After 12 hugely successful seasons as the head track coach at BYU, Willard Hirschi has announced that this, his thirteenth, will be his last at the helm. Hirschi has led the Cougars to eleven indoor conference titles (including the last ten) and nine outdoor conference titles since being named to the position in 1988. His teams have finished as high as fourth at the NCAA Championships (in 1991) and have produced 41 All-American awards.
Coach shows no signs of slowing down this year, however, as he has yet another talent-laden roster set to dominate the new Mountain West Conference. "Going in, this looks to be as good a group as we had last year, maybe even better. We just don't have any real weaknesses, besides the javelin and the hammer," said Hirschi.
The team will have a huge hole to fill in 2000, as two-time NCAA 100-meter champion and All American Leonard Myles-Mills has graduated from BYU to compete in the international circuit. Myles-Mills, rated the eighth-fastest man in the world by Track and Field News, was BYU's first repeat champion since Ed Eyestone won the 10,000 in 1984 and '85 and the Cougars' first NCAA champion in any event since Frank Fredericks swept the sprints in 1991. Other key losses for the Cougars include 400-meter school record-holder Clayton Patch, 12th-place NCAA hammer throw finisher Doug Bryant, and NCAA steeplechase qualifier Jeff Wilson. Surprise 1,500-meter runner Bryan Lindsay, who finished 10th at the NCAA outdoors last season, has left the team to serve a two-year LDS mission.
Despite some key departures, Coach Hirschi feels that this year's team is up to the challenge. "When you lose someone the caliber of Leonard, that's huge. We have people on the team, though, about a dozen of them, who can step up and make real contributions. We should be especially tough in sprints, and we are literally loaded with hurdlers. The hurdles will easily be our strongest events," said Hirschi.
Among the hurdlers returning for BYU are seniors Randy Himes, Slade Combs and Kyle Grossarth. Himes and Combs were NCAA provisional qualifiers in the 110 meter hurdles last season, while Grossarth recorded the second-fastest 400 meter hurdles time in BYU history that led to his appearance in the NCAAs. Joining the talented trio are Daymon Visser, a three time Utah state champ in the 110-meter hurdles, and Russ Elggren, who set the 5A state record in 1995.
Hirschi will look to junior Kenneth Andam to fill the talent and leadership spot vacated by fellow Ghanaian Myles-Mills. Andam qualified for the NCAAs in both the 100 and 200 meters and was named an All-American for his part in the 4x100 relay team that took third place. Robert Mugagga, a native of Uganda and one of Africa's top sprinters, is expecting to assert himself in the sprints following the steady progress he saw as a freshman last year.
Several newcomers will make an immediate impact in the long sprints. Freshman David Chesser will attempt to make up for the loss of All-American Clayton Patch in the 400 meters. Chesser recorded a blazing 47-second 400 meters while a prep in Texas. Standout Mao Tjiroze of Namibia will lead the Cougars in the 800 meters, where he will be joined by returned missionary freshman Jeff Hopkinson, who set the Utah prep record and was a two-time state champ at Bingham High. Also back from a mission is Lewis Jones, a Texas state champion in the 1,600 meters, 3,200 meters and cross country his senior year in high school.
Whereas the Cougars' distance events were looked on as a liability last season, the longer races should become a strength to the team this year. The addition of experienced members of the cross country team that took the Mountain West Conference by storm last fall will make the group a force to be reckoned with in 2000. Headlining the distance team are MWC champ John Hedengren and conference freshman of the year David Danley.
Discus, hammer, and shot put duties this year will fall largely on the broad shoulders of junior All-American Jim Roberts. "He is our weight program," said Hirschi. "There aren't many programs in the country that will have an athlete better than him." Roberts finished sixth in the shot put at the 1999 indoor NCAAs. He will be joined by freshman Matthew Holcomb, an all league discus and shot put performer in California.
Junior Jeff Hansen will have his hands full trying to improve on last year's accomplishments in the pole vault. As a sophomore, Hansen broke the school record with a 17-11 jump at the WAC Championships. He followed that up with a fifth-place finish at the NCAAs, a performance that made him an All-American. Marc Chenn, the best high jumper to ever come out of Hong Kong, will assert himself as one of the nation's premier talents after an All-American performance last year at the NCAAs, where he finished seventh. Rick Madsen, an NJCAA All-American transfer from UVSC, will handle triple jump duties, while defending WAC champion Kenneth Andam has the long jump in good hands. University of Texas transfer Hyrum Prince should be the Cougars' decathlon entry.