weeks ago, and was named Athlete of the Week for her performance. The talented jumper also owns the best leap in the A-Sun, which is four inches better than the second place competitor.
The lone long and triple jumper for the Bucs is Tashauna Robinson (Trelowny, Jamaica, W.I.). The sophomore's best shot to score will be in the triple jump, where she owns the fifth longest jump at 35-01.25 (10.70m).
"Tashauna is a very competitive athlete, said coach Tobler. By being at home and familiar with the track she should be comfortable and ready to compete this weekend."
Like the men, the ETSU women throwers will be making some noise at the indoor championships this weekend. School records have fallen all season and hopefully that will lead to top performances at the championships. Leading the way in the shot put will be freshmen Brooke Berarducci (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Zachlynn Blackburn (Tazewell, Va.). The freshman pair are the third and fourth strongest competitors in the event, with Berarducci ranking third. Blackburn is coming off her best performance in the weight throw, by setting the new school record with a heave of 48-00.75 (14.65m) at the Carolina Invitational. She owns the second longest toss in the A-Sun with that record, while fellow Tazewell native Dedra Jones is right behind her teammate in third.
"All of the women have the opportunity to put points on the board for us, said coach Stone. "The good thing about our throwers is they are all very young so our future is bright and we can expect great things to come."