Sept. 26, 2003
By Aaron Blau and Chris Brewer
After a successful 2003 campaign, the University of Iowa women's track and field team looks to carry its success into the 2004 season. The Hawkeyes return four letterwinners from the 2002 cross country squad and 17 from the 2003 track team, including five of Iowa's seven NCAA qualifiers. Head Coach James Grant and the rest of the team are looking forward to continued improvement after tasting success.
"We want to be even better than last year," said Grant. "The student-athletes have been working very hard, and as a staff, we are well prepared."
Grant and the Hawkeyes had a monumental season in 2003, headlined by a sixth place finish at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships - Iowa's highest placing during Grant's tenure. The Hawkeyes crowned a school-record six Big Ten champions at the outdoor meet, including two-time winner Shellene Williams, who became the third female student-athlete in Hawkeye track to win two events at the same conference meet. The Hawkeyes showed signs of a well-rounded team throughout the season, but this was highlighted at the conference outdoor meet where they recorded 15 top-10 placings in 14 different events and scored their highest team-point total (70) since 1992. Seven Hawkeyes advanced from the NCAA Midwest Regional to compete at the NCAA meet.
Individually, several Hawkeyes had individual success in 2003. The 1,600-meter relay of Aisha Hume, Nicole Charles, Sarah Steffen and Shellene Williams beat the previous 15-year-old school record of 3:41.23 by almost five seconds with a blistering 3:36.26 at the NCAA regional. The quartet also won Iowa's first Big Ten title in that event. Aisha James wowed the 2003 Drake Relays crowd when she set school, meet, stadium and Trinidad and Tobago records in the long jump with a then-world leading mark of 22-3 (6.78 m). James became the first Big Ten long jump champion in school history and the first Hawkeye field event champion since 1993 with her victory at the 2003 Big Ten Outdoor Championships. Alana Redfern qualified for the NCAA Championships for the second straight year when she shattered her own school javelin record by almost 20 feet and set the Canadian National record. James and Redfern became Iowa's first Drake Relays champions in the long jump and javelin, respectively. Senior Jessie Strand broke the school pole vault records she set, both indoors and outdoors, and qualified for the NCAA Championships.
The Hawkeyes will have home field advantage as they host the 2004 Big Ten Indoor Championships at the University of Iowa Recreation Building. "We are very proud to stage this event," said Grant. "We are thankful to have the chance to showcase our new facility and team to the Iowa City community and Big Ten Conference."
Grant's class of incoming freshmen is talented. Twenty-five of the 47 Hawkeyes listed on the 2004 track roster are newcomers, and the diverse group will help out in every event. The freshmen have won a combined 10 state, 40 conference and two Drake Relay titles. "This incoming group of freshmen is one of the best classes I've seen in a long time," said Grant. "They will make an immediate impact."
Leading the newcomers are distance runner Nikki Chapple (Melbourne, Australia) and high jumper Peaches Roach (Kingston, Jamaica). Chapple represented Australia at the 1998 World Junior Cross Country Championships in Morocco and ran the 3,000 and 5,000 meters at the 1998 World Junior Athletics Championships in France. Roach, the 2003 Jamaican national high jump champion, represented Jamaica at the 2003 Pan American Game and 2003 IAAF World Championships. Her best leap of 6-0 1/2 would be a new school record for the Hawkeyes. Here is an event-by-event look at the Hawkeyes:
Williams had a breakout year in 2003, winning Big Ten titles in the 400 meters and as part of the 1,600-meter relay. She placed fifth in the 400 meters at the NCAA regional and advanced to the semifinals in that event at the NCAA Championships. Her best 400-meter time of 52.68 is .03 seconds behind the Hawkeye school record set in 1996 by two-time Big Ten Champion Ellen Grant. Williams ran on Jamaica's 400-meter relay that placed third at the 2003 Pan American Games, and competed at the 2003 IAAF World Championships.
Hume, who has run a leg on seven of the top 10 1,600-meter relays in outdoor school history and on four of the top 10 1,600-meter relays in indoor school history, placed fourth in the 400 meters at the 2003 Big Ten Championships. A versatile runner, she ranks in Iowa's top-10 in the indoor 400 and 600 meters and the outdoor 400 meters, and is a solid leg on Iowa's distance medley relays. Sheeley, a nine-time conference champion, won the 400-meter state title as a senior and was runner-up in the state 200 meters three times.
"We should have a very balanced attack in sprints this year," said Grant. "We are looking for our freshmen to fill our short sprints while Shellene and Aisha will hopefully continue their success in the long sprints."
The Hawkeyes will have a hard time replacing Sarah Steffen, who qualified for the NCAA Regional in the 100 and 400-meter hurdles. Juniors Keely Huber, Tiff Pedersen and Latoya Stiffend, along with Johnson, will fill the void. Huber, who will run the 400-meter hurdles, was runner-up in that event at both the Arlington Invitational and KT Woodman Classic last year. Pedersen and Stiffend, who have the sixth and seventh-best 60-meter hurdle times in school history, will run the sprint hurdles.
"We have a huge hole to fill in our hurdle events," said Grant. "Keely, Latoya and Tiff are very anxious to step up and be successful."
Experience is the key in the distance events. The Hawkeyes return fifth-year seniors Sarah Arens and Michelle Lahann, seniors Atalie Barber and Georgia Millward, and juniors Katie Donlon and Michelle Sokol. Freshmen Chappel, Christine Kotarba (Elmhurst, IL), Jordan Laney (Hinsdale, IL), Chloe Millward (Blairstown, IA), Monica Mims (Iowa City, IA), Jill Seelbach (Springfield, IL), Shannon Stanley (Rochester Hills, MI) and Shirley Stern (Iowa City, IA) will provide outstanding depth.
"Sarah and Michelle are great distance runners," said Grant. "They have been improving yearly and I look for them to have a great final season."
Arens set a school and meet record in the 3,000 meter steeplechase at the Iowa Musco Twilight V meet, running that event for the first time in her collegiate career. She placed fifth in that event at the NCAA regional, advancing to the NCAA Championships, and ninth at the Big Ten Championships. She is ranked in Iowa's top-10 in seven distance events.
Lahann won the mile at the Hawkeye Invitational and Gold Country Classic, and placed fifth at the 2003 Big Ten Indoor Championships. She did not complete the outdoor season due to injury, but is healthy and ready this year. Donlon placed ninth in the 10,000 meters at the Big Ten Championships last season, leading the team in that event. Barber led the team in the 800 and 1,000 meters indoors last season, while Millward led the Hawkeyes in the indoor 5,000 meters. Mims ran on six state and four conference champion relays, while Stern ran on a state champion 3,200-meter relay. Laney, Seelbach and Stanley won a combined 11 conference titles.
Roach could make up for the loss of Eve Cullinan, who finished 10th in the high jump at the 2003 Big Ten Outdoor Championships. Freshman Angie Hensel (Clinton, IA) won a state and two Drake Relay long jump titles during her prep career. Freshman Becca Franklin (East Moline, IL) was a seven-time conference champion in the high, triple and long jumps. Freshman Tiffany Johnson (Danville, IL) will also compete in the long and triple jumps. Throws
Two NCAA regional qualifiers lead the Hawkeye throwing squad. Grant hopes that junior Alana Redfern and senior Kamesha Marshall will again have good years.
"Alana had a great season last year," said Grant. "She needs to improve her consistency at conference and national meets. She continues to work hard and improve. Kamesha now has a full year of competition under her belt and will contribute."
Redfern qualified for NCAA Midwest Regional in the javelin with a personal-best and school record throw at the Iowa Musco Twilight V meet, earning Big Ten Female Track and Field Athlete of the Week honors. She placed second in that event at the Big Ten Championships and third at the NCAA Midwest Regional. Marshall, who joined the team for the outdoor season, qualified for the NCAA regional in the shot put. Her best marks in the shot put and discus rank fourth and sixth, respectively, on Iowa's all-time best performances list.
Jessie Strand returns for her fourth and final season as a Hawkeye. Strand advanced to the 2003 NCAA Championships after placing third and setting a school record at the regional. She also placed second at the Big Ten Championships. Showing improvement throughout her career, Strand has set the school indoor and outdoor pole vault records each of the past three seasons. Her current records of 12-0 indoors and 12-10 1/4 outdoors are a marked improvement over the records she set her freshman year (11-3 3/4, 11-6 1/2).
Pedersen returns to lead the Hawkeyes after several strong performances in her first season of multi-event competition. She placed sixth in the pentathlon at the Big Ten Indoor Championships with 3,451 points, which ranks second in school history. She also placed fifth in the heptathlon at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships with 4,633 points, which ranks fourth in school history. She also placed eighth in the heptathlon at the Drake Relays with 4,554 points.
Sophomore Katie Herrmann placed 11th in the pentathlon at the conference indoor meet, but did not compete outdoors due to injury. She also returns to contribute in these events. Newcomers Angie Hensel, who won the state pentathlon title as a junior, and Tiffany Johnson will provide depth.
First-year Head Coach Layne Anderson inherits a team with strong senior leadership and a talented recruiting class. Losing only Lahann, Becca Thompson and Ericka Roberts, the Hawkeyes return a core group with considerable meet experience.
Arens returns as the teams' top runner. As a junior, she led the Hawkeyes in each of the five meets she competed in, including a first place finish at the UNO/CU Invitational. In 16 career competitions, Arens has been the first Hawkeye to cross the finish line 15 times. Her streak is expected to be contested by Chapple, who is a two-time Australian national champion and a proven international competitor.
"Sarah and Nikki will be the leaders of the team," said Anderson. "Sarah is a proven winner and will provide experience and leadership for a team full of potential while Nikki should step in immediately. Their leadership is crucial if our team is going to improve. This incoming group of freshmen is one of the best classes since the 1980's and early 90's. They will provide an immediate and positive impact on our already solid foundation. They should help us compete for an upper division finish at the Big Ten Championships."
Georgia Millward could provide additional leadership as she returns for her senior campaign. Millward looks to return to her 2001 form, when she led the Hawkeyes in five of the team's six competitions. In 2002, Millward set a 5,000-meter personal-best at the Auburn Invitational, finishing the course in 18:39.
Atalie Barber returns for her senior season following a very successful junior campaign. Barber led the Hawkeyes to a second-place finish at the Missouri Cross Country Challenge by running a 5,000-meter personal-best. Other returning letterwinners include juniors Katie Donlon and Michelle Sokol. Sokol was one of two Hawkeyes to run in all six races in 2002 while Donlon ran in five. Junior Jenni Capista and sophomores Vanessa Menze, Ashley Merry and also return.
Newcomers Kotarba, Laney, Chloe Millward, Mims, Seelbach, Stanley and Stern are expected to add depth to an already established lineup. The entire group has earned several top placings and honors in cross country and distance events.