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Men's Track And Field Ready For Season Opener This Weekend

Jan. 14, 2003

The 2003 track and field season begins for the Notre Dame men’s team this weekend at the Central Michigan Opener (Friday, Jan. 17, 7 p.m.). The Irish are ready to begin the quest for the 2003 BIG EAST indoor championship, set for March 14-15 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY.

Upcoming opportunities to see the Irish in action include a dual meet against Ball State (Friday, Jan. 24, 7 p.m.), a dual meet against Michigan State (Friday, Jan. 31, 7 p.m.), the annual Meyo Invitational (Friday – Saturday, Feb. 7-8, 7 p.m./1p.m.) and the traditional Alex Wilson Invitational (Friday – Saturday, Feb. 7-8), 7 p.m./1 p.m.).

2003 Notre Dame Men’s Track and Field Season Preview

Distance has dominated for the Notre Dame track and field team for the last two years. NCAA Champion Ryan Shay was the signature athlete for the program early in the new century, but the Irish know that it takes more than one individual to compete at the conference level.

Shay graduated in May of 2002, but the distance group remains strong. The entire Irish team, however, is ready to take a step forward with some talented young athletes who are just beginning to tap their abilities.

Notre Dame ended up third in the conference at the completion of both the indoor and outdoor meets in 2002. The team hopes to improve its team ranking in 2003 and they are counting on a handful of highly talented individuals to carry the load.

Fifth-year senior Luke Watson is an obvious choice as a team leader and his performance record speaks for itself. Watson missed the 2001 season with a knee injury, but returned on the top of his game in 2002. He ended up fourth at the NCAA Championship in the indoor 3,000 meters, seventh in the outdoor steeplechase and qualified for the NCAA meet in the outdoor 5,000 meters. Able to run a variety of distance events, Watson flirted with a sub-four minute mile after the outdoor NCAAs last year (running 4:00.68 at the Minnesota Classic to set the school record).

“Getting Luke back will certainly help our distance group,” Joe Piane says.

“He ran a four-flat mile last year and will take a shot to break the four-minute mile during the indoor season.”

Watson should also figure in the 3,000-meter indoor championship picture as well as contending for the national title in the steeplechase.

Although clearly the most talented runner in the Irish stable, Watson is not alone in the ability to compete at the conference level. David Alber scored in the BIG EAST steeplechase last season and returns to add depth behind Watson. John Keane has the ability to run well at any distance, while Eric Morrison announced his intention for a solid sophomore season by flirting with an NCAA qualification time in the 1,000 meters last year.

Piane knows that there are a number of candidates ready to step up and take some of the burden off Watson’s shoulders.

“Marc Striowski returns for a fifth year,” Piane says.

“That’s got to help. Todd Mobley was an NCAA qualifier in the 10,000 meters, Vinnie Ambrico is coming in as a freshman running roughly a 4:11 mile and his classmate, Thomas Chamney, is running 1:51.40 in the half mile. We are pretty solid in the middle distance area.”

Over in the sprints and hurdle area, Selim Nurudeen arrived on campus last year with high expectations, but the Irish coaches are well aware of possible adjustment difficulties to Division I competition. It ended up taking Nurudeen only a few months to acclimate himself to collegiate track and field and he announced his presence fully at the 2002 BIG EAST outdoor meet with an individual title in the 110-meter hurdles.

“We are in good shape in the 100- and 60-meter hurdles with Selim,” sprints, hurdles and speed coach John Millar says.

“He obviously lived up to his potential, and maybe exceeded it at the BIG EAST outdoor meet as a freshman.”

Millar has his eyes set on taking Nurudeen to the next level and will focus the sophomore on the short hurdles for the entire season. Though he competed in the 400 hurdles during his rookie outdoor season, Nurudeen with concentrate on the 110-meter hurdles in 2003.

Another top performer for the Irish, in a limited role last year, was football cornerback Dwight Ellick. Ellick is able to compete in just the indoor season due to spring football workouts, but he proved himself as a valuable member of the track and field team with two all-BIG EAST efforts in the 60 and 200 meters at the 2002 league indoor meet.

“I know that Dwight is really excited about coming back,” Millar says.

“There are a handful of football players that can really come out and help us when the time comes.”

Football players aside, Millar has his sights set on putting together a competitive 4×400-meter relay team for both the indoor and outdoor season.

“We have a pretty solid group of quarter milers,” Millar explains

“John Boots, Trevor McClain-Duer and a freshman, Ryan Postel – they can all help us in the 200 and 400 area. My focus is that I would like to get a competitive 4×400 out of that group that can run a good time. I think we have a group of guys that are capable of running fast.”

In the field events, the horizontal jump burden will fall on two athletes. Senior Tom Gilbert returns in his third year as the top long jump specialist while junior Godwin Mbagwu is looking for a break out season in the triple jump.

“Tom Gilbert had a solid and consistent season last year,” jumps and throws coach Scott Winsor says.

“We are looking for good things from him as one of our team captains. He needs to step up, perform well and show what he can do. He is going to have to become a leader and end his career on a high note.”

Mbagwu showed flashes of brilliance during his rookie season, but struggled with some injuries during the 2002 season.

“Godwin is going to have to step up this year,” Winsor says.

“He is still dealing with tendonitis in his knees, but that is just something he needs to get over. He has to understand that we need him and his role on the team is an important one.”

Winsor is counting on two sophomores to step up in the high jump after performing well during their rookie seasons.

“Ryan Mineburg ended on a great note at the outdoor conference meet and Chris Staron was very consistent all year long,” Winsor says.

“We did a lot of adjusting with both of their approaches last year and a lot of technical changes. Now that they are more comfortable with the changes we made, I am looking for a lot of good things from those two guys.”

Losing perennial all-BIG EAST performer Derek Dyer to graduation is going to have an effect on Winsor’s throws group, but he has a bevy of talented underclassmen ready to step up and fill the void.

“Chip Roberts and Juan Alba are ready to take the next step,” Winsor says.

“Chip worked hard over the summer to get into shape and is coming off a solid rookie season. Juan had a great outdoor conference meet. Those two guys will need to take over in the throws.”

Jason Davis and Brian Thornburg also have the ability to contribute in the throws for the Irish this season.

“Davis ended up as our third hammer thrower and I am interested to see how he comes back,” Winsor says.

“Brian Thornburg needs to pick it up. We need to get something out of him. If we can get these guys performing to their capabilities, then we will have a solid throws group.”

For the outdoor season, senior Mike Madigan and rookie Derek Goguen will carry the load in the javelin.

“Mike Madigan had some elbow problems last year,” Winsor explains.

“We were really excited before the season because he got stronger and was really working hard. We just need to keep him away from injuries.

“Derek Goguen has only thrown the javelin one year, but he threw over 180. He is tall, thin and athletic and I am excited to see what he can do.”

Similar to the loss of the consistent Dyer, Winsor also will have to adjust to Josh Heck’s graduations, leaving a hole in the pole vault group.

“We lost Heck in the pole vault,” Winsor says.

“Joe Yanoff just has to get better. As far as body awareness and technical capabilities, he is one of the best pole vaulters we have ever had. He just needs to run down the runway, get a little bit of reckless abandon in him and he will be fine.”

For the entire Irish team to match, or improve on, their results from the 2002 season, every competitor on the team will need to reach his potential.

“The men are in a similar situation from last year,” Millar says.

“We just don’t have the depth that we would like. We have a few individuals we are expecting a lot of.”