Jan. 10, 2002
Competition: Purdue Open Indoor Track and Field Meet
Date: Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002
Site: West Lafayette, Ind., Lambert Fieldhouse
List of participants: Mark Barber, John Boots, Juan Alba, Nate Andrulonis, Kevin Avenius, James Bracken, William Croker, Derek Dyer, Tom Gilbert, Doug Gunzelman, Ryan Hurd, Tom Lennon, Mike Mansour, Godwin Mbagwu, Trevor McClain-Duer, Eric Morrison, Selim Nurudeen, Colin Quinn, Quill Redwine, Geoff Rudziewicz, Nick Sracco, Kevin Somok, Napoleon Suarez, Brian Thornburg
The men’s pole vault team also will compete this weekend at the Reno Pole Vault Summit in Reno, Nev., from Friday, Jan. 11 to Sunday, Jan. 13. Josh Heck and Joe Yanoff will make the trip for the Irish.
2002 Indoor Season Kicks Off:
The Notre Dame men’s indoor track and field season begins this weekend as the Irish take part in the Purdue Open Indoor Track and Field Meet and the Reno Pole Vault Summit this weekend. The Irish will be looking for some early development in the sprint corps before next weekend’s home meet and some talented freshman hurdlers and throwers will get their first taste of collegiate competition this weekend.
2002 Men’s Track and Field Preview:
Looking back at the 2001 Notre Dame men’s track and field team, the accomplishments of the group are sometimes overshadowed by one person. An individual National Championship has a tendency to do that.
Ryan Shay ran away with the 10,000 meters at the 2001 NCAA Championship meet in Eugene, Ore., last June, becoming the first Irish athlete to win an individual NCAA title since 1972. Unfortunately, one person cannot carry the Irish to a BIG EAST title at the indoor meet (Notre Dame has finished in the top three every year since 1996) and Shay’s victory in the 10,000 meters at the outdoor meet could not help the team repeat its 2000 title.
The Irish have retooled, though, and are set to compete for both the BIG EAST indoor and outdoor title in 2002. Luke Watson, the 2000 conference steeplechase champion, returns from an injury that kept him out for the entire 2001 season. Shay is back with five individual BIG EAST titles on his resume. Quill Redwine, Derek Dyer, Josh Heck and Tom Gilbert, all athletes who placed in the top five at the BIG EAST Championship meets last season, are all back on the 2002 roster.
An influx of young talent in the hurdles and a shot in the arm from a contingent of Notre Dame football players who intend to run short sprints during the indoor season will provide the Irish a more well-rounded group entering the championship meets.
“Everything is geared toward those two meets,” Irish head track and field coach Joe Piane says.
“The BIG EAST and the NCAA championship meets are what it is all about.”
Here is a breakdown of the 2002 Notre Dame men’s track and field team by group specialties:
The strength of the 2002 track and field team might just be in the distance events. Shay will return for a fifth year of eligibility after missing the 1999 season. He will be among the leaders in the BIG EAST indoor 3,000 and 5,000 meters, as well as the defending champion in the 10,000 meters. The distance corps is extremely deep with Luke Watson, Pat Conway, Marc Striowski, Todd Mobley and Kevin Somok.
“We are going to be stronger than we were a year ago with the return of Luke Watson,” Piane says.
“He has the ability to advance to the NCAA meet in the steeplechase, the 3,000 or the 5,000 meters. He has that kind of range.”
Piane also is looking forward to building a solid distance medley team for the indoor season, hoping to repeat the success of the 1999 team that featured Watson and earned All-America honors at the NCAA Championship.
“I think we can have a great distance medley team,” Piane says.
“Any combination of Watson, Conway, Somok, (freshman) Eric Morrison or (junior) Doug Gunzelmann will have the ability to do some great things for us.”
Sophomore Todd Mobley looks poised to contribute in various distances this year after a strong summer of training.
“Todd has really worked hard and if he can keep up the times he is running now he will be able to contribute for us,” Piane says.
Another key cog in the Irish distance events will be sophomore Kevin Somok. He posted the team’s second-best 1,000-meter time and third-best mile time in his rookie season last year.
“Kevin can give us a great lift his year,” Piane says.
“I expect some highly competitive times out of him.”
Finally, there is Shay. The NCAA 10,000-meter defending champion will look to repeat his title in the spring and also earn All-America honors at the indoor meet.
“Ryan will be right there among the national distance leaders,” Piane says.
“If he can just get into the championship races he has the ability to compete with anyone out there.”
SPRINTS AND HURDLES:
Looking at the returnees from last season, the Notre Dame men’s sprint group looks a bit depleted. The loss of Travis Davey to graduation is not easily replaced and only Tom Gilbert, a 200-meter specialist, has enjoyed success at the conference level.
“We don’t have the depth and numbers that would like to have,” sprint and hurdles coach John Millar says.
“We are counting on some individuals to really step up and improve. We lost Travis Davey in the sprints, so everything falls on Tom Gilbert as the mainstay of the sprint team.”
Gilbert, along with James Bracken and Ryan Hurd represent the top returning runners in the Irish sprint group. Hurd really started to contribute toward the end of the 2001 season and possesses the ability to help the Irish at the BIG EAST meet.
“Ryan Hurd had a good freshman year,” Millar says.
“He really improved at the end of the season. Once he gets that summer of extra work behind, which will provide him with the extra strength he needs, I really think he has the ability to compete at the collegiate level. He will have an opportunity to step up and contribute right away.”
Millar also has worked hard at the connection with the Irish football team and, as the University speed coach, he has a number of gridiron speedsters ready to hit the track for the Irish during the indoor season. A tradition that runs back to Raghib “Rocket” Ismail (an NCAA All-American in track and field and football) and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, Millar hopes that the talent seen in Notre Dame Stadium during the fall will make a contribution on the Monogram Track during the winter.
“We will help ourselves in our relationship with the football team,” Millar says.
“Looking at our short sprinters, we are going to be well served with the edition of some football players.”
Dwight Ellick, the 2001 Florida state 100- and 200-meter champion will help the Irish this season. Vontez Duff, Julius Jones and Matt Shelton are all planning to appear on the track for the Irish this season.
“Dwight Ellick and Vontez Duff from football can really come in and strengthen our short sprints,” Millar says.
“If we add those guys to our sprint group I think we really are strong.”
For the hurdles, Millar will be looking for Napolean Suarez to build on a strong outdoor season and freshman Selim Nurudeen to give the team an added weapon.
“Napolean Suarez had an injury-plagued freshman year but he really started to develop,” Millar says.
“Once we got into the outdoor season he really started to show improvement. He stayed here over the summer and really worked – which will put him ahead of where he was last year. He is another guy that is going to provide some depth for us because he can run the hurdles and the mile relay.
We have added some outstanding freshman that can help us. Selim Nurudeen is a110-hurdles, 400-hurdles specialist so he can run both relays as well. We will be looking for him to jump right in and contribute.”
JUMPS AND THROWS:
A strong veteran group returns for the Irish in the jumps and throws for coach Scott Windsor, and he expects the group to carry a heavy load at the conference meet.
“We have some very good upperclassmen coming back,” Windsor says.
“Josh Heck in the vault, Quill Redwine in the high jump and triple jump, Tom Gilbert in the long jump and sprints, Godwin Mbagwu coming back as a sophomore and Derek Dyer in the throws. That is a pretty solid group that can compete with anyone in the conference.”
Windsor is looking forward to working with Heck this season and pushing the senior toward the 17-0 barrier in the pole vault.
“If we could have got Josh two more meets last season he would have been vaulting at 17-0 or better,” Windsor says.
“He really got a feel for that event in the last two or three meets of the season. He relaxed and it suddenly clicked at the last meet of the year. He looked very good while attempting 16-8.
He is capable of making the NCAAs. Josh has a great attitude towards making that goal. He can also be the conference champion. He has that kind of ability if thing fall together for him.”
Tom Gilbert is the top long jump specialist on the Irish roster, but Windsor knows that Gilbert’s skills are needed in the sprint lane as well. The Irish coaches will be asked to carefully balance the contributions Gilbert can provide on the track and the runway.
“If we can keep Tom Gilbert healthy he will do some good things in the long jump,” Windsor says.
“I know that he likes the long jump, but he needs to sprint for us to be successful as a team. He will need to bite the bullet and step up at the conference meet.”
The Irish triple jump group looks strong this year with the return of senior Quill Redwine and sophomore Godwin Mbagwu.
“Godwin busted out to an awesome start last year,” Windsor says.
“He was out to beat the world early and he needs to understand to relax down the runway. He has the ability to really put up some great jumps in both the triple and long jump.”
Redwine will be another double-threat for the jump group in the high jump and triple jump.
“Quill was coming off a knee injury and really wasn’t confident enough to jump the way he is accustomed to in the triple jump,” Windsor says.
“He did some good things in the high jump and stayed consistent at our BIG EAST meet. If we keep him healthy, he is going to do some very good things for us in both events.”
Redwine will not be alone in the high jump this season. Two talented freshman are expected to have an immediate impact on the team and score some valuable points at the conference meet.
“Two incoming freshman high jumps, Ryan Mineburg and Chris Staron, will help us out,” Windsor says.
“Those two guys at the conference level can come in as freshman and make an immediate hit. They do have a challenge ahead of them, though, to come in and keep it together academically and mentally.”
The BIG EAST Conference is one of the more talented track and field leagues in the nation and the Irish are determined to be at the top of the championship meet when the final team scores are announced. The Irish broke through with a team championship in 2000, but a series of injuries kept the team out of contention last season.
“Our guys have the talent and the desire to compete at the national level,” Piane says.
“It is time to go out there and prove what every athlete can accomplish, both as an individual and as a team.”