JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 28, 2008) - The ETSU track and field program has begun its final preparations for this weekend's 2008 Atlantic Sun Indoor Conference Championship set to take place inside Memorial Center. The meet begins Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. and runs through Saturday evening.
A year ago the Buccaneer men's squad won their second straight A-Sun indoor title, while the ETSU women finished second behind Jacksonville. Both the ETSU men and JU women will be gunning for its third consecutive conference crown.
"Our men's team is coming in as two-time defending champions and their number one goal is to keep the streak alive," mentioned associate head coach Michelle Byrne. "When we began the season our expectations were really high to defend the crown, but we were faced with a lot of adversity throughout the season and our guys will need to dig deep. Everyone is going to have to step up and contribute in a big way in order to claim another title this year."
On the men's side, the Bucs have been led by sophomore thrower Jarrod Burton (Bastian, Va.) in the field events and sophomore Kenneth Rotich (Nairobi, Kenya) on the track. Both athletes won A-Sun Athlete of the Week honors this season and each rank atop the performance charts in the conference.
Rotich, who will be competing in his first indoor championship, holds the fastest times in the 3,000m and 5,000m events. The sophomore speedster posted solid marks at Clemson two weeks ago. He won the 3,000 with a conference-leading time of 8:32.32 and followed that up with a top mark of 14:57.76 in the 5,000. Junior Jeff Crane (Taylors, S.C.) will also be showcasing his talent in the distance events as well. Crane holds the fastest time amongst conference foes in the mile (4:20.78) with his strong finish at the ASU Limited Open. He also ranks third in the 3,000m (8:37.09).
Burton, who is the reigning conference champion in the weight throw, has enjoyed a stellar indoor campaign. He holds the top mark in the weight this season, with his heave of 57-03 (17.45m) at the Niswonger Invitational. Burton trails Casey Strickland of Kennesaw State for the top spot in the shot put. The Bastian, Va. native's mark of 52-04.75 (15.97m) is an inch shy of the number one position.
On the track, freshmen Mike James (Palm Bay, Fla.) and Zack Titman (Damascus, Va.) will lead a young but talented group of sprinters. James will be looking for all-conference honors in the 60-meter hurdles. He currently holds the fourth quickest time in the event with a mark of 8.32. Like James, Titman also has a great chance to be an all-conference athlete as he holds the number one spot in the 200-meter dash. Titman took over the top position with his 22.44 finish at last weekend's Virginia Tech Challenge. Competing in the 400m as well as in the long jump will be junior Josh Cloyd (Telford, Tenn.). Cloyd holds the second highest mark in the long jump with his leap of 23-06.75 (7.18m). He shadows Sam Tilly (Campbell), who recorded a mark of 24-00.25 (7.32m), set at the Carolina Classic earlier this month. Rounding out the ETSU attack in the sprints will be newcomers Duronal Monal (Belle Glade, Fla.) and Yordin Robinson (Kingston, Jamaica).
Senior Shane Estes (Maryville, Tenn.) and freshman Andrew Houston (Crossville, Tenn.) will represent ETSU in the high jump. Estes ranks third in the event at 6-04 (1.93), while Houston is sixth (6-03.50).
Junior Drew Beamer (Johnson City) hopes to build off last year's successful performance in the pole vault. He set a new school record in the event with a mark of 15-01, and ranks fourth in the conference this season at 14-06 (4.42m). Teammate Dave Thomas (Maryville, Tenn.) sits third in the league with his 14-07.25 (4.45m) effort set at the Virginia Tech Invitational in January. Sophomore Jordan Briggs (Erwin, Tenn.) and freshman Matt Baum (Middletown, Md.) will also be competing in this event.
Sophomore Nic Chernikow (Seymour, Tenn.) and Briggs will highlight the Buccaneers in the heptathlon. Briggs competed in the event at the Carolina Classic and finished seventh, while Chernikow came in third last year at the conference championships, but won the rigorous two-day even during the outdoor meet.
On the women's side, sophomore Zachlynn Blackburn (Tazewell, Va.) and juniors Nae-Nae Bailey (Statesville, N.C.) and Judy Johnson (Knoxville) will be eyeing big numbers for the Bucs.
Blackburn currently leads the A-Sun in the weight throw with her school record toss of 51-11 (15.82m), which was set inside Memorial Center at the Niswonger Invitational. The Tazewell, Va. native also ranks third in the shot put at 42-01.50 (12.84m).
In the sprints, Bailey and Johnson lead the charge for ETSU. Both sprinters rank second and third in the 200m, as Johnson turned in an ETSU program best mark of 24.42 last weekend at Virginia Tech, and Bailey ran 24.68 at Niswonger. However, Bailey holds the upper edge in the 60m as she ranks fourth and Johnson is fifth. Looking to guide the Buccaneers in the 400m include freshman Jasmine Ingram (Frederick, Md.) and sophomore Christin Zink (Herndon, Va.) Ingram holds the second fastest time at 57.28, and will be battling Karlyn Duncan of Campbell for the title in this event.
Sophomore Vicki Currie (Dumfries, Scotland) fuels a young core of distance runners this weekend. Currie has a strong chance of winning the 800m as she only sits behind Jacksonville's Anastasia Fokina in the league. Also competing in the distance events will be freshmen Terra and Tesha Haggard (Morristown, Tenn.) and Rochelle Crook (Cookeville, Tenn.).
The freshmen trio of Ashton Bishop (Gate City, Va.), Haley Pope (Easton, Md.) and Melissa Murrell will be participating in the high jump. In addition, Bishop will also be busy as she is the lone Buccaneer representative in the pentathlon. Taylor Isgrig (Weaverville, N.C.) will be the solo Buccaneer athlete competing in the women's pole vault.
ETSU found its secret weapon in the triple jump last weekend. Freshman Kendra Sigler (Tennessee) posted the fifth best mark in the conference at the Virginia Tech Challenge. Sigler wrapped up the day with a leap of 36-02.25 (11.03m).
"Last year our women's team worked hard to place themselves amongst the top tier in the conference, and we need to continue to build on the foundation that was laid here," mentioned Byrne. "This season we have been bit by the injury bug; however, we still need to work hard and get the job done in order to keep our position in the league."
Competition begins Friday with the women's pentathlon kicking off the day at 8:30 a.m. For a full recap of events, please visit www.ETSUBucs.com.