Entering the 2011 season, the Patrick Shane-coached women’s track and field team will feature a few veterans, a few up-and-comers and many new faces. The 2010 season was again filled with conference success, as the Cougars swept the MWC Championships for the second consecutive season. The conference record for the Cougars now looks more impressive than ever, with 29 of 31 outdoor conference championship victories and 18 of 20 indoor conference championship victories.
Despite the continued success in the MWC, the Cougars will look to improve on the national level. At one point during the 2010 indoor season BYU reached the number two ranking in the national poll, only to finish 14th at the NCAA Championships. Outdoor nationals looked promising, with six BYU athletes qualifying in seven events, but the team managed only one All-American and six points, leading to 36th place.
2011 will be a season of new leaders and new champions. The team will be without three All-Americans and top MWC performers in Mindy McClurkin, Amy Otis and Angela Wagner. Also gone is All-MWC athletes Kari Clark and Ashley Dziendziel. Despite being without these former senior leaders, the 2011 BYU women’s track and field team will press forward and look to sweep the MWC Championship for the third straight season.Distance
The distance squad will be the team’s anchor in 2011, with All-Americans Lacey Bleazard and Katie Palmer leading a loaded group of runners. The base of the distance team comes in the 800-meter race, an event that the Cougars nearly swept at the 2010 indoor and outdoor MWC Championships. BYU took the top four spots during the indoor meet, and six of the top nine places during the outdoor meet. Bleazard has dominated the event, winning four MWC titles and one National Championship. After a second place finish at the 2010 Indoor National meet, Bleazard will look to regain her 800m title as she strives to lead BYU to continued national prominence.
Also seeking national success in the 800m will be Palmer and Nachelle Stewart. Palmer sat out the 2010 indoor season after a successful 2009 campaign, and did not return to competition until late in the outdoor season. Despite her late start, Palmer managed to finish sixth in the 800m and second in the 1500m at the MWC Outdoor Championships. The 2010 season was the first 800m-focused season for Stewart, and she improved throughout. Stewart finished second to Bleazard at the MWC Indoor Championships, and went on to compete at Indoor Nationals. During outdoor season, Stewart placed third at the MWC Championships and first at the NCAA West Preliminary, but failed to qualify for the finals at Nationals. Stewart will look to improve coming into 2011, and will be a force at the National level during both seasons.
The 1500m also looks to be a strong race for the Cougars, with three runners returning after scoring at conference. Palmer will lead the way, building on her 2010 second place conference finish. Also competing will be Candace Eddy, who placed fourth at conference, and Sarah Edwards, who placed fifth.
Two BYU runners placed in the top four in the 3000m steeplechase and the MWC competition, and both return. Katie Bowen, a senior, will look to improve on her third place conference finish while Katy Andrews, a junior, will work to move up from fourth in the conference. Bowen will also hope to improve on her 3000m run during indoor season, a race that she placed seventh in at indoor conference. Rachel Lange was the top finisher in the 3000m run for BYU during indoor season, and she will return looking to make up the four seconds that separated her from the conference championship.
The 5000m run should be a strength for Patrick Shane and the distance squad as well, with three returning runners that placed in the top four at indoor conference in 2010. Bowen took second at the meet, while freshman Nicole Nielsen took third and Andrews fourth. All three runners were separated by less than a second at the finish, so competition to be the top 5000m runner will be fierce, and will result in improved times all around.Jumps
Junior Ada Robinson will lead the jumps crew, a group that could provide significant success despite the departure of McClurkin, a two-time All-American long jumper. Robinson took home both MWC crowns in the high jump for the second straight season, and competed at outdoor nationals. Junior Diana Blauer, also a high jump specialist, will look to build on a third place indoor conference finish and a fifth place outdoor conference finish.
Outside the high jump, the Cougars return little experience. McClurkin and Otis were the only BYU non-high jumpers to place at conference in 2010, and both are graduated. Multi-event athlete Mindy Robins has ability in the long jump, having taken second in the heptathlon in the event at the MWC Outdoor meet. Another possibility is hurdler/sprinter Fatima Makakala, who competed in the long jump at both conference meets but placed outside the top eight.
The Cougars return no experience in the triple jump. Dzable, a graduated senior that scored in both 2010 conference meets, will not be back. The only other athlete that saw action in for BYU in the event during 2010 was sophomore Melissa Keltner who’s best performance came at the Air Force Open, where she placed sixth.Pole Vault
Despite losing MWC Outdoor Champion and Outdoor Nationals competitors Clark, the pole vault squad is loaded with talent. Leading the way will be sophomore Rachel Fisher. Fisher took second at the MWC Indoor meet with a BYU record vault of 4.25m, and competed at Indoor Nationals. Injuries derailed Fisher’s outdoor season, but she will look to return strong and will lead this pole vault team.
Also coming off a top notch season is junior Kelli Ehardt. Ehardt placed sixth during the indoor conference meet and fourth during outdoor, and added a few meet-victories along the way. Also returning to this group are the experienced Christine Botteron, Catherine Ballard and Shanie Bushman.Sprints and Hurdles
Natalie Stewart and Porshe Giddings will lead the sprint team as they look to improve despite the departure of McClurkin, BYU’s all-time greatest sprinter. Stewart ran well during the indoor season, taking fourth in the 400m at conference and running the 400m leg on BYU’s national qualifying distance medley relay. In 2011, Stewart will continue her success in the 400m but will also compete in the shorter sprints, such as the 100m and 200m. Giddings, a 2009 transfer from Northeastern University, is now adjusted the western United States and hopes to fill in McClurkin’s shoes as the Cougars top short distance sprinter. Top eight conference finishes in the 60m, 100m and 200m attest to her 2011 potential.
The primary success in the hurdles will come during outdoor season, when the 400m hurdle race is competed. Senior Alyssa Christensen surprised the conference last year with a dominant conference victory, and will want to defend that title in 2011. Chelsea Taylor, a junior, also runs her best hurdle race at the 400m distance, and will work to catch up to Christensen after a 2010 fourth place finish at conference.
In the short distance hurdle races, Makakala and Robins will make up for the loss of Otis. Makakala finished sixth at conference in the 60m hurdles and 100m hurdles, while Robins nabbed eighth in the 100m hurdles. With little depth in the short hurdle races, Makakala and Robins will rely on each other to find success in 2011.Throws
Dick Legas’ throws team returns nearly everyone from 2010, but will need to improve to find more success at the conference and national level. The top returning thrower is also one of the youngest, Allyson Wardell. Wardell took second at the outdoor conference championships in the javelin, and competed at the NCAA West Preliminary. Wardell will lead what should be the deepest group of javelin throwers at BYU in recent history.
The indoor season provided a bit more success for the throwers, as four scored at the conference meet. Tipaleli Fotu is the top returning athlete in the weight throw, although teammate Cassandra Woodall will be close behind. In the shot put, Tiana Ili was the lone conference scorer in 2010, and she will work to improve on a sixth-place conference finish in 2010.Combined Events
Robins, a third-place finisher in the 2010 MWC heptathlon, will be the top competitor in this field for the Cougars. Entering her senior season, Robins has been passed this leadership role by former All-American pentathlete Otis, and will make the most of the opportunity. Sophomore Aubri Salazar is the only other athlete on the women’s roster with collegiate experience in the combined events, with her top performance coming at the 2010 Mountain States Games, where she placed eighth in the pentathlon.