March 7, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. - Winning its first Big West championship was a surprising and emotional experience for the UC Davis women's track and field team, according to head coach Drew Wartenburg.
The Aggies, who won the 2012 title by a half-point over UC Santa Barbara, responded in 2013 by repeating atop the championship podium with a dominating performance. With a target squarely on its back, UC Davis opens the 2014 campaign on Saturday looking to keep the momentum going toward another conference banner.
With key returners throughout the lineup, the Aggies know with hard work and focus, that staying atop the Big West mountain is certainly within their grasp.
"The goal is to win, or to contend for a win, at the 2014 championship rather than talk about it being a second or third consecutive title," said Wartenburg, named the Big West Women's Coach of the Year the last two seasons. "One of the things we've tried to make clear is this is not any other year. This is a team that has some new components, is without some components from last year, but at the same time has a lot of strength that returns, so let's figure out what the identity of this year's team is going to be."
UC Davis sent a three conference champions to the NCAA Finals in Big West Track Athlete of the Year Ashley Marshall (100-meter), Katie Fry (steeplechase) and eventual first-team All-American - and current volunteer assistant coach - Lauren Wallace (800 meter).
Marshall and Fry return for their junior seasons while UC Davis returns another Big West Champion in Raquel Lambdin (1,500) to help lead another formidable Aggie squad.
UC Davis opens the 2013 outdoor season on Saturday at the Cal Opener before hosting the Aggie Open on Mar. 15. It'll also host the Big West Championships for the first time in mid-May.
SPRINTS & HURDLES
Marshall earned her conference track athlete of the year honors on the heels of a dominating season which saw her win Big West championships in the 100 and 200 while setting school records in both (11.34 & 23.25, respectively). She won three other meets in the 100, including the highly competitive Sun Angel Classic at Arizona State, and provided a strong second leg on UC Davis' 4x100 relay.
She and graduated standout Melanise Chapman gave the Aggies a pair of elite sprinters to headline a crew that remains strong this season. Leslie Reed, who's ninth on the program's all-time list in the 100 and tied for seventh in the 200, is back for her senior season in those events and will also see time in the 400 where she's ninth in the Aggie annals.
Junior Cekarri Nixon was third in the 400 at the conference meet while setting a school record (54.41) and will anchor that event as well as look to excel in the 200 - where she is third all-time (24.10) - while carrying the stick on both the long and short relays. Reed, Marshall and Nixon return to the 4x100 after helping set the school record (45.18) in 2013.
Shanie Landen (2:07.21) only trails Wallace on the 800-meter list at UC Davis and will be looking to that event this season after finishing second at the Big West meet. She'll also race the 400 again where she is in the top 10 (55.49) and provides a critical piece of the 4x400 relay which won a conference title and set a school record (3:37.56).
"With Shanie being able to run between the 400 and 4x400 relay, and being the specialist in the 800, we feel like we bridge well between the sprints and the distances," said Wartenburg.
Senior Kellie Grigg gives UC Davis strength in the 400 hurdles after finishing second at the conference meet in 59.20, vaulting her to third all-time. She is tied for eighth on the career list in the 100 hurdles at 14.50 seconds and will look to again be a double-threat in the two races.
Sarah Sumpter won back-to-back Big West titles in the 10,000 while earning third-team All-America honors in 2012. Her storied career has come to a close because of graduation but senior Alycia Cridebring has been writing a chapter of her own and will lead the distance crew this season.
Cridebring is the only Aggie in school history to go below 16 minutes in the 5,000, posting a huge PR of 15:49.05 at Stanford's Payton Jordan Invitational last May. She was among the favorites in the event at the conference championships but was pulled from the event to save energy for the regionals once it was clear UC Davis had secured the Big West title.
Coming off all-region honors in cross country this past fall and a school-record in the indoor 3,000 this winter, Cridebring will also race the 1,500. She is third all-time at UC Davis in the 1,500 (4:21.14) and was third in the event at the Big West Championships last year.
Lambdin provides another strong presence in the distance events for the Aggies coming off her 1,500 title in 2013. The regional qualifier in that event also excelled in the 800 and is in UC Davis' top 10 in both of those events as well as the 3,000.
Erika Barr and Christine Hoffmann provide talented depth throughout the distance events for the Aggies who also brought in a strong recruiting class to once again make this event group a team strength.
Fry took on the steeplechase for the first time in her career last spring and quickly moved to elite status by qualifying for the national championships, Along the way She won the Big West championship and was fourth at the NCAA West Prelim in a school-record 9:58.97. The junior is the first UC Davis woman to break 10 minutes in the steeple.
Junior Katie Barber returns to the high jump where her career-best of 5 feet, 7 inches while tying for fifth at the Big West Championship pushed her into the Aggies' top-10 at No. 7. Wartenburg said she's ready to do more.
"She's been very consistent indoors and then moving to outdoors," Wartenburg said. "For her, this will be a year for her to aim to do some things outdoors that have been just beyond her reach. She's performed well at the conference level but we'd love to see her get to the regionals."
Catherine Li made her mark in the triple jump as a freshman last year, finishing fourth at the Big West meet at 39-9.25 which puts her fifth all-time. She'll continue to look to make strides in that event while also adding depth in the long jump. Senior Diamonne Mitchell used a big mark (18-8) at the conference meet in the long jump to move into the top 10 and should once again lead in that area.
Freshman Holly Tokar debuted in the pole vault during the indoor season, twice going 12-6 at meets in Washington that are second all-time at UC Davis. She'll try to make her mark during the outdoor season while Danielle Steffen, who had a PR of 12-5.5 during her freshman season last year, looks to come back from injury and build on her strong career start.
Adesida burst on the scene as a freshman in the shot put, going 48-11.75 during the Causeway Dual against Sacramento State - second only to record-holder Chidinma Onyewuenyi (52-1.25)- while also debuting at fifth in the discus (154-7). She did go past Onyewuenyi in the indoor shot put this winter, setting the school record at 48-10.25 and setting the table for a strong spring.
Smart had a PR of 47-10 in the shot from the ASU Sun Angel Classic, putting her just behind Adesida on the all-time ledger while also excelling in the hammer throw (165-03, 8th all-time). Smart was fifth in the shot put at the Big West meet.
Hussey will anchor the hammer after twice going over 170 feet last year including a mark of 172-06 at the Hornet Invitational in March that ranks her fifth all-time.
Heptathlete Kira Rienecker, who scored 4,508 points last week at the Chico Multi-Event Classic to improve her No. 4 all-time position, will bring depth throughout many events before focusing on her specialty at the conference championships. Murphy Nicholson, who had a PR last week at Chico, is also progressing in the event.
Wartenburg said the Aggies are focused on winning the Big West title again but he said as the program develops so do the goals.
"Individuals that we have in place that have achieved at a high level are extremely motivated and are really going to look within to be better than they were last year which, in turn, will make our team better," he said. "No one will look by conference.Part of our discussion is how do we get past regionals and to nationals and that means being better across the board, including conference."
UC Davis will host the Big West Championships on May 9-10 with the multi-events and then May 16-17 with the full teams.