Tuesday January 8, 2008Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
UF returns all four members of the 4x100m relay that earned All-America honors in 2007.
UF returns all four members of the 4x100m relay that earned All-America honors in 2007.
“We’re going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. To be good this year, everyone is going to have to be a little uncomfortable.”
When Mike Holloway was announced on June 19 as the first head men’s and women’s track & field coach in University of Florida history, that statement became the mantra for the women of the UF program in 2007.
With an exciting blend of accomplished veterans and talented newcomers, including six returning All-Americans and both 2007 Southeastern Conference Freshman Field Athletes of the Year, Holloway will immediately look to lead the women back to the form that has seen the Gators win a national title and nine SEC crowns in their 35-year history.
“Although this is a new situation for everybody, the attitude and enthusiasm are unbelievable,” Holloway says. “Things are starting to come around. We changed the intensity level and the work ethic a little bit, and it made people uncomfortable at the start, but it’s a good uncomfortable because it will lead to progress and results. There are some very good pieces of the puzzle already in place. We just have to make sure that they all fit together at the right time.”
The Gators’ sprint corps boasts a wealth of talent and experience in 2008, with five senior All-Americans returning to lead the way in Abigail David, Lakecia Ealey, Zan Joseph, Natalie Knight and Dominique McLeggan. With a combined 11 All-America honors to its credit, the group will be counted upon to carry the load for a sprint roster that lacks depth.
“I’m genuinely excited about the women’s sprinters this year,” Holloway says. “There’s a great attitude in that group, and they know what I expect of them. Our focus this year is going to be on improving and staying healthy because we’re capable of doing some good things in those events if we can succeed in those two areas.”
A point-scorer for UF
since the outset of her career, Knight is a five-time All-American who will be
relied on heavily in the 100m and 200m, while also serving as a key member of
David and Joseph each picked up their first All-America honors in 2007 as part of the UF 4x100m squad that took seventh at the NCAA Outdoor Championships with a mark of 44.47. McLeggan captured All-America accolades in the same event during the 2006 campaign.
Sophomores Alexis Booker and Cathrine Pollard are the only other sprinters on the roster with collegiate experience, and they will be joined by newcomers Daniela Griffin and Danielle Williams to form the younger portion of the UF sprint squad in 2008.
With senior Lorain McKenzie returning for her final collegiate season and junior Shannon Leinert recovered from an injury-plagued 2007 campaign, Holloway is optimistic that the Gators will see increased production from a small, but talented, middle distance unit this season.
“We’ve got quality in this area, but the quantity isn’t quite there,” he says. “Everyone has to step up when it’s their turn. We can get some big-time points out of the middle distance events this year if those athletes are in the best possible shape when the time comes.”
McKenzie, the 10th-fastest 800m runner in school history, and Leinert, who turned in a 15th-place finish in the 800m at the 2006 World Junior Championships, have been impressive during the fall, and will look to continue that momentum when the season gets underway.
Senior Valeria Rodriguez will provide depth to
the Gators’ middle distance events, as she is capable of running both the 800m
and the 1,500m. Freshmen Monica Lugo
and Stevie Uribe, a
Following yet another solid cross country season in 2007, the team’s largest group of athletes is expecting its fall success to carry over into the track campaign. Much like the overall team, the distance squad is a mix of talented veterans and exciting newcomers, all of whom will be counted on for production this year.
“Performing well in the distance events can really be a difference maker in a championship meet,” Holloway says. “Jeff Pigg has done a good job of getting those athletes ready to go this fall, and with his help, they should be able to have a major impact for us this year.”
Senior Lindsay Sundell is the leader of the group, and she returns after running the second-fastest steeplechase time in SEC history and qualifying for her first NCAA Outdoor Championships. She posted a top-20 finish at the SEC Cross Country Championships this season, while also collecting an early-season SEC Athlete of the Week honor.
Junior Jacy Kruzel had a breakout cross country season in the fall, leading UF with an eighth-place finish at the SEC Championships. She finished the 2007 track campaign on a strong note with a third-place showing in the 10,000m, and will look to keep her momentum when the new season kicks off. Seniors Devin Gapstur and Kristen Johnson bring track experience to the table, and juniors Kathryn Kramer, LeeAnn Nawrocki and Sara Petrick will be counted on to supply depth in the distance events.
The youthful core of the distance team features freshman Rebecca Lowe, the 12th-place finisher at the SEC Cross Country Championships, and as well as sophomores Alison Babb and Julie Northrup and redshirt freshman Laura Garrow. Newcomers Ashlyn Bickwermert, Ali Crabb, Hailey Neal and Kaitlin Shiver will look to contribute and gain experience in their first collegiate seasons.
The relays are usually key to success as a team, and Holloway will have no shortage of quality options when he fills out his lineups this season. The Gators return the entire 4x100m team – David, Ealey, Joseph and Knight – that finished seventh at the NCAA Championships last year. The quartet’s effort marked the third year in a row that a UF squad captured All-America honors in the event. All four athletes will also be called upon in the 4x400m, and Holloway feels that McKenzie and McLeggan can provide support in that event, as well.
“My philosophy is to build my teams around relays because that enhances the team concept of our sport,” Holloway says. “We’re excited about the relays this year because of the quality athletes we have coming back. When you have good relays, it’s a testament to your athletes because it shows that they can pull their individual talents together to make them work as part of a team.”
Fresh off an appearance at
the 2007 IAAF World Championships in
“In addition to her versatility, Shara also brings consistency and excitement to our team,” Holloway says. “We can look to her to be a point-scorer for us, and it’s crucial to get points from multiple of the meet as possible as are trying to be a winning team.”
Junior Jenna Utecht, who took sixth in the high jump at the 2007 SEC Outdoor Championships and won the event at three different meets last season, will also play a key role in this area while also focusing on the multi-events.
Senior Kia Raf, who is also a vital member of the Gators’ relay lineup, can also contribute in the jumps, as she owns a personal record of 5.81m/19-0.75 in the long jump. Holloway will also look for freshman Kayla Griffin to contribute in this area.
One of the deepest areas on the team in 2008, the pole vault is also an area that boasts some talent thanks to the return of 2007 NCAA Indoor runner-up Natalie Moser. She cleared 4.30m/14-1.25 at the NCAA meet, breaking the school record and finishing second after a three-round jump-off to mark the third time in the 2007 campaign that she equaled or better the all-time UF mark.
“Natalie is one of the best returning vaulters in the country,” Holloway says. “It’s a luxury to have for a team to know that one of your athletes is capable of putting up great numbers on a consistent basis. This year, we also have the depth behind her to put together a strong pole vault season, which will be a key to the team’s success.”
Also back for the Gators is junior Lori Bowen, who vaulted her way to a 14th-place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships last season. Her performance at the national meet came on the heels of a fourth-place performance at the NCAA East Regional, where she cleared a personal-best 3.96m/12-11.75 to post the fifth-best mark in school history.
Sophomore Lauren Menke, who took seventh at the
SEC Outdoor Championships in 2007, and junior Alex Black, the eighth-place finisher at the same meet, will
combine with Moser and Bowen to give
After earning All-America
honors in both the indoor and outdoor shot put and becoming UF’s first SEC
outdoor shot put champion in three years as a freshman in 2007, Mariam Kevkhishvili is primed to lead
“Having Mariam on the team, we know heading into a meet that we can mark down big points in the shot put,” Holloway says. “Even though track & field is more of an individualized team sport, it’s a huge boost for a team when you can count on that before the meet even starts. It’s a testament to her hard work and dedication, because it’s certainly not easy to reach that level.”
Sophomore Evelien Dekkers brings another blend of youth and talent to the Gator throws lineup, evidenced by her All-East Region honors and top-20 NCAA finish in the javelin last season. She took fourth in the javelin and fifth in the discus at the SEC Outdoor Championships and finished the campaign with a personal-best javelin throw of 52.84m/173-4 that ranks second in program history.
“We had pockets of success last year, and that
is something that we really want to build on,” Holloway says. “We need to be
consistently successful, and we need to do that on the national level. (
Seniors Shawneise Williams and Chinelo Ubaka are the elder statesmen
After splitting time between jumps and multi-events, while also fighting through various injuries, for the better part of the last two years, Utecht enters the 2008 with the potential to make an impact for the Gators in the pentathlon and the heptathlon.
“Jenna is a dynamic athlete, and now that she’s healthy, we’re going to see what she can really do,” Holloway says. “She’s a hard worker, and she’s been focusing on consistency this fall – and doing a good job at it. If she performs the way she is capable of doing, Jenna will score some points for us this year.”
As he enters his first
season at the helm of a combined
The slate is highlighted by a pair of home events, beginning with the Tom Jones Memorial Classic at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Jan. 26. During the outdoor season, the Gators will host the Pepsi Florida Relays from April 4-5.
“It’s our goal at
UF will open the indoor
season at the SEC & Big Ten Challenge in