Entering the 2011 season, the Case Western Reserve University men’s and women’s track and field teams are poised to take another step forward in the University Athletic Association after the women’s squad finished fourth overall at the UAA Outdoor Championships—its highest finish ever—and the Spartan men claimed an individual national champion for the first time since 1990. Together, the two squads have now produced five All-Americans in the past two years. The first full team meet will take place Saturday, as the team hosts the annual Spartan Relays at 10 a.m. in the Veale Center.
Last season, the Spartan men placed sixth with 45 team points at the indoor conference meet before improving to fifth at the UAA Outdoor Championships, posting an improvement of 36 points in the process. This year, however, they must replace four-time Division III All-American and graduated national champion Obinna Nwanna, whose title in the decathlon led the Spartans to a team finish of 26th at nationals last season. The Spartans will lean on a crop of returning athletes who should be able to challenge for conference crowns.
“You can’t replace Obinna Nwanna, but I’m excited about the challenge for this men’s team to not only replace Obi’s points, but surpass them,” said fourth-year head coach Steve Rubin. “This group, for the most part, is still quite young and I think they’re just starting to come into their own in a lot of areas. But they have a huge amount of heart and desire. I expect that to translate into a very competitive group.”
In the mid-distance events, look for strong contributions from juniors Jim Mather and Ty Shaffer. Mather was the meet champion at last year’s Spartan Relays in the 800-meter event and clocked in at 56.55 to take fourth overall in the 400 hurdles at the UAA Outdoor Championships. Shaffer won the 500-meter title at the Greater Cleveland College Championships in 2010 and also took silver in the 400 meter at the UAA Outdoor Championships, finishing in a time of 50.13. Also a threat in the hurdles, junior Matt Jurcak bested Mather by a slim margin in the 400-meter hurdles at last year’s UAA Outdoor Championships to take third and also placed second in the 55-meter hurdles at last year’s All-Ohio Championships.
Sophomore Chris Kelly returns to lead the Spartans in distance events after turning in three first-place finishes in three different events during the 2010 season (800 meter, 1,500 meter and mile) and crossing the line second in the mile at the UAA Indoor Championships with a time of 4:19.7.
A versatile thrower, senior Jeremy Gdaniec will be back looking to take the next step at the conference meet and lead the Spartan field athletes. Last year, Gdaniec placed third in the weight throw at the UAA Indoor Championships as well as fourth in the discus and sixth in the hammer throw outdoors. The senior also was meet champion in the weight throw at the Spartan Relays and the hammer throw at the DePauw University Invitational.
On the women’s side, Case Western Reserve claimed fifth with 43 points at last year’s UAA Indoor Championships and improved to a fourth-place finish with a team score of 93 at outdoors.
“We feel very good about the women’s team,” Rubin said. “We did lose an outstanding runner in Elaine Simpson, but we’ve filled in some gaps in the sprints and jumps with some newcomers so we think we’ve got a good shot to move up in the conference.”
The Spartans return a sizable contingent of their top scorers from last year’s squad.
Leading the way will be junior Erin Hollinger, who also is a standout forward on the women’s basketball team. Hollinger, an All-American high jumper two years ago, represented the Spartans at nationals in 2010 with a 10th-place finish. She also was the conference indoor champion and took second at the UAA Outdoor Championships in the high jump. A multievent specialist, Hollinger placed fifth in the 100-meter hurdles, third in the pole vault and eighth in the javelin throws at last spring’s conference meet.
In the field events, expect the Spartans to be anchored by Hollinger and a duo of top finishers from last year’s conference competition in junior Amanda Kline and sophomore Emily Tran, who took second in the discus and third in the shot put at the UAA outdoor meet. Tran also stood out in the javelin throw at last year’s outdoor meet finishing second.
Case’s top returner in the sprints, junior Nataija Brown will be looking to take another step toward winning the UAA after finishing eighth or better in four different events (55 and 100 meter hurdles, 100 and 200 meter dash) last year.
Sophomore Alyssa Harker will also be counted on to produce in the mid-distance runs for the Spartans. Last year, Harker was third at the UAA Outdoor Championships in the 400-meter hurdles. She also earned second-place finishes in the 400-meter dash at the Carnegie Mellon University Tartan Dual and in the 500 at the Greater Cleveland College Championships.
Senior Justine Jeroski, fresh off an 11th-place finish at the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships, will return to be an anchor for CWRU in the long-distance runs. The senior was a winner in the 3,000-meter run at the Spartan Relays last season.
The Spartan women’s distance relay teams should also challenge for conference crowns after the 1,600-meter relay quartet took third at the UAA Outdoor Championships last spring and returns all four runners this year. The 3,200-meter relay team placed second at the same meet a year ago and brings back three of its members.
“We’re starting to get into the area where we can accomplish things, not just as isolated individual performers, but as a team,” Rubin said. “We’re going to focus this year on competing hard as a group. We’ll develop our talents as far as possible, and if it’s still even after that, we’ll rely on guts and heart to win.”
Posted by: Emily Mayock, January 20, 2011 08:18 AM | News Topics: Athletics
Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.