Since the initiation of the Mountain West Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships in 2000, CSU has seen itself inferior to perennial champion Brigham Young. This year, however, that could change.
Both the Cougars’ men’s and women’s track teams have wiped out the competition decisively the past three years, but the Rams have shown the potential to challenge that dominance – both the men and women finished second in 2002 – and say this could be the year they end it.
The teams will have the chance to do so starting Wednesday in Albuquerque, N.M., at the MWC championships.
“We are all running well and healthy,” said head coach Del Hessel. “For the first time this season everyone is at a healthy, competitive level.”
To win, however, the Rams need strong performances from athletes up and down the roster, including those who have been out for a good part of the season.
For the men the biggest reliance of points should come from a group of throwers that ranks among the best in the nation.
Recently named MWC Male Athlete of the Week Drew Loftin, whose toss of 227 feet, 4 inches in the hammer throw in Lincoln, Neb., last Saturday placed him fourth in the nation, leads the charge. Fellow senior Brian Trainor, juniors Adam Trainor and James Cale, and freshmen Nate Heyrman and Jason Fearheily round out the group.
Throwers coach Brian Bedard said each has the potential to score some points for the team in his respective event, while Brian Trainor, Loftin and Heyrman should garner several points in multiple events.
“Drew and Brian are throwing extremely well,” Bedard said. “Trainor has qualified (for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championships) in the discus and shot (put), and Drew has done it in the hammer, discus and shot.”
Adding to the overall depth of the men’s squad is the presence of a strong distance and middle-distance team, composed of runners capable of taking on the dominant distance squad BYU has fielded for several years.
Steeplechasers Mike Nicks and Raegan Robb are currently ranked 8th and 14th, respectively, in the Midwest Region standings in the event and, according to Hessel, should be among the top-four finishers in Albuquerque.
“I think Mike Nicks has a good chance to win the event and Raegan will be right there,” he said. “It’s a hard race to predict, but those two should be among the top finishers.”
The depth continues in the 1,500-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs where the Michel brothers, Bill and Paul, team with Nicks, Austin Vigil, Dylan Olchin and Josh Glaab in an effort to defeat BYU’s top performers, including defending 3,000-meter MWC indoor champion Kip Kangogo.
To win, however, the Rams will need more than just great throws and strong distance runners; they will need strong performances from a capable group of sprinters and hurdlers that, now healthy, should put pressure on the Cougars.
Leading the group is junior John Woods, who returns to defend his title in the 100- and 200-meter dashes while Chris Riggs, Brandon Kent and Jake Simpson look to build on their strong performances in Nebraska.
Recent Midwest Regional qualifier Tom Waido teams up with the trio of Justin Hazzard, Mike Horton and Brian Williams to form a formidable hurdling squad that has progressed by leaps and bounds as the season rolls on.
For the women, the possibility of defeating the Cougars, who Team Power Ranking lists as No. 9 in the nation, appears remote. But that will not stop the team from challenging the defending champs.
“They’re tough and have been like that for a while,” said Meg Larson, who will challenge for the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase title in Albuquerque. “I don’t expect to beat them, but you never know what can happen.”
As with the men, the women’s squad should get the bulk of its points from a group of strong throwers led by junior Keela Niemeyer and senior Hannah Metzler.
“We have quite a battle in the women’s hammer with Jill McCormick, Hannah Metzler, Melissa Harms and Keela Niemeyer,” Bedard said. “With a tight race in the conference it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
With no clear favorite in the conference in any of the women’s throwing events, Bedard said the events could fall into anyone’s hands.
“It will be interesting to see who continues to excel,” he said. ” Hopefully they can push each other to a top finish.”
Anything less and it’s one more year of waiting for the Rams.
Top 10 Track and Field Power Rankings according to www.team-power.org
Rank School Score
1. UCLA 364.25
2. Tennessee 361.28
3. Florida 357.5
4. Florida State 357.02
5. BYU 356.13
6. Indiana University 347.66
7. Nebraska 346.98
8. Minnesota 346.71
9. Colorado State 341.77
10. Arizona 339.16
Rank School Score
1. UCLA 393.06
2. LSU 384.24
3. North Carolina 383.38
4. South Carolina 364.51
5. Nebraska 362.6
6. Florida State 357.4
7. Washington State 352.93
8. Penn State 349.71
9. BYU 349.31
31. Colorado State 307.22