Cross Country |
Jan. 5, 2011
By Dave Malaska
As the Cincinnati women's indoor track team gets ready for its 2011 debut this weekend, second-year head coach Susan Seaton has high expectations.
With a strong corps of returning student-athletes, and the influx from a talented freshman class, school and BIG EAST records are not safe.
"We're a much improved team over last year," said Seaton of her squad, which finished in ninth place at last year's BIG EAST Championships. "Along with a very good freshman class, our returnees really used the off-season to challenge themselves and prepare for this season. We're very excited."
If Seaton seems exuberant, she has reason.
In a preview of things to come, the Bearcats competed at the Early Bird Track and Field meet in Illinois in early December. Planned as a capper to the team's fall training, and a stage-setter for the 2011 season, it may have become a warning to UC's opponents instead. Finishing just behind Indiana State and Eastern Illinois as a team, several Bearcats showed plenty of promise for the upcoming indoor season.
Senior Natasha Burse set a new UC record in the 60-meter dash en route to taking the individual title, while junior Mackenzie Fields won the pole vault with a 13-1 1/2 mark that stands as the third-highest mark in the Bearcat record books. Meanwhile, Burse won the meet's 200-meter dash, junior sprinter Aricka Rhodes took the 400-meter dash win and the UC 4x400 relay team cruised to another victory.
"We looked like we are ready for the BIG EAST," judged Seaton.
After a four-week break, the Bearcats will get a chance to prove their coach correct as they open the bulk of the indoor season this weekend at Akron, competing against the Zips, Louisville, Michigan and Buffalo on Friday.
Like last season, UC will be particularly strong in the pole vault. Paced by Fields, who finished in sixth place at the BIG EAST meet as a sophomore and twice jumped just shy of the Cincinnati record last season, as well as classmate Michelle Eby
, who took third place at the conference meet, the Bearcat vaulters are very talented. Adding in senior Kayla Dunn
, who took fourth place at the BIG EAST Championships last season, the group's strength was enough to encourage Seaton to schedule UC's first-ever appearance at the Pole Vault Summit later this month in Reno, a showcase for the elite.
Another strength, according to Seaton, will be UC's relay teams. In 2009, the foursome of Burse, Rhodes, Ashley Arnold and Courtney Wicks rewrote the UC record book, setting a new top mark (3:45.03) in the 4x400, along with three other of the school top-10 times ever. All but Wicks return this season. Along with the addition of junior Vanessa Hardin and sophomores Shanay Portis and Alyssa Edley, the Bearcats' top unit looks to be as strong again. Already, the foursome of Portis, Hardin, Edley and Rhodes have a win to their credit, taking the Early Bird title in December.
Meanwhile, junior mid-distance standouts Kathy Klump and Jenna Heaton return to anchor UC's 4x800 relay team. The pair not only made their mark as individuals last season, they anchored the relay effort for the Bearcats, helping set new times for the top two spots in the UC annals.
Senior Shakira Thompson, junior Brianna Patton, and a trio of freshman newcomers, Jessica Ajunwa, Gabby Calderone and Morgan Gordon, give UC's relay teams added depth.
Elsewhere, the Bearcat sprinters will be looking to build on last season's successes. Not only does UC return Burse off a record-setting junior campaign, the squad also welcomes fellow senior Ashley Arnold -- who set a Cincinnati record in the 400 meter dash with a mark of 55.06 seconds while placing fifth at the BIG EAST Championships -- back for this season. Arnold also set a school record in the 600 meters during the season. Rhodes gives the Bearcats another top sprinter, while junior Hauna Dawkins will compete in both sprints and hurdles.
She'll be joined in UC's hurdles effort by senior Jasmine Cotten, who posted the third-best ever UC time in the 60 meter hurdles last season. Cotten will also be a staple for the Bearcats in the pentathlon, where she set a new school record (4,073) and was an NCAA qualifier last year, as well as long jump and high jump. She'll be looking to improve an already impressive resume, after being named last season's BIG EAST Most Outstanding Field Performer after winning the pentathlon, taking fourth in the long jump and fifth in the high jump at the conference meet.
With UC's other returnees and a deep freshman class added to the mix, the Bearcats' prospects for the upcoming season are bright.
"We have a great group of young women, already moving in the right direction, setting goals and striving for excellence," Seaton points out. "It's going to be an exciting season."