Women's and Men's Track and Field race to a great start in '08
· 2008 Texas Men's Track and Field: |
Had Texas head coaches Bev Kearney (women's track and field) and Bubba Thornton (men's track and field) written a script on how they wanted the 2008 Indoor season to begin, they couldn't have done much better than how it has worked out in real life.
As the women's and men's teams head into the second month of the indoor season, which will be capped off by the Big 12 Conference Championships in Lincoln, Neb., both coaches have much to be excited about already.
Thornton, who is beginning his 13th season at the helm of the men's program, watched his squad bring home team titles in the first two meets of the season -- Houston Indoor and Leonard Hilton Memorial -- and saw several strong individual performances at the Razorback Invitational, a non-scored meet the last weekend of January.
"I am extremely proud of the guys we have," said Thornton, who will be leading the U.S. men's squad at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
"This group works hard each day and is focused on what we need to do as a team," Thornton continued. "The team is working toward consistency in each individual's performances and working toward consistency in the whole team's performance. Having this team come together to get done what we need to get done is important and I like what I see so far."
Thornton had praise for pole vaulters Maston Wallace, a freshman, and sophomore Will Paine. The coach also was pleased with the work of sophomore Nick Baucum in the shot put and junior hurdler Elliot O'Hare, a native of Austin.
"Elliott was a great Texas high school athlete, but he was 17 when he came to us," Thornton said. "He's grown up and gotten stronger. He is much better with his work, and he will continue to improve.
"We also have got Leo (Manzano, two-time NCAA Champion middle distance runner), who is one of the greatest ever and we have freshman Danzell Fortson (sprints), who has a great attitude and is putting in the work that will help us come together as a team."
Thornton, of course, has to have everyone perform well on the same day.
"The meet in New York (New Balance Collegiate Invitational) will be a chance to put it all together against some strong teams, like Tennessee and LSU," said Thornton, whose squads have recorded five straight top-10 finishes in the NCAA Indoors.
The coach also took pride in an item on Stack.com that ranked the elite 50 schools' athletics programs with Texas at No. 2 overall and the Texas men's track and field program No. 2 overall.
"That takes into account all of the athletics programs and also the APR (Academic Progress Report), which is a way of measuring the progress of the student-athletes," Thornton explained. "I think this shows what we're doing here is what college athletics is all about."
Kearney's squad, which opened the year ranked No. 11 in the nation, recorded a second-place finish in the Houston Indoor and a third-place finish at the Illinois Women's Quadrangular meet in Champaign, Ill.
Because of bitterly cold temperatures outside, it was rather frigid indoors, too.
"We weren't so much concerned about the scoring, but more so about being successful in that environment," said Kearney. "That was the first time we'd run in an all-women's meet, which means that you don't get a break in between races and that was something we had to adapt to.
"We have the potential to be really good," said Kearney, who enters her 16th season as head coach. "If people continue to mature, we can have a fantastic team as time goes on. I'm just not sure how quickly we can get there.
Kearney had a reason to be pleased after NCAA Champion and junior Alexandria Anderson won three events -- the 60-meter dash, the 200-meter dash and the long jump -- at the Illinois meet. The Chicago native was named Big 12 Conference Athlete of the Week for her standout performance.
"Alex is really stepping up to the plate," said Kearney. "She is incredibly focused. And we need that from her, we need her to take charge as a leader of this team."
The Illinois meet produced quite a few top-notch performances. All-America senior Temeka Kincy finished first in the 800, sophomore Jordyn Brown won the shot put with a career-best mark and senior Ashley Laughlin finished second in the pole vault.
"Jordyn did a fantastic job," Kearney continued. "She worked through a lot of frustration to get to this level. In Houston, freshman Bianca Knight (and Anderson) had the fastest 60-meter times in the nation at 7.34 seconds. Ashley (Laughlin), you could see was coming on last year. Now, she is developing into a national caliber athlete."
"They have trained hard, I will tell you that."
Oh, there was one blip on the radar screen for the Texas women last month.
Destinee Hooker, a two-time defending NCAA high jump champion, will not compete in track and field this year, opting to train with the U.S. National Volleyball team before the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"Obviously, you can't replace her," Kearney said of Hooker, who still will be able to compete in track for two more seasons.
"She's a phenomenal athlete," the coach added. "For her to qualify for the USA Volleyball team is a true testament to that. She has the heart of a true champion. Hats off to her. As a coach, if you are in this business for the right reason, you do what's best for the student-athlete. It's the student-athlete who matters most."
Personally for Kearney, the season had a tremendous beginning even before the initial meet of 2008 when the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association inducted her into their Hall of Fame. It was quite a tribute to Kearney, who has led UT to six NCAA Championships and 19 Big 12 Conference Championships.
"The Hall of Fame is definitely a group effort," she said. "This honor is about all of the great student-athletes I have had. It's about all of the great assistant coaches I have had, as well as the great administrators I have had.
"I'm blessed and honored."