Jan. 24, 2008
Despite the loss of the top men's point producer in school history and an All-America thrower on the women's side, the Eastern Washington University track and field teams hope depth and experience will help the programs have continued production in the 2007 indoor and outdoor seasons.
The Eagles will open the 2008 season this Friday and Saturday (Jan. 25-26) when they compete in the Cougar Indoor Track and Field Meet in Pullman, Wash. The women's pentathlon, men's heptathlon, men's weight throw, women's weight throw and women's long jump take place on Friday, with events beginning at 2:30 p.m. On Saturday, the conclusion of the heptathlon starts at 9 a.m., followed by the remainder of the field events and all running events.
The Eagles will conclude the indoor season at the Big Sky Conference Indoor Championships on Feb. 29-March 1 in Pocatello, Idaho.
The Eagles return 30 letter winners, including 15 for the men and 15 for the women. Eastern is particularly strong in the throwing events and Eastern's coaches expect the Eagles to improve their position and point totals during the outdoor season when a full complement of throws events take place.
"Looking historically where we have been selected, a lot of our points have come in the throws," said head men's coach Stan Kerr of the preseason prediction. "Take out our javelin crew and our discus crew who have scored very solid points for us over the years outdoors, and you can quickly erase that difference between seventh and fourth or seventh and second."
"We are not as strong indoors because we don't have the javelin and the discus," said head women's track coach Marcia Mecklenburg. "Those are two very strong events for us. So we need some of our athletes to really step it up for us in the weight throw and shot put indoors."
Both the men's and women's teams are hoping to improve upon last year's finishes after recently recording best-ever performances at Big Sky Conference championships.
In 2007, Eastern closed the year in Pocatello, Idaho, at the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Championships with a sixth-place finish for the men and a placing of seventh for the women. In the indoor season, the men finished a best-ever fourth and the women placed eighth. In 2006, the men were a best-ever third outdoors. The women have also had their best-ever finishes of fourth indoors and sixth outdoors in the last five seasons.
The men's team lost nine letter winners from last year, but the 15 returning include Big Sky outdoor 400-meter champion Chad Butorac. He finished seventh in the 400 at the NCAA West Regional Championships. The junior will redshirt the indoor season before continuing his pursuit of the school records in the 400 of 47.05 (outdoors) and 47.61 (indoors). Butorac's career bests thus far are 48.19 (outdoors) and 48.16 (indoors).
"Chad is one of the pillars of the sprint program," said Kerr. "Chad is a great student, a great team leader and has a great work ethic, and that is the type of pillar you want in your sprint program. He has two great years ahead of him to shoot for our school record, which I think he will break. It is just the matter of when."
Also returning is senior Curtis Suver, who finished fifth last year outdoors in the 5,000 meters and third in the same event indoors. Joining him will be Paul Limpf, who finished fifth at last fall's BSC Cross Country Championships. Limpf finished fourth in the 5,000 at last year's indoor championships.
"Paul and Curtis are the pillars in our group of returning distance athletes," said Kerr. "They are starting to build some momentum in the Big Sky in an area where we have not had a lot of all-conference performers. Both have been all conference both on the track and cross country. So again, we are looking to establish pillars in all of the event areas."
Besides Butorac, Suver and Limpf, other individual scorers (top eight finish) at the Big Sky Championships returning from 2007 include Nick Mundell, Steve Keith, Joshua Jones, Jason Kirk, Erik Walter, Cameron Moore and Armand Hopkins.
The women return 15 letter winners after losing 10. Athletes returning include Big Sky placers Kiri Garruto, Jessica Duran, Erica Chaney, Bonnie Millard, Krystal Deyo, Mattie Bridgmon, Lindsey Buttrey, Sarah Frey, Erika Kirley-Price, Kristen Felderman and Camille Moseley.
Throws should be impressive again despite having to replace Paul and Gutierrez . . .
After winning the Big Sky outdoor title in the discus, Millard advanced to the NCAA West Regionals where she placed 15th overall in her first appearance. Chaney was fourth in the discus and fifth in the shot put outdoors in the Big Sky before competing in the shot put and javelin at the USA Junior Track and Field Championships.
"It is going to be an interesting year in the throwing events because I believe Erica is going to give Bonnie a run for her money," said Mecklenburg. "Erica could also get the school record and she has that ability. Bonnie concentrates on the shot and discus and Erica does four throwing events. The plus for Bonnie is she only has to focus on two events. The plus for Erica is that she can spread her focus out. Regardless, those two will have a good chance to go for the school record."
Replacing the production of throwers David Paul and All-American Carolee Gutierrez will also be important, as both capped stellar EWU careers in 2007. However, the way the Eagles look at it, those are points now there for the taking by other Eagles.
Paul scored a school-record 54 points outdoors at Big Sky events and had 32 more points indoors to rank third in EWU history. Included was the championship in the hammer throw as a senior with a new school and Big Sky record of 226-2.
"Obviously, you don't replace a competitor of David's caliber," commented Kerr. "We do have a young throws group, so hopefully we will have a little more depth even without David. That will offset some of the points lost because David isn't there to get the points. So we will have more throwers in more events that I am hoping will produce both indoors and outdoors."
Gutierrez scored 34 Big Sky points in her career, including a runner-up Big Sky finish in the javelin. She went on to place second at the NCAA West Regional Championships with a throw of 175-7 that was a school and Big Sky record. She then finished eighth at the NCAA Championships to earn All-America honors before placing fourth at the USA Track and Field Championships.
"At the national level Carolee is going to be a hard one to replace," added Mecklenburg. "I never really felt she did what she could have at the Big Sky level. I don't know if she was two weeks too early or what."
Gutierrez also owns the school record in the discus of 160-9 that Millar and Chaney will be chasing.
"On the conference level I think we are going to be stronger even though we did lose Carolee," Mecklenburg added. "But on a national level it's going to be hard to accomplish the things that Carolee did."
The Eastern men were picked to finish seventh by Big Sky coaches in the league's preseason poll, while Sacramento State, Weber State and Northern Arizona were in a three-way tie for the top spot. The women are picked to finish eighth while the Weber State women are picked first followed by NAU.
"Squads have strengths in different areas," added Kerr. "Sac State is going to score heavily in the sprints and jumps, NAU in the distances and Weber State is pretty balanced and is going to be looking at other scorers to help them out. It depends who is healthy at the end of the year."
"I think we might be a little stronger than where we are ranked, but again, we are a better outdoor team," added Kerr. "We are missing some indoor events that make us a better outdoor team. Hopefully we can finish in the middle."
"I believe that NAU is going to be No. 1 just because of what they did in cross country," said Mecklenburg of the women's title chase. She gives the edge to the Lumberjacks, a distance-running powerhouse that finished seventh at the NCAA Cross Country Championships (the NAU men were fourth).
"Indoors has a little more emphasis on the distance events. Because of that, schools that are strong in the distance events are going to do well. So I would say NAU will finish first."
Despite NAU's superiority overall, the Eagles also feature one of the top female distance runners in the league. Bridgmon was 64th in the NCAA Cross Country Championships last fall after placing fifth in the Big Sky meet. At the league's outdoor track and field championships last year, she was seventh in the 5,000 meters and fourth in the 10,000.
"Mattie is coming off a great cross country season," said Mecklenburg. "Having the experience of competing at the NCAA Cross Country Championships should be a great boost for her confidence going into the indoor season. It will be great to see her score some big points against the Big Sky distance powerhouses."