The BYU Women's Team will be a National Threat in 2009. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Women’s track and field at BYU has established itself as one of the nation’s most consistent and successful programs through a relentless and tenacious approach to the sport.
The Cougars, who have won 27 of 29 outdoor conference championships and 15 of 17 indoor conference championships, know what it takes to win.
The 2009 season will be no different. This year’s team is one of the youngest and most talented in program history. With a roster that boasts five All-Americans, the Cougars have had little issue establishing a regional and national presence in 2009.
Within the first month of indoor competition, the Cougars have moved up 18 spots in the national rankings and are showing no signs of slowing down. The No. 14-ranked Cougars have already broken four school records, two Mountain West Conference records and earned a record five MWC Player of the Week awards.
The always-strong distance team will be led by All-American Angela Wagner. The South African junior earned All-American status in 2008 with a sixth-place finish in the steeplechase. Wagner was also part of a distance medley relay team that finished fifth at the NCAA Championships. Her competitive spirit has carried into the 2009 season, earning her national qualifying marks in the 3,000-meter and 1-mile events.
At this year’s New Balance Invitational, Wagner, along with teammates Katie Palmer, Natalie Stewart and Nachelle Stewart, combined for a time of 11:04.91 in the distance medley relay. The team’s NCAA automatic-qualifying relay time was a BYU and MWC record.
Palmer will also play a vital role for the Cougars this season. After a successful freshman campaign, the sophomore has proven to be even more dominant in 2009. She has already compiled three national qualifying marks and will be a threat at both the indoor and outdoor national championships.
All-American steeplechase runner Amy Layne will provide the Cougars with talent and senior leadership. Juniors Sandra Mazan and Cecily Lemmon should be equally impressive. Mazan, a native of Poland will likely make it to both national championships in the 800-meter run, while Lemmon will look to do the same in the 5,000-meter event.
The NCAA Championships will also be in reach for several freshmen, including standout Lacey Cramer. Cramer, one of the country’s top freshmen, has had an immediate impact on the 2009 season. Her freshman campaign has been highlighted by her 800-meter performance, where she broke a BYU and MWC record. Other freshmen that have the skills to make it to nationals are Katy Andrews, Sarah Edwards and Rachel Lange.
The All-American tandem of Amy Menlove and Mindy Neeley-McClurkin make BYU’s jumping class one of the most feared in the nation. Menlove, a world-class jumper, has already qualified for this year’s long jump championships. Neeley-McClurkin, a 2008 Olympic trials participant, has provisionally qualified for nationals.
Another top conference performer for BYU is former javelin-thrower-turned-triple-jumper Madara Dzalbe. The junior from Latvia has the ability to score at the NCAA Championships. Experienced long jumper, Mindy Robins will also provide the jumping squad with depth.
The two best conference high jumpers are BYU freshmen Diana Blauer and Ada Robinson. Robinson came to BYU as the No. 2 ranked high school high jumper. Her skills came to fruition at BYU when she had a provisional qualifying jump at the Cherry and Silver Invitational. Blauer is also making a dent on the regional and national level as a BYU freshman. And senior Ashley Payne, who placed second at last year’s MWC Outdoor Championships will help make Cougar high jumping a power packed event.
Another top performing freshman on this year’s roster is pole -vaulting star Kelli Ehardt. Ehardt has already established herself as a key contributor for the Cougars’. The two-time junior Olympian, jumped to a provisionally qualifying height at the Mountain States Games earlier this season. Junior Kari Clark and senior Ashley Shepard could also make a strong run at the Conference Championships.
Sprints and Hurdles
Menlove and Neeley McClurkin, the do-it-all juniors, will not only be national contenders in the long jump, but will be just as dangerous in the sprinting events. Menlove, a prolific hurdler, has already automatically qualified for this year’s nationals in the 60-meter hurdles. Neeley McClurkin will look to do the same in the 60-meter dash and 100-meter dash. The two juniors have also had early season success in the 4x400-meter relay.
Menlove and Neeley McClurkin teamed up with freshmen sisters Natalie and Nachelle Stewart for a record-breaking relay performance. The foursome broke a 17-year-old school record with a combined time of 3:41.20 at the New Balance Invitational.
The Stewart twins provide BYU with possibly the deepest and strongest sprinting team in school history. Natalie has already broken the Cougar’s 400-meter school record with a provisional qualifying time of 54.13. Nachelle is also a key contributor in the 400-meter as well as the 800-meter event.
Natalie and Nachelle’s older sister Diane will also be an impact athlete, along with the newcomer from Sweden, Fatima Makakala. Both will add depth to the sprint and hurdle events.
Like the rest of the team, the Cougar throwers are a young group with a lot of potential. Freshmen Tiana Ili and Cassandra Woodall and sophomores Tamra Keys and Krystle Forester will be the heart of the shot put and discus squad.
Sophomore standout Deezbaa Whaley, will be an immediate impact contributor for BYU in the weight, hammer and discuss events. Highlighting the javelin throwers will be Ilze Gribule from Latvia and Piret Kuresson from Estonia. The senior duo has the talent to score well at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
And because Menlove, Neeley McClurkin and Robins can do it all, they will do it all. Menlove, an All-American in the pentathlon and heptathlon, is one of the best-combined event athletes in the nation. Neeley McClurkin will also aim for All-American honors in both events. Following the same path of her talented teammates will be Robins the capable sophomore.