Jan. 14, 2003
The 2003 track and field season begins for the Notre Dame women’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.).
2002-03 NOTRE DAME WOMEN’S TRACK & FIELD PREVIEW
For years, Joe Piane, John Millar, Tim Connelly and Scott Winsor haven taken great pains to mold and shape the Notre Dame women’s track and field team into a national power. He has drawn up the blueprints, poured the foundation and constructed the framework to make that vision a reality. All that remains for the veteran head coach is to fill in the final details that will vault the Irish to the top of the collegiate track world.
Notre Dame cleared another significant hurdle in the program’s history last season, winning its first BIG EAST Conference team title at the indoor meet. The Irish also sent six competitors to the NCAA Outdoor Championships last May, the most in school history. All six athletes earned All-America honors, either in individual events or as relay team members, and five of those competitors are back for Notre Dame this season.
However, the one All-American that will not be back is perhaps the greatest sprinter in Irish history, Liz Grow. The New Braunfels, Texas, product was the anchor on Notre Dame’s 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams, winning All-America honors with both units. She also was a two-time All-America selection in the 400-meter run, placing sixth at the NCAA indoor meet in 2001 and following that up with a fourth-place finish at last year’s indoor nationals, the highest-ever placement by an Irish female athlete at the NCAA level.
But while Grow may have departed, the cupboard is hardly bare Notre Dame this year. The Irish may have more talent in every event than at any other time in the veteran coach’s tenure. As a result, sprints and hurdle coach Millar is optimistic about the outlook for his team in 2002-03.
“We may have lost Liz Grow, but as far as our depth in concerned, we are a better team,” Millar says. “The thing to get established in the fall is to get the workouts and team work ethic established. It has got to come from the team as a whole.
“I feel really good about where are at,” he continued. “Overall, with the improvements we have made in other parts of the team, we are really solid across the board.”
One area of concern for Millar this season will be replacing Grow on the highly-improved sprinting team. Grow holds six school records and won a staggering 12 all-BIG EAST selections during her career. Certainly, filling those shoes will not be easy, and Millar recognizes the difficulty that lies in replacing a veteran of that caliber.
“(Liz) was a valuable asset to our team, not only from the standpoint of her performances, but the leadership that she brought to the sprinters,” Millar says. “That is the one area we will be struggling with. Hopefully, somebody will step into it and assume a leadership role.”
Three sprinters who could fill the void left by Grow’s departure are senior Kymia Love and juniors Kristen Dodd and Ayesha Boyd. All three runners were members of the Irish All-American 4×400 relay team which finished fifth at last year’s NCAA Outdoor Championships, completing the circuit in a school-record time of 3:32.12. The trio also made up the core of Notre Dame’s 4×100-meter relay unit which has won the last two BIG EAST indoor titles and placed 10th at the 2002 NCAA outdoor meet.
“We have a good nucleus back,” Millar says. “We have people like Kymia Love and Kristen Dodd who will need to stand up and take what they can do in the relay into the open 400. Ayesha improved last year to the point that, if she continues to improve, she will be a solid contributor in the BIG EAST and NCAAs.”
“I think Tanya Cheatham can step in right away and help us in the 100 meters and the 4×100,” he continued. “She should improve our 4×100 team quickly.”
As for the hurdles, the Irish have a solid leader in senior Tameisha King. She won a pair of 60-meter hurdle crowns last season and also earned all-BIG EAST honors after placing third at the conference indoor meet. Behind King, sophomore Tiffany Gunn also could be heard from, after winning two 60-meter titles last year and just missing all-conference honors in the event at the BIG EAST indoor meet. Gunn has additional experience at the longer hurdles distances, placing among the top 10 in the 400-meter hurdles twice, led by a fifth-place finish at the Purdue Invitational.
“Hurdle wise, we don’t have a lot of depth,” Millar notes. “Tameisha will be the leader of the group, although we are really going to focus her on the jumps and relays. Tiffany will improve and give us a 1-2 punch.
“Tiffany is a mainstay in the 400 hurdles,” he added. “I feel really good about the progress she has made from last year until right now. I think she is going to be someone who is going to contribute a lot in that event.”
The evolution of the Notre Dame distance runners continued in 2001-02, and it should continue well into this season. The Irish have their top nine distance runners back in the fold, paced by sophomore Lauren King.
King put together a stellar rookie campaign for Notre Dame, capped by her sixth-place finish and All-America selection in the 1,500 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. She also set a school record in the 1,500 at nationals, posting a time of 4:16.51 for the event. Additionally, King was an all-BIG EAST honoree in the 1,500 and narrowly missed doing the same in the indoor mile. Still, she established a school record in the mile, covering the distance in 4:44.6 at the Alex Wilson Invitational.
“Lauren ran one of the top five times in the 1,500 last year, but she is not satisfied with that and wants to keep getting better,” Connelly says. “What we are going to do is expand her range a little bit. We are going to go to the 3,000 and 800 to make her a more complete runner and, ultimately that will make her a much better 1,500-meter runner.”
Juniors Megan Johnson and Julia Schmidt should also give the Irish a boost at the longer distances this year. Johnson developed into one of the top middle distance runners on the Notre Dame roster last season, placing fifth at the BIG EAST indoor meet in the mile and fifth at the conference outdoor meet in the 1,500 meters. Schmidt has competed in all of the long distance races, placing among the top six in the 5,000 meters three times last year.
The most potential for Notre Dame’s distance unit lies in its freshman class. Four newcomers could provide a major spark this season and give the Irish some additional point production during the conference and NCAA meets.
Molly Huddle comes to Notre Dame after a storied prep career that included three All-America citations (two outdoor, one indoor), as well as a national high school record in the outdoor two-mile run (10:01) and a state record in the outdoor 3,000 meters (9:21).
Stephanie Madia was a four-time all-state selection in Pennsylvania during her high school days, winning a pair of state crowns in the 1,600 meters and placing second in the 3,200 meters as a sophomore.
“I think some of the freshmen are capable of being among our top runners, but I also think that’s a nice situation for them,” Connelly noted. “They do not have to come in and be the top runner and carry the load. I think their expectations of themselves are that they are going to come in and contribute right away. The trick is going to be to teach them to all train together and help each other in workouts, rather than race against one another all the time.”
Notre Dame should be well stocked in the field events, thanks in large part to the contributions of team captains Tameisha King in the long jump and Jamie Volkmer in the pole vault.
King is a two-time All-American in the long jump, having won her second national honor with a seventh-place finish at the 2002 NCAA Outdoor Championships. She added an outdoor school-record leap of 21-4 at last year’s Georgia Tech Invitational, giving a taste of what might be ahead for the Irish captain this season.
“Tameisha is a great captain who gets along with everyone,” Winsor says. “Hopefully, we can get her indoor and outdoor All-American status again and keep the ball rolling.”
Meanwhile, Volkmer has firmly entrenched herself as one of the elite pole vaulters in school history. She finished second in the event at both the BIG EAST indoor and outdoor meets last season, jumping a school-record 12-5 3/4 during the indoor competition to earn all-conference honors. She also still holds the school record in the outdoor pole vault, climbing 12-6 at the 2001 Boilermaker Open.
In addition, Volkmer remains a viable threat in several other field events. Most notably, she has been Notre Dame’s top threat in the triple jump, placing sixth during the BIG EAST indoor meet and fourth during the outdoor meet. She also became the first Irish female track athlete to break 41 feet in the outdoor triple jump, turning the trick at the 2001 Woodland Mortgage Relays when she soared 41-0 1/2 to win the meet.
“She’s going to focus on the vault because she is our No. 1 returning vaulter,” Winsor says. “I’ve said this the last two years, but I really think she should be making it to the NCAAs in the pole vault. I would really like her to get in a good vault and make the NCAAs before the conference meet. She could and should win the conference in the pole vault.
“Jamie wants to be a multi-event person and we are going to let her do that,” he continued. “In the multi-events, she is a good athlete and at the conference level, she will help us score.”
The pole vault appears to be the deepest field event for the Irish. In addition to Volkmer, junior Jill Van Welden returns after winning two indoor meets and one outdoor competition last year. She also finished fourth at the BIG EAST indoor championships and sixth at the conference outdoor meet.
Freshman Laura Huarte has the ability to be a significant player in the pole vault as well. She was a two-time sub-sectional champion in the event during her high school career, leaping a career-best 11-9 during the sub-sectional meet last year.
“Jill was very consistent and is a tremendous worker,” Winsor says. “Laura is a great girl who is very talented and will be our third pole vaulter. We are well covered at that position and should be much improved this season.”
A pair of veterans on the Notre Dame roster will lend additional support in the jumps. Jennifer Kearney has been solid in the high jump, just missing out on all-BIG EAST honors after a fourth-place finish at the conference indoor meet. She also placed fifth at the league outdoor competition. Also, Betsy Lazzeri, a multi-event specialist, returns after garnering all-BIG EAST honors in the pentathlon last year, and setting a school record in the heptathlon (4,489 points) at the 2002 conference outdoor meet.
Besides Volkmer and Lazzeri, freshman Stacey Cowan also could be a contributor in multiple events. Cowan ranked as high as fourth in the nation in the high jump as a high school sophomore and went undefeated in the event during her final three prep seasons. She also set school and state meet records in the high jump, clearing 5-10, and she placed second in the heptathlon at last year’s Junior Olympics regional meet.
“We are going to try and work Stacey into the multi-events,” Piane said. “Stacey is very talented and can score in the multi-events.”
Another area of concern for Winsor this year will be his throwers. The group will be particularly young this year, with a sophomore and freshman ready to lead the way.
Sophomore Kate Duman burst onto the scene last year by hurling the javelin a school-record 126-7 during the outdoor season. She finished in the top three at three different meets and qualified for the BIG EAST outdoor championships, placing 10th overall.
Freshman Meghan Horn also appears poised to make an immediate contribution for the Irish. The Upper Sandusky, Ohio, resident placed fifth in the shot put and discus at the 2000 USATF Junior Nationals, earning All-America honors in both events. She also set school records in the shot put (44-11.5) and discus (140-0), and was a three-time state champion in the shot put, going undefeated in the event over her final three high school campaigns.
“Meghan will be our number one thrower,” Winsor says. “We are going to get her in the weight and hammer throws as well as the shot and discus. She is a good athlete who can pick things up and do well. In those events, we are looking to Meghan to step in and do well.”