2008 Season Preview
Sept. 21, 2007
IOWA CITY, IA -In collegiate athletics, teams must annually rebuild to recover from losses due to graduation. The 2007-08 University of Iowa women's track and cross country teams will have that yearly hurdle to clear, as well as a more significant one - the loss of longtime Head Coach James Grant.
Grant passed away in July at the age of 60 after a two-year battle with cancer. He, and his staff, had the Hawkeyes moving in the right direction. During his 11-year tenure, the Hawkeyes crowned one NCAA champion, 15 all-Americans, 26 Big Ten champions, three NCAA Midwest regional champions, 28 all-region honorees and 81 regional qualifiers, and set 30 school records. Also, during that time, 61 Hawkeyes earned 111 academic all-Big Ten honors. As a team, Iowa placed third at the 2004 Big Ten Indoor Championships in Iowa City, which tied the team's highest conference finish in school history.
Head Women's Cross Country Coach Layne Anderson was named Interim Head Women's Track Coach in August. He and Assistant Coach Victor Houston will take Grant's charge to keep the Hawkeyes moving toward the top.
"This has been a difficult time for Iowa Athletics with the passing of Coach Grant," said Anderson. "He provided great leadership for our track and cross country programs and for student-athletes over the past 21 years. I am humbled, at this time, to be named the interim head coach and look forward to working with our administration as we plan for the future."
A strong group of successful seniors return for the 2007-08 seasons. Sprinter Kineke Alexander, distance runners Meghan Armstrong, Racheal Marchand and Diane Nukuri and multi-event competitor Tammilee Kerr have posted outstanding individual performances in the past and look to add to their list of accomplishments in their final seasons at Iowa.
Alexander won a 2006 NCAA indoor title and is the only Hawkeye in school history to earn six all-America honors in the same event (400 meters). The five-time Big Ten champion holds five Hawkeye school records and is Iowa's only two-time NCAA Midwest regional champion. In 2007, she was named Athlete of the Year and Athlete of the Championships at the Big Ten indoor meet. Armstrong is a two-tme all-American and four-time all-region selection. Marchand earned all-America honors in cross country last season and is a two-time all-region honoree. Nukuri, the 2006 NCAA Midwest Regional Cross Country Champion, earned two all-America honors and two all-region honors in her first season at Iowa. She set three school and one facility record in cross country. Kerr set the school heptathlon record in 2007 and became one of the first Hawkeyes in recent history to qualify for the NCAA championships in that event.
Those five, as well as several other underclassmen and newcomers will have to be at their best to help fill the spaces left by three graduated seniors. Gone are Peaches Roach, Tiffany Johnson and Becca Franklin. Roach was a four-time all-American in the high jump and the only Hawkeye in school history to win five Big Ten titles in one event. She and Johnson set the school record for most times qualified to the regional meet (10), and were regular competitors on sprint relays. Johnson became the first Hawkeye in school history to win consecutive Drake Relay titles, winning the 100-meter hurdles in 2006 and 2007. The trio also hold seven school records.
"Tiffany, Peaches and Becca made contributions to this program which helped us reach our current level," explained Anderson. "They will be missed, but it is up to the experienced upperclassmen to step up and show the newcomers that everyone has the potential to improve our team finishes, in both cross country and track."
"The plan is to help Kineke stay as healthy as possible the entire year so we can see exactly what she is capable of," he explained. "She is a catalyst for the rest of our squad. If she is doing well, her abilities seem to pick everyone else up and inspire their performances."
Her success in the 200, 400 and 600 has been well-documented, but Alexander has also been a solid part of Iowa's 1,600-meter relays - running on five of the top 10 in school history.
Sophomores Rhonda-Kaye Trusty, Kara-Aretha Graham and Sophia Poncé got a year of experience in the sprints last season. Junior Renee White has also competed in the sprints and relays. Trusty led Iowa in the outdoor 200 meters (24.23) and ran the second-fastest 60 (7.63) and 100-meter times (12.04). Poncé led the team in the indoor 600 yards (1:24.55), outdoor 800 meters (2:10.35) and ran on the team-leading 1,600-meter and distance medley relays indoors and sprint and distance medley relays outdoors. Graham will run the 200 and 400 meters as the coaches look to transition her into longer races.
Newcomers Karessa Farley (Bridgetown, Barbados), Lisa Mellecker (Iowa City, IA), Kelsey Mims (Iowa City, IA), Abbie Mumpower (Quincy, IL) and Kimberly Stanford (St. Michael Barbados) will be expected to provide immediate depth in the short sprints and relays, while Bethany Praska (Longmont, CO) will compete in the longer sprints and relays.
The Hawkeyes should be very strong in these events as they return all of the team-leading performers from 2007 and will add several impressive newcomers. Returning all-Americans Armstrong, Nukuri and Marchand will lead the distance corps. Nukuri led the Hawkeyes in the indoor 5,000 meters (16:24.50) and the outdoor 3,000 (9:23.90), 5,000 (16:15.28) and 10,000 meters (33:30.29). Armstrong led the team in the mile (4:41.18) and 3,000 meters (9:27.95) indoors and the 1,500 meters (4:20.92) outdoors.
Seniors Molly Esche, Christine Kotarba and Jessica Schmidt, juniors Brittany Graham and Rachel Hawks, sophomore Katie Ellis and newcomers Kathryn Guess (Des Moines, IA) and Caitlin Wooldridge (Fox River Grove, IL) will provide depth in the longer distances.
Kerr, senior Erin O'Hern and junior Mandy Chandler return for the Hawkeyes in the throws, but Franklin's performances in the weight and hammer throws will be missed. Kerr was a regional qualifier in the javelin and her season-best performance of 157-0 from 2007 ranks second in school history. Chandler led the team in the shot put (41-4 1/4 indoor, 39-1 1/4 outdoor) last season, while O'Hern has experience in the shot put, weight throw, hammer throw and discus.
The squad made a major step in that direction in 2006, qualifying for the NCAA Championships, as a team, for the first time in 14 years and posting its highest Big Ten finish (sixth) since 1993. The Hawkeyes also recorded their highest finish at the NCAA Midwest regional meet (third) under Anderson. The team has improved its finish at the Big Ten and regional meets each of the last four years, and has set school records in the 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 and 6,000 meters.
Armstrong, Marchand and Nukuri led the Hawkeyes in 2006. Nukuri and Marchand earned all-America honors, making Iowa one of nine schools to crown two all-Americans. Nukuri was named Midwest Region Runner of the Year when she captured the regional meet title. All three earned spots on the all-region team, while Armstrong and Marchand earned all-Big Ten honors. Nukuri set school records in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters, while she and Armstrong shared the 6,000-meter mark.
Burke, Anderson, Schmidt, Esche and Ellis all return with experience and the ability to battle for one of the lineup spots. Returnees Docherty, Ellis, Graham, Hawks and Kotarba will look to break into the lineup.
The Hardesty twins lead the newcomers and could make an immediate impact. Guess and Wooldridge will provide depth.