Track and Field Opens Up 2009 Indoor Schedule at Eastern Illinois Mega Meet
Jan. 22, 2009
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The University of Memphis track and field team opens up their 2009 indoor season on Saturday, Jan. 24 in Charleston, Ill. for the Eastern Illinois Mega Meet.
The Tigers will be competing at Lantz Indoor Fieldhouse on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. Currently 276 athletes are scheduled to compete in the all-day event. The field events begin at 9 a.m. with the long jump and weight throw. Running events are slated for a 10:30 a.m. start with the 4x800 relay. The final events are scheduled to begin 6:25 with the 4x400 relay. An open 3K run will start following all regular events. The meet is a non-scoring event.
"In our first meet of the year, our coaching staff will have the opportunity to step back and evaluate the progression that our team has made in the offseason," said track and field head coach Kevin Robinson. This will give us an idea of where we need to go in the future both short term and long term, and it will show us what kind level that we will be able to compete at this year. It will also give us an evaluation point to see how well we have prepared our athletes for competition this year."
Athletes from the following schools and clubs are scheduled to compete on Saturday: Eastern Illinois, Chicago State, Greenville College, McKendree University, University of Memphis, Rend Lake C.C., Saint Louis University, St. Xavier, Brooks/CTC, Illinois XC/Track Club, Indy's Racing Cheetahs, and Untouchables.
"We're obviously very excited for our first indoor competition," said Robinson. "We're going to see a lot of competition this weekend from the lineup of teams. There will be several division one schools present and this Eastern Illinois Mega Meet should prove to be a highly competitive competition. We have a lot of talented athletes who will be performing for the first time in a Memphis uniform for the first time this weekend. We're really anxious and excited to see how our newcomers will perform, but we will rely heavily on the group of returning kids to lead the team. They have been to battle with us before. I'm anxious to see what happens."
Men's Track and Field Preview
In just two short years as head coach, Kevin Robinson is quickly establishing himself as one of the premier track and field coaches in Conference USA. Following his first conference championship at the 2007 C-USA Outdoor Championships, his men placed fifth at the 2008 C-USA Indoor Championships and logged a fourth place finish at the C-USA Outdoor Championships.
In 2009, Robinson believes that his Tigers have a very legitimate chance on heading to the 2009 C-USA Indoor Championships in Houston, Texas and be a top-3 team. The opportunity for Memphis to take home some championship hardware is present, but Robinson is very adamant that in order to have team success, his coaching staff must ensure that each of the Tiger athletes continues to improve. Robinson returns two reigning C-USA Title holders in junior/senior All-American Steffen Nerdal and freshman Aaron Whetstone from 2008. Nerdal took home the C-USA championship and set a school and conference meet record with a mammoth 20.94m (68-08.50) toss in the indoor weight throw in 2008. He also prevailed as champion at the 2008 C-USA Outdoor Championships with first place medals in both the discus and the hammer throw. The Tiger newcomer, Whetstone, also set a new school and conference meet record with his first place 16.60m (54-05.50) leap in the triple jump.
The men bring back a handful of NCAA Regional qualifiers from 2008. Whetstone and Nerdal are among them, but three other throwers return for the Tigers as well. 2008 C-USA Freshman of the Year Knut Syversen returns as the second best shot put thrower in the conference at the outdoor meet and the fifth best indoors. He obtained second place marks in the indoor weight throw event, and put up All-Conference distances in the discus and hammer throw at the 2008 C-USA Outdoor Championships. 2008 C-USA Newcomer of the year Seth Major came on the scene out of Rend Lake Junior College (Ill.) and made an immediate impact for the Tigers bringing home third place in the shot put at both the indoor and outdoor C-USA championships, placed second in the discus behind his teammate Steffen Nerdal, sixth in the indoor weight throw and eighth in the hammer throw at the outdoor conference meet. The last of the NCAA Regional qualifiers is senior Christian McDonald who finished in seventh place at the NCAA regional meet and was just under one meter from making an appearance at the 2008 NCAA Championships
In the offseason, Robinson and the Memphis Tiger coaching staff recruited tirelessly and were able to sign several impact additions to the Tiger track and field team. This group of newcomers looks to add another dimension to the overall team success during the 2009 indoor and outdoor track seasons. The coaching staff hopes the Tigers can remain injury free throughout the 2009 season so that when the time comes, the entire team is ready to compete at the highest level. If the coaches and support staff can accomplish that, then the men's track and field team stands a chance to find itself again at the top of the C-USA standings.
The Tigers look to sophomore Frashod Barlow who returns in 2009 as one of the top short sprinters in Conference USA. He had a major hamstring injury that cut his 2008 outdoor season short, but he is at full strength entering the 2009 indoor season. Barlow should provide a major boost of leadership and is a true scoring threat for the Tigers in both the 2009 indoor and outdoor seasons.
In addition to Barlow, the Tigers have added freshman Eric July for the short sprint events. As a high school athlete he posted personal bests of 10.5 in the 100m dash. During fall training, July ran step for step with Barlow and should be a major player at the conference level as a freshman in 2009. Both July and Barlow are also pitted to be key legs in the 4x100m relay for the Tigers.
"I expect the two to be the major contributors in the 60m dash and 200m dash throughout the indoor season and in the 100m and 200m dashes during outdoor season," said Robinson.
Sophomore Calvin Watkins will be a 200m dash and 400m dash competitor. Watkins has good speed between 100 meters and 400 meters, but he has not had a chance yet to compete. He was a very successful 100 and 200 meter dash athlete in high school.
Robinson will most likely use Watkins as a utility athlete in the 400m dash, as a prominent leg in the 4x400m relay, and even a contributor in the distance medley relay.
Maybe Memphis' biggest strength as a program lies with the men's hurdles. The strong base of 2009 Tiger hurdlers begins with sophomore All-C-USA performers Richard Lowe and Darius Anderson who had successful 2008 seasons and are improved entering 2009. With the addition of high school All-American hurdler Robert Jackson who was ranked as high as sixth in the nation in the high school rankings at one time, Robinson is confident that his group of hurdlers will be the class of C-USA. To add depth to this already stellar group Robinson looks to freshman Alex Sweet and sophomore Darrell Lewis in 2009. His hope is that each of his hurdlers can step up and contribute to the Tigers' point total at the conference meets this spring.
"These guys are such great leaders, tremendous competitors and they are easy to coach," said Robinson of his group of hurdlers.
The Tigers return one middle distance competitor in sophomore Guy Hudson and add newcomer Aaron Evans to the competitive middle distance mix in 2009. Hudson returns hoping to make an impact in the points scoring department for the Tigers and Evans arrives on campus as one of the most highly touted prospects signed by the Tigers. Evans was a 1:52.00 800m dash athlete in high school and was one of the highest ranked 800m run athletes in the U.S. high school system last year. Robinson expects the pair to be at the elite level of C-USA competition and hopefully make the step towards NCAA regional qualifying by the end of the seasons.
In terms of personal records, newcomer Edwin Kipkorir's pr puts him in the top-3 to 5 in C-USA in the 1500, the steeplechase and the indoor 3k. Robinson believes the Tigers' performance in the distance events will fall heavily on Kipkorir's shoulders.
Sophomore Jacob Chapman and junior Jorgen Ekdahl will take charge of the 5k and 10k. Both are young and still unproven, but have been working tirelessly in the offseason. Both Chapman and Ekdahl are expected to be competitive throughout the season and make an impact at the conference level.
"I believe that their personalities and drive will allow them to step up and contribute when the time comes," said Robinson of his young distance runners.
The most experienced and most prolific point scorers for the Memphis track and field program are located in the throwing events. The anchor event for the Tigers is the shot put. The group swept the 2008 indoor and outdoor C-USA Championships. Despite the graduation of C-USA shot put champion Glenn Edwards, the Tigers still have an elite level of returning athletes. Expect to see major points scored at each meet by 2008 NCAA regional qualifier and senior Seth Major, freshman/sophomore Knut Syversen, senior Greg Norrid, and junior Harding Zills.
The runner up in the shot put at the 2008 C-USA Indoor Championships, Norrid, also returns in 2009 for his senior season with the Tigers. Syversen was 2008 C-USA outdoor newcomer of the year and an NCAA Regional Qualifier. He returns the best shot put marks in the conference for his sophomore campaign. The expectations for Syverson are to throw well beyond his personal best mark even at the beginning of the season.
"From every indication from the fall workouts, Knut is above and beyond where he was last year at the same time and he will be the man to beat at the conference championships this year," said Robinson.
The last of the indoor throwing events is the weight throw. The Tigers return C-USA Champion junior/senior Steffen Nerdal who is the current University of Memphis and C-USA record holder.
"I expect Steffen Nerdal to be the best weight thrower in C-USA hands down and we look for him to compete for a national championship," said Robinson of his junior thrower. "He will be at that level by the end of the season."
Syversen is also a top returner for the Tigers in the weight throw and was third in the C-USA Championships in 2008 and the No. 2 weight thrower in Memphis history.
"I don't plan on giving those spots up," said Robinson. "In the throws, especially the discus, we're the team to beat. Steffen was the best athlete in the discus last year and I look for him to retain that title."
Steffen Nerdal has contnued to improve in the offseason and brings his C-USA Title back to the discus ring to defend this spring. His closest competition throughout the year should come from teammate Major who was an NCAA Regional qualifier during the 2008 season. Not far behind the pack is Knut Syversen who finished just off of the medal stand in fourth place at the 2008 C-USA Championships. Each athlete has the potential to reach NCAA regional qualifying marks in 2009. The goal for this year's Tiger discus throwers is to sweep the C-USA medal stand in Tulsa, Okla. in May just as the men swept the shot put throw in 2008.
The main returner in the javelin for the Tigers is senior Christian McDonald. He is a two-time NCAA regional qualifier and Memphis school record holder in the new-style javelin. At the 2008 NCAA regional qualifying his mark was less than a meter away from sending him to the national championships.
"I believe this is Christian's year to win a C-USA Title," said Robinson. "He will be an NCAA Championship caliber performer this year in his senior campaign and also improve on his already stellar school record."
At the NCAA Championships in 2008, sophomore/junior Steffen Nerdal shattered his own school record by more than 12 feet. His toss of 68.21m (223-09) earned Nerdal a sixth place finish and All-American honors at the NCAA National Championships in the hammer throw. With the experienced group of Tiger veterans, similar to the weight throw indoor, Memphis looks to be both deep with top end throwers, and dominant at every meet in 2009.
"We know that Steffen is the man to beat this year," said Robinson on his All-American. "By the end of his career at the University of Memphis, he will have competed for a national championship in the hammer throw and he is getting close to that point."
Long jump and triple jump.
"When you start talking about the jumping events, the first person that comes to mind is sophomore Aaron Whetstone," said Robinson. "All signs from his fall work outs show that Whetstone has shown tremendous improvement from his accomplishments last year. If the timing is right and conditions are right, Aaron should compete for an NCAA Title before his time is up at Memphis."
At the 2008 C-USA Outdoor Championships, Whetstone set a meet record with a first place leap of 16.60 meters (54-05.50). The jump broke the Memphis school record and for a brief period of time was the No. 1 jump in the nation in 2008. He has become more consistent on the runway and his technique is continuing to improve. Robinson expects Whetstone to be a C-USA champion, an NCAA regional qualifier, and make an appearance at the NCAA Championships.
Another impact jumper for the Tigers is Jerome Leslie who in 2008 posted three All-Conference performances in the high jump, long jump and the triple jump. He is a three event threat who can add points quickly in the jumping field events. In 2009 he will deepen the Tigers jumps rotation in each of the jumps. Another athlete who adds senior experience and leadership at the jumps is Richard Swaby. Robinson expects that Swaby will put himself in a position to compete hard and score points to help lead the team in 2009.
Senior Brian Prackett has finished as high as third at the C-USA Championships in his career. The Tigers look for Prackett to step up in 2009 and improve his personal record and hopefully grab another medal at the C-USA Championships.
"He had a great set of fall workouts," said Robinson. "He works very hard, he has a great attitude and is a great athlete to coach. He does everything and everything that you ask him to do."
Senior Jason Morgan and sophomore Preston Williams round out the men's track and field team as the Tigers' multi event athletes. Morgan has been a steady competitor for the Tigers and has scored in every C-USA meet that he has competed in.
"Jason works hard daily and comes to work with a great attitude," said Robinson about his senior athlete. "He has worked very hard this offseason and looks to improve all of his career marks during his senior campaign. He will be missed next year."
Williams adds depth almost everywhere for the Tigers. He provides another big scoring threat in the multi events, hurdles, and jumps. He is the Tigers' jack of all trades.