PROVO, Utah (May 16) - After winning both men's and women's indoor championships three months ago in Colorado Springs, the BYU track and field teams enter this weekend's meet as favorites to claim the first-ever outdoor Mountain West Conference titles.
The women's team, ranked No. 4 in the nation in the latest Power rankings, heads into the meet having won 17 consecutive conference titles dating back to 1983, as a member of the High Country Athletic Conference. The No. 12 men have won two straight outdoor conference titles after placing second in 1997 in the expanded WAC. The Mountain West Conference includes 14 teams, eight women's and six men's. Each school in the conference will field a women's team, while the men's field will be without teams from San Diego State and UNLV, who do not have men's programs.
"I never make predictions, but I think this meet will be close," said women's coach Craig Poole. "The school records we have set this season are an indication of what this team can do. If we continue to do what we've done so far, we should have a good finish both at conference and at nationals."
BYU women head the conference standings in 10 events heading into the meet, and a handful of athletes appear on the national performance rankings. Melanie Steere heads the 800-meter list and is ranked ninth nationally with the second-best time in school history (2:04.50). Susan Taylor has the best 1,500 time in the conference (4:16.58) as well as the No. 3 spot in the nation. Taylor is also ranked No. 13 in the 3,000 meters (9:24.47), behind conference-leading teammate Sharolyn Shields (No. 6, 9:17.71) and Laura Heiner (No. 8, 9:19.37). Marty Hernandez leads both the 5,000- and 10,000 meters, where she is ranked No. 7 (15:59.86) and No. 4 (33:21.52), respectively. Her time in the 5,000 is an outdoor school record. Tara Rohatinsky joins Hernandez in the 10,000 rankings, at the No. 6 spot (33:40.06).
Kirsten Bolm is the favorite in the 100-meter hurdles (No. 9, 13.05) and in the long jump (No. 7, 21-5.25), and Holly Gibbons has the best 400-meter hurdles time in the MWC at 58.25, good for 19th in the nation and second on the BYU all-time list. Jeana Bingham is the conference's best high jumper (No. 9, 6-0), and school record-holder Becky Jackson tops the pole vault list with a season-best 12-10.25 and a No. 15 ranking.
The men's side of the competition will be highlighted by a showdown between national powers in the throwing events. In the shot put, BYU's No. 3 Jim Roberts (19.69 meters) will take on Wyoming's No. 5 Jason Gervais (19.49 ) and No. 7 Jason Hammond (19.32). The discus competition features two of the top three in the NCAA in Colorado State's No. 2 Casey Malone (64.47 meters) and No. 3 Gervais (64.26), as well as No. 19 Brian Trainor of Colorado State (58.82) and No. 26 Roberts (56.74).
Fresh off a personal-best 10.13 100 meters in Salt Lake last Wednesday, Kenneth Andam holds a No. 15 national ranking in the event, as well as the top spot in the conference in the 200 meters (20.77) to lead a talented group of BYU sprinters. No. 7-ranked Kyle Grossarth will try to improve on his NCAA automatic mark (49.82) in the 400-meter hurdles after running the second-fastest time ever by a Cougar at the BYU Tri-Meet May 6. Marc Chenn is the heavy favorite in the high jump, an event in which he is ranked No. 14 with a season-best 7-2.5. Also appearing in the national rankings is freshman Curtis Pugsley, ranked No. 20 in the decathlon after racking up 7,174 points at the Robison Invitational.
"There are some really good people coming in here, so things should be very exciting," said coach Willard Hirschi. "I think we should score points in each event, and there are a few events we should score big in. When the competition is good, our kids rise to the occasion and perform extremely well."
The competition begins Wednesday, May 17, at 12:30 p.m. with the first half of the heptathlon and decathlon events. The rest of the events are scheduled for Friday, May 18, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, May 20, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., when an awards ceremony will take place. Wednesday and Thursday's events are free to the public. Admission is $10 for an all-session family pass, $4 for an individual single session on Friday and $5 for Saturday only. Children (high school and under) are $2 for Friday and $3 for Saturday. All events will be held at the BYU Track just south of Cougar Stadium.