JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (April 13, 2011) - After a week off from competition, ETSU Track & Field competes for the A-Sun Outdoor Championships this weekend in Jacksonville, Fla., where the warm weather looks to foster red-hot finishes.
Originally scheduled to run the Sea Ray Relays last weekend in Knoxville, the team instead used the week and weekend to prepare for an early conference meet. Assistant Coach Eli Sunquist said he thinks the strategy will pay off.
"Things have been looking good over the past few weeks," said Sunquist. "We were able to really fine-tune a lot of the athletes in the technical events, and things are looking really good heading into conference."
On top of the extra time to prepare, another major factor is the weather, as athletes migrate from meets in Appalachia and the Piedmont to sea level and the sun.
According to Sunquist, ETSU has only had one good-weather meet all season. "When we roll into Jacksonville this weekend," he added, "the added adrenaline due to a sunny day will be a great advantage to us." Sunquist also remembered an anecdote from his collegiate days at Charlotte. "Rhode Island was in our conference," he said. "They had to deal with some horrible conditions all season long, but when they came down to Charlotte for the conference meet, they just put on a show and [the weather] was a huge advantage to them."
On the men's side of the overall standings, ETSU ranks second in conference, 41 points behind Kennesaw State. Jacksonville looks for a redux of their recent indoor title here, leading the women's complement by 25.5 over Kennesaw State, with North Florida and ETSU behind. Individually, four ETSU athletes stand atop the conference heap in their respective events - one in distance, one in field and two in sprints.
As his country leads the world in the event, Ben Ronoh (Sotik, Kenya) fittingly holds the top conference mark in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, running 9:24.54 at the Charlotte 49er Classic in mid-March. Matt Baum's (Middletown, Md.) lifetime-best 188-11 (57.58m) heave in the javelin, also set in Charlotte, is still a full seven feet, one inch past the nearest competitor. In sprints, both Ifrish Alberg (Paramaribo, Suriname) and Emani Harrison (Columbia, S.C.) pace the conference in the men's and women's 100-meter dash. Alberg's 10.42 mark at the 49er still stands, while Harrison's 11.98 run happened in her hometown at the South Carolina Weems Baskin Relays.
Several more Bucs find themselves in the top-five mix on the brink of the championship weekend, from sprints to multiple events.
Starting in sprints, Tim O'Dell (Palm Coast, Fla.) enjoys the second-best conference mark in the 400-meter dash, while Jasmine Ingram (Frederick, Md.) sits in fourth on the women's side, along with a sixth in the 200-meter.
Both Robert Purcell (Raeford, N.C.) and Mike James (Palm Bay, Fla.) own top-three marks in the hurdles, Purcell second in the 400-meter, James third in the 110-meter. Both athletes had their marks improved by conference rival Kennesaw State, as Purcell set the bar for one day before Josh James posted a 53.22 at the Georgia Intercollegiate, and James went from second to third in conference when Kendall Parks ran a blistering 14.10 at the Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Invite last week.
ETSU sprinters have also combined to go top-three in both the 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relays, with the women sitting in second for both events, the men in third for both events. Yet again, the men see Kennesaw State ahead of the pack, while the women chase Jacksonville.
Until Campbell's Diego Lawrence, the reigning indoor overall MVP, set a new conference best at the Liberty Invitational April 2, ETSU's Ryan Beaver (Virginia Beach, Va.) and Jason Johnson (Springfield, Pa.) were first and second in the triple jump with their marks from the 49er. On the women's side, Lexie Burley (Johnson City, Tenn.) and Bethany Lender (Altoona, Pa.) sit four-five on the conference list with their jumps in Charlotte.
Representing the field events, Cornell Sneed (Miami, Fla.) and Jasmine Foster (Johnson City, Tenn.) hold ETSU's best marks this season and conference second-bests, as Sneed hurled the discus a herculean 149-08 (45.62m) at the Weems Baskin, and Foster comes off her best shot put of the year at Liberty, 42-11.50 (13.09m).
On the women's side of the multiple events, Leah Oakhill's (Brisbane, Australia) third-place finish in the heptathlon at the 49er, totaling 4,102 points, was the A-Sun best until Kennesaw State's Naomi Mack passed it by 356 last week at the Alabama Relays.
Overall, ETSU holds 49 individual top-ten A-Sun marks, achieving 28 of those (57 percent) at the 49er Classic. Sunquist said the men's team has a good chance to add an outdoor title to their Feb. 19 indoor championship, which would be the second time in three years to win both. "Our men are looking to win, and it will be a very close battle with Kennesaw State," he said. "Right now it could go either way, and our guys know it, and they are ready for the fight."
In addition to taking conference gold, Sunquist said another important aspect of the next several weeks is qualifying athletes for the NCAA Regional, May 27 in Bloomington, Ill.
According to Sunquist, the conference meet has less bearing on qualifiers than their performance throughout the region by the end of the season, May 16, when the top 48 athletes in each event go to Illinois. Sunquist said he hopes to qualify 11 athletes including Ingram, James, Beaver and Baum. To do that, all roads do not necessarily lead to Jacksonville. Rather, the River City is a weigh station on the road to Bloomington.
"After our conference meet we will continue to compete," said Sunquist, "trying to qualify as many athletes as we can to the [regional] meet." Once the Bucs wrap up A-Sun action, they'll have three more chances: the April 23 Charlotte Invite, the April 28 Liberty Twilight and the Orange and Purple Classic, May 6 and 7 in Clemson, S.C.