Eagles Feeling Highly Optimistic as they Head to Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships

Brad Wall aims for a fourth title as Keisa Monterola has her eye on the Olympics

The Eastern Washington University men’s and women’s track and field teams will travel to Flagstaff, Ariz., for the 2012 Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships this Friday and Saturday (Feb. 24-25) at the Walkup Skydome.

Last season, the men’s and women’s teams finished fifth and sixth, respectively in the indoor championships. This season, both men’s head coach Stan Kerr and women’s head coach Marcia Mecklenburg are expecting improvements.

“I’m looking for people to have their best performance of the season,” said Kerr. “If that happens, great things will happen from a team point of view. Our men’s team feels like we will be finishing in the top three.”

“I expect the women to finish in the upper half,” said Mecklenburg. “I know we don’t have a lot of depth, but we have great individuals, and hopefully the mid-level athletes can step up and get us some points.”

Competing for the men will be Steven Warner (60m hurdles), Michael Okoro (200m, 400m, 4x400), Brad Michael (200m, 400m, 4x400), Collin Green (200m, 4x400), Brad Wall (400m, 4x400), Jordan Curnutt (800m), Tim Pettit (800m), Drake DaPonte (1 mile), Kyle King (3,000, 5,000), Bowe Ebding (3,000, 5,000), Graham Vaux (3,000, 5,000), Kersee Lind (heptathlon, long jump, high jump, pole vault), Phillip Puccino (triple jump), Cody Fishel (high jump), Nick Stearns (pole vault), Zach Nielsen (weight throw), Jordan Arakawa (weight throw), Jon Buchanan (weight throw, shot put), Marlyn Anderson (shot put), Warren Miller (heptathlon), Tim Armstrong (heptathlon) and Chris Schroll (5,000).

Wall, the three-time conference champion in the 400, is currently third in the conference behind Northern Arizona’s Arnaud Froidmont and Adel al Nasser. However, Brad Michael and Michael Okoro sit fifth and sixth, respectively, giving Eastern a fantastic field for the 400-meter race. All three of them, as well as Collin Green, are on the 4x400 relay team.

“Brad Wall is going to win his fourth consecutive title,” predicted Kerr. “He has three consecutive wins, and that four-peat sounds really good to him. He is a very seasoned, competitive runner. The conference knows who he is, and they tend to pay attention to him.

“Brad Michael has had an outstanding freshman indoor season, but on the heels of both Brads is Michael Okoro. He is as talented as any of those guys and can end up on the top of the podium. I’d love to see a 1-2-3 sweep on the podium in the 400. All we need to do is get them to the starting line and they’ll do the rest; we just watch good things happen.”

Lind, EWU’s record holder in the heptathlon, goes into the championships seeded third in the event amongst Big Sky athletes. He has broken the school record twice this season, with the latest mark (5,198) at the UW Team Invitational on Jan. 28.

King will be participating in his final indoor championship, and will try to cap of his stellar Eagle career with strong performances in the 3,000 and 5,000.

“This is Kyle’s final championship, so I’m sure he wants to go out with a firework-finish,” said Kerr. “NAU is tough at home and has never lost the championships there, but Kyle is one of those guys that can come in and knock of the best off the best to claim the top spot.”

Big things are expected from the men’s throwing team of Nielsen, Arakawa, Anderson and Buchanan. In the weight throw, Nielsen and Arakawa sit second and third, respectively, in conference.

Representing the women will be Whitney Leavitt (60m, 200m, 4x400), Shene Davis (60m, long jump, triple jump), Angelica Rodriguez (400m, 4x400), Katie Mahoney (1 mile), Chelsea Lawhead (4x400), Nicole Nida (4x400), Keisa Monterola (pole vault, long jump), Morena Mannucci (triple jump), Elise Jepsen (high jump), Robin Taylor (pole vault), Amber Troyer (pole vault), Olivia Midles (weight throw), Emma Murillo (weight throw), Morgan Romey (shot put), Mari Bingham (shot put) and Berenice Penaloza (5,000).

Eastern’s top individual is Monterola – who has already broken the conference record in the pole vault (14-4), qualified for NCAA Nationals and won three Big Sky Field Athlete of the Week Awards. She is not only looking to add to her already impressive résumé with a win in the pole vault, but Eastern coaches are also optimistic she will hit the Olympic B qualifying mark (14-5 1/4). She is also competing in the long jump.

However, Monterola isn’t the only Eagle expected to do big things in the pole vault. Taylor and Troyer look to join Monterola on the podium for another 1-2-3 finish in the event as the three women did at last week’s Vandal Collegiate.

“Since we’re going to be at a high altitude, I think Keisa will get the Olympic B standard,” said Mecklenburg. “I’m expecting her to win conference as well, but you never know what’s going to happen. The vault is a very competitive event, but she is definitely the best one out there.

“The women’s vault is our strongest event right now,” she continued. “Hopefully we’ve trained all three of them in such a way that they’re able to hit personal records. If we can get all three of them to score, that would be great for us as a team.”

Davis will also be competing in her final indoor championship, as she’ll have a crack at the long jump and triple jump titles. She will also compete in the 60-meter dash.

“Shene always steps up at the conference championships,” said Mecklenburg. “She always performs well, and since this is her last indoor championship, she’s definitely ready. The Big Sky Championships are her meet.”

The elevation sits Flagstaff is 6,910 feet above sea level, which makes it difficult for distance runners. However, in the field events, Meckelburg says it can be an advantage.

“I believe that when you’re competing at altitude, you jump higher, jump farther and throw farther,” said Mecklenburg. “Plus, all these other teams have been competing at altitude all season, so they’ve already had that advantage. Now we get that advantage.”

Notes on Keisa Monterola

Junior Keisa Monterola broke the Big Sky Conference indoor record for the women’s pole vault, with a jump of 14-4 on Jan. 28 at the UW Team Invitational in Seattle, Wash. The jump automatically qualified her for the NCAA Championships on Mar. 9 in Boise, Idaho.

Along with breaking the conference record, Monterola improved on her EWU school record and the indoor Venezuelan record. The Clackamas Community College transfer is now just a heartbeat away from the Olympic B-standard of 14-5 1/4.

Monterola made her Eastern debut on Dec. 3 at the Candy Cane Invitational. On her first jump, she broke Eastern’s pole vault record with a height of 13-11 1/4.  She has also been named the Big Sky women’s Field Athlete of the Week three separate times.

Monterola is also the owner of the Venezuelan national record. She has competed for her country on numerous occasions, including the Pan American Games this past fall. She placed fifth with a mark of 14-1 1/4.

Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, Monterola placed first in the pole vault at the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges (NWAACC) Championships while competing for Clackamas Community College. She had a personal-best vault of 14-2 1/2 – a mark that improved the sophomore’s Venezuelan national record. She also placed first in the long jump with a mark of 18-0 1/2.

Monterola also claimed titles at the 2009 NWAACC Championships in the pole vault (12-8 1/4) and the long jump (17-8 1/4). While utilizing her redshirt season in 2010, Monterola won the gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games, where she set the games record with a mark of 13-9 1/4. In high school, Monterola was the 2005 IAAF World Youth silver medalist and South American Junior Champion. She cleared 13-11 1/4 in both competitions, setting new meet records in both.

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