With Old Man Winter’s grip stifling the great outdoors and the sound of basketballs pounding the hardwood, track and field takes a back seat – or does it?
Primarily considered an outdoor, summertime event, track and field does its best to keep pace, moving events indoors to escape the elements.
Western Carolina’s track and field team begins their semester indoors this weekend at Clemson University’s Littlejohn Coliseum with the Tiger Invitational.
The team-scored event will feature 18 teams, including host Clemson, North Carolina A & T, South Alabama, and Southern Conference member institutions The Citadel, Georgia Southern, and Furman.
Track and field head coach Danny Williamson is positive about the indoor season and this weekend’s travel to Clemson.
“Anytime we get into a team-scored event our goal is to win the meet,” said Williamson. “It doesn’t matter who we’re competing against, we’ll tackle them and do the best we can.”
He added, “We hope we’re strong across the board. That’s the way we have our team set up.”
Williamson added that he felt deepest at the 200-meter and 400-meter events on his men’s team, and depth all over on the women’s team, including hurdles, jumps, and the pole vault.
“Clemson as the host school has to be the favorite on both sides. They’re a perennial power every year,” said Williamson.
This is WCU’s second trip to South Carolina’s ACC member school. The Catamounts traveled to Clemson the first of December for the Clemson Opener. However, despite many good Cat performances, Williamson stated that it isn’t a very good measuring tool for this semester.
“With the layoff over Christmas break and then two weeks before the first event, we don’t use the opener as a measuring stick, but the Tiger Invitational is one we use as a key measuring stick as to where we stack up with other competition,” Williamson explained.
Included in the good Opener performances were sophomore Caleb Bailey’s second-place finish in the men’s one-mile, senior Val Jalajas’ second-place in the women’s pole vault, sophomore Derrick High’s second in the men’s 400-meter dash, and the women’s 4×400-meter relay teams’ runner-up finish.
Other top performances from the December meet include sophomore Cedea Bowden’s sixth-place 60-meter dash finish, junior Michael Simmons’ fifth-place finish in the 800-meter dash, and junior Ashley Herendon’s third-place finish in the shot put.
For the indoor, and looking ahead to the outdoor track and field season, youth abounds for Williamson’s Cats. Between the two squads there are 27 freshmen (14 on the women’s and 13 on the men’s) and 21 sophomores (10 on the women’s and 11 on the men’s).
Only six, Val Jalajas on the women’s side and five from the men’s squad, have senior status in 2001.
Despite these facts, Williamson is confident as ever that the tradition of WCU track and field excellence will continue.
Williamson expects the women’s team to continue its recent dominance and considers anything less than a conference championship below the standard that the team has set for itself.
The men’s squad looks to regain the conference titles, which they relinquished last season, finishing second in both the indoor and outdoor championships.
“This can be a very productive season and will add to the strong tradition that has been established over the past ten years,” Williamson said.
To accomplish these otherwise lofty goals, Williamson has received great leadership from his upperclassmen. He said that team members such as Tim Vaught, Akaba Glaspie, and Jesse Norman on the men’s side, and Virginia LaCombe, Roslyn Hook, Ashley Herendon, and lone senior Val Jalajas on the women’s side have offered leadership.
Williamson, aided by his assistant coaching staff and upperclassmen, will look to propel WCU track and field back into national prominence this weekend and throughout the spring semester heading into the outdoor season later in the spring.
He feels that this squad has a good chance of ranking in the national top 25 power rankings and placing athletes in NCAA championships.