Friday, May 6, 2011

Lone Star Conference Track Predictions

Once again, Don Garrett has provided us with his Lone Star Conference Track Predictions for this weekend's meet.

Just like last year, at the beginning of the season, I think I know exactly what to expect from the upcoming season then things change all season long. Following last season, I would have discounted any chance for Angelo State to win the LSC on the women’s side – they had simply lost too many key athletes. However, it looks to me like in 2011, they are once again the team to beat. On the men’s side, I thought that Angelo State had their chance to dethrone ACU last year, but it looks like a dead heat to me once again this season.

On the women’s side, the first year of presence of Incarnate Word will have a huge impact. West Texas A&M also continues their upward trajectory from last year, but not sure if they will be able to compete with the big 2 of ASU and ACU just yet. On the men’s side, the biggest threat to ASU and ACU will come from the fast-improving teams from TAMU-K, WTAMU, and ENMU. For both genders, the differential between the first place team and the last place teams will close, as parity comes to the LSC. TAMU-Commerce is terrifically improved, both male and female. Just 2 years ago, there was a staggering gap between first and last – something like 300 points. This year that gap will be more like 150 points and it could be even less.
MEN – in my predicted order finish

1. ACU – the men’s team race is very close, a virtual tossup between ACU and ASU and I only pick ACU because they still seem to have more elite athletes and they will probably enter their elite athletes in multiple events. The only way they won last year, by a scant 10 points, is by running Amos Sang in the 800, 1500, 5K and 10K and he won all 4 races! This year, ACU is looks very strong in the sprints, with the top sprinter in the LSC in Desmond Jackson, plus a strong sidekick for him in Paris Robertson; distances, with Amos Sang back (but, don’t look for him to run 4 races this year – he ran the 2nd fastest time in LSC history last Sunday night in the 10K and I just don’t see him running another one 5 days later); hurdles with national champ Andrew McDowell; jumps with national champ Ramon Sparks, with capable help from LeVance Williams and Timothy Jones; 2 of the best throwers in the nation in Nick Jones and Tyler Fleet; and a strong decathlon squad led by Parker Petty. I see ACU scoring somewhere in the 180-200 point range – they won with 205 points last year. It very well could come down to how well the non-elite athletes perform. Can they grab off enough 6th, 7th and 8th places to make the difference.

2. Angelo State – this is a good Ram team, maybe as strong as last year. I would pick them first if not for a decided weakness in the distance events this year. They have done a great job in developing their kids – many of them have seen drastic improvement over their high school performances. ASU is strong in the sprints, led by Nick Smith and quartermiler Isidro Garcia; the hurdles, highlighted by Brian Holik; the jumps, with Trevor Rogers and Mark Slone; a very deep decathlon group led by Hewitt Holmes; good throwers like Wade Goode; and a great group of vaulters, like Andrew Allison, Jason McDonald, and Raymond Orlando, with McDonald and Orlando also being some of the best javelin throwers in the conference. If ASU had more distance running strength, I think would pick them to win it all. Ironically, the difference between ACU and ASU could very well come down to the pole vault, an event that ACU dominated for decades, but has de-emphasized. If ASU outscores ACU by more than 25 points in the vault, that could tip the scale in the Rams favor. Look for them to score between 180 and 200 points and if they top 200, they could very well win it all.

3. TAMU-Kingsville has had a meteoric rise in the past 2 years, moving from one of the bottom 2 teams in the LSC to the top 3 and a realistic contender. This effort has been aided mightily by the emergence of some superb sprinters and jumpers. In fact, if TAMU-K was as strong this year in the throws as they have been in past years, they might actually have contending for the conference title this year. Their sprinters, with Tim Price and Jonathan Woodson, are some of the best in the LSC; their hurdlers, led by defending 400H champ Sergio Rios, along with Brandon Russell, are as good as any in the conference; jumpers Trent Hesseltine and Micah Franks lead a large group of good jumpers. I did expect more from their distance runners this year, particularly Kiya Dandena, as were a very competitive group in cross country. I expect to see the Javelinas score in the 95-110 range, a great improvement over their years of scoring 15-20 points at the LSC meet.

4. West Texas A&M has also burst on the scene in the past 2 years, their first 2 years with a track program during their tenure in the LSC. I think that WT hoped to make an even bigger move this year, but their hopes of picking up big points in the sprints have been blunted some by the Kingsville sprint corps. However, they are very strong in the steeplechase, with defending champ Luke Irwin; the high jump, with 2009 champ Gage Mayer; and some good throwers led by defending LSC discus champ Servell Dandridge. WT has numerous other kids who should grab off 6th, 7th and 8th places, enough to see them score 90-100 points and finish in a very strong 4th.

5. Eastern New Mexico is another team that used to be at the bottom of the conference that has seen marked progress in the past 2 years. The Greyhounds have great depth in the distance races, with Mohammed Noor, Justin Netcher, Pedro Martinez, and Jacob Lozano; and strong throwers led by defending shot put champ Bill Squire and javelin thrower Daniel Draper. Halfmiler Dustin Francke and freshman jumper Robert Matthew are also contenders. I see ENMU scoring 80-95 points and continuing their climb up the LSC ladder.

6. Tarleton should get a boost by hosting the meet – it is a nice facility and running on the home track always seems to provide a boost. Losing a few key distance runners before the beginning of this season hurt the Texans, but they still have some serious contenders. Quartermiler John Morin has emerged this year as one of the best in the conference; Westyn Rosiles and Kolin Styles (the younger brother of highly successful Midwestern cross country coach Koby Styles) are among the best distance runners in the LSC; and TSU still has a good throwing corps, particularly Hayden Eubanks. However, Tarleton is decidedly weaker in the sprints and the jumps this year and that may lead to a lower than usual total around 60-70 points.

7. Incarnate Word debuts in the LSC this spring and they will have some impact, probably moreso on the women’s side. The Cardinals have a very young team, except for one wily veteran distance runner, Shayn Weidner. UIW boasts the top halfmiler in the conference, Frenchman Sebastian Jaraba-Heffner (if Amos Sang ends up running the 800 for ACU, this could be a whale of a race); a good group of quartermilers that includes Corey McDonnough; and assorted other kids who will quite possibly slip in for points. I also think their presence could be felt in the 4X400 relay, where they were provisional qualifiers indoors this year. Look for UIW to score in the 50-60 range this year.

8. TAMU-Commerce has been a cellar dweller for the past few years and I don’t know if that will change this year. However, this is a much better team than in the past and if they can find some field event performers, this team could see a similar trajectory to that enjoyed by ENMU. The Lions have a great duo of 800/1500 in Robert Reed and Brandon Womack; plus, an outstanding freshman high jumper in Bobby Strebeck. TAMU-C has added enough young sprinters to be very competitive in the 4X400 relay and I could easily see them scoring 45-55 points this year, a definite improvement over the past few years.

WOMEN – in my predicted finish order
1. Angelo State – before the season began, I truly believed that it would be impossible for Angelo to overcome the loss of 66% of their points from their 2010 championship team. However, it appears that the Angelo coaching staff has done a superb job of coaxing increased productivity by some key returnees and then added key transfers and freshmen to create another winning team. Angelo has depth in virtually every phase of their team: excellent sprinters, including transfer Tiffany Wilcox and returnee Theresa Sue; Sofia Ramos, a freshman from the tiny town of Bryson who leads a strong group of halfmilers; a solid group of distance runners led by returnee Emeline Crutcher; the best hurdler in the conference, transfer Bree Bennett, who also is an excellent jumper; freshman high jumper Kati Holly, from Monahans; an outstanding vaulting corps led by JC transfer Kelsey Wilson; and, as always, a strong group of throwers that include returnees Kimberly Williams and Jayda Spencer, as well as JC transfer Andrea Edwards. It would appear that Angelo has the depth to score 205-215 points, which should be enough to win the whole thing, although considerably less than the 290 scored last year. I will talk more about why it will take fewer points to win later in this prediction piece.

2. ACU – this will be smallest team to represent ACU in quite some time, probably no more than 16-17 women will be entered, but it appears that there will still be enough firepower from the Wildcats to press Angelo for the top spot and probably finish in a strong second. This team would be much stronger if they had not lost quartermiler Karla Hope to an injury – without her, the ‘Cats will be hard pressed to even field a 4X400 relay, an unthinkable supposition in past years for ACU. ACU is particularly strong in two areas – the distance races, including the steeplechase, with the 2 runners from France, Anais Belledant and Chloe Susset , teamed with Oklahoma State transfer Alyse Goldsmith; and the throws, with seniors Paige Newby and Jessica Sloss, plus promising freshman Tara Riley. ACU also had the nation’s leading triple jumper in Amanda Ouedraogo, also from France; a strong sprinter in Sydney Smith; and 2 very promising heptathletes in Cassie Brooks and Michelle Ratliff. I can see this team scoring 150-160 points and that should still be enough to fend off any other team for 2nd place.

3. West Texas A&M – before the season started, I thought WT might well be in the battle for the top spot this year, an amazing feat in only their 2nd year running at the conference meet. However, some key injuries have left the Lady Buffs a little bit weaker than expected, but still with excellent prospects for the next year or two. WT is very strong in the 400/800 with the conference’s best quartermiler Tara Tarrant (when she is healthy) and Morgan Shelton; an excellent distance runner in defending 10K champ Aries Bazaldua; strong hurdlers in Rachel King and Bailee Skeen; and a strong thrower in Jadiah Riley. The team also has 2 good heptathletes in Katie Jones and Kirsten McCowan, although Kirsten may concentrate more on the throws and hurdles going forward. This group probably will score 105-120 points, with an inordinate number of people scoring from 5th to 8th.

4. Incarnate Word – the effect of having UIW in their first LSC championship track meet will be eflt particularly on the women’s side, where the Lady Cardinals could grab off 90-95 points that would have gone to the other schools in past years. They have a very young team, almost exclusively freshmen and sophomores, and we will see if their youngsters act more like freshmen or more like upperclassmen this weekend – if we see the latter, they could move up even more. UIW has the best female sprinter in Elodie Barre, their sprinter from France (the French seem to be all the rage in the LSC this year), who is also one of the better jumpers in the conference. They have excellent freshmen in Shaneve Swift in the quarter and Elvira Gonzalez in the 400 hurdles and they have one of the best heptathletes in the conference in Lilya Piskunova, plus their lone returning female national qualifier from 2010 in Lauren Pratt in the jumps. If they do score 90-95 points, they could make a good run at 3rd place in their inaugural LSC season.

5. Tarleton State – being the home team at the conference meet could be just the thing that TSU needs to move into the top 4 or even top 3 on the women’s side. TSU has a terrific group of freshmen who are already making themselves heard at the conference level – sprinter Derekia Coleman (along with Barre’ from UIW, the best sprinters in the LSC); halfmiler Payton Shoush; and distance runner Celeste Myer. The Lady Texans also received a huge boost with the mid-term transfer of Lindsay Hinton, who transferred in from Hardin-Simmons and who is one of the top 1500 runners in the LSC. The other area of great depth for TSU is in the throws, where Leslie Jordan and Elizabeth Dominguez lead the way. If some of TSU’s other youngsters step up, they could definitely move up 1-2 notches. I see this team scoring around 75-85 points.

6. Central Oklahoma – it is interesting to me that UCO never fielded a women’s track team (they were cross country only) until they applied for membership in the MIAA and suddenly, they showed up with a partial team at the 2010 LSC Championships and a larger team this year. My guess is that the MIAA, which is a very track-conscious conference, would only consider them for membership if they promised to add track and field. As one would suspect from a new team, they are led largely by young athletes – soph Sanee Harris is a promising quartermiler, and freshmen Lacey Rhodes (high jump) and Madison Berryman (javelin) are favorites in their specialty events. The only prominent upperclassman is junior distance runner Alina Istrate, a good steeplechaser. I think that UCO will steal off 50-60 points this year that will be distributed around next year after their departure to the MIAA.

7. TAMU-Kingsville – the going has been a little harder for the Lady Javelinas in building a conference contender like their men. They have some solid athletes, but not enough to make a big dent in the standings. Brittany Stafford is one of the better quartermilers in the LSC; Diana Zarate is the best 400 hurdler in the conference, but she is also a senior; Samone Lindsay is a solid jumper and Katie Dugie is a good thrower. They need 5-6 more of their caliber to move into top 3 contention. I probably see Kingsville scoring 45-55 points, which will put them into a battle with UCO and TAMU-C for the top of the 2nd tier in the LSC.

8. TAMU-Commerce – just like their male counterparts, the Lady Lions have had a hard time being competitive in the past 2-3 years. However, like the men, this team looks much improved over previous squads and another recruiting class or two of this caliber and Commerce could well move into the top half of the conference. Transfers Katherine Beach in the 400 and Starasia Childs in the 400 hurdles have helped this team. Returnees Kate Donovan in the steeplechase and particularly LaShara Jefferson in the throws can really help this team move up this year. I expect to see them score in the 40-50 point range.

9. Eastern New Mexico – just like TAMU-Kingsville, the Zias are taking longer to move into contention than the men’s team. Their primary point scorer will probably be junior distance runner Nicky Reid, but she will be supported by freshman Adrienne Montoya – an exciting new distance runner. Transfer LaDawn Spiller should also pick up some points in the jumps, along with another transfer Tegan Volberding. It appears that a ENMU staple – points in the javelin – will be missing this year. The Zias will probably score 25-35 points and look to fill some of the holes in this team over the summer.

There are my predictions. The LSC meet starts today and it should be the most competitive in many years. It is good to see the profile of the LSC growing in track and field. I think you can make a good case to say it is the most competitive of any D-II, with probably the MIAA the only other conference that might quibble with that designation. I hope to see a healthy representation of LSC athletes make the national meet and hopefully some of them attain their qualifying marks this weekend.

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Lone Star Conference

Angelo State University

Cameron University

Eastern New Mexico University

Texas A&M-Commerce

Tarleton State University

Texas A&M-Kingsville

Texas Woman's College

University of Texas of the Permian Basin

West Texas A&M University

Western New Mexico