Season Outlook Is Bright for TCU Track & Field
Jan. 8, 2003
For the past several years, the TCU Flyin' Frogs men's track & field team has been knocking at the NCAA Outdoor National Championship door. The Frogs placed third in 1998 in Buffalo, took a small step back to an 11th place finish two years later before running to a second place finish in 2001. After winning the Conference USA team title but taking a larger step back on the national level a year ago, TCU is poised to knock the door down at the NCAA Championships in 2003.
"We expect to win the conference again," TCU track & field coach Monte Stratton said, "but injuries can always play a factor. We also expect to do extremely well at the national meet. A top five finish is certainly a possibility and we expect to be competing for the national title. We have the ability to be very good, but as always, the sprints and relays are high risk events," noted the 2002 Conference USA Indoor and Outdoor Coach of the Year.
The Frogs appear to be loaded again this season featuring, as usual, excellent sprinters, relay teams and jumpers. This year's edition is comprised of a number of talented returnees including 2002 All-Americans Michael Frater, Aundre Edwards and Cleavon Dillon; the return of injured stars Eliud Njubi and David Spencer for their final seasons of competition; and the addition of several highly touted transfers including Nathaniel Garcia, Jerry Harris, Jackson Langat and Brandon Simpson.
The Frogs' traditional strength, the sprint events, appear to be well stocked again in 2003. Short sprint specialist Michael Frater placed fourth at 100 meters in the NCAA outdoor meet a year ago and could place in both the 100 and 200 meters at the national meet. Jermaine Joseph returns for his senior campaign after qualifying for the national meet in the 200 in 2002. Aundre Edwards, Jabari Fields and Cleavon Dillon are the most likely candidates to push Frater and Joseph in the open sprints and will battle for spots on the prestigious 4x1 relay team.
Brandon Simpson, who reached the national finals in the 400 meters at George Mason last spring, joins the TCU squad and immediately heads up what on paper is a tremendous stable of quartermilers. David Spencer, the 2001 WAC champion at 400 meters, is healthy again after missing the entire 2002 season with an Achilles' injury. Kendall Pyant and five-time national JUCO champion Jerry Harris will be factors as well. Simpson, Spencer and Harris are the early candidates for spots on the 4x4 relay, but Pyant, Fields, Nathaniel Garcia and Jason Morgan give Stratton plenty of candidates to consider.
"For the first time since I've been here, the 4x4 relay should be the better of the two relays," conceded the TCU head coach. "That's not to take anything away from the 4x1 team which could equal last year's foursome. But I think the 4x4 can run a sub 3:02 and is definitely a national title contender."
The Frogs will be strong in the middle distances as well. Four-time NCAA All-American Eliud Njubi has an outdoor season remaining. He scored at the NCAA outdoor meet in both the 800 and 1,500 in 2001. Jason Morgan is the defending C-USA champion at 800 meters. Jackson Langat, who comes to TCU after a year at Tarleton State, is expected to be a national qualifier after placing second in the Division II 800 meters a year ago.
The Frogs could also have their best group of hurdlers in years. Reggie Harrell is healthy and could be a factor after reaching the national semis in the 110-meter high hurdles as a true freshman in 2001. Football standout LaTarence Dunbar was a conference champion in the same event a year ago despite limited practice time. Nathaniel Garcia, a transfer from South Alabama, could be the best 400 meter hurdler in school history.
The Frogs aren't limited to the running events. In fact, their best event overall may be the long jump, where Cleavon Dillon and Aundre Edwards each placed at the national meet a year ago - Dillon at the indoor meet and Edwards at the outdoor meet. Senior Brandal Lawrence qualified for the national meet in the triple jump in 2002.
On the women's side, Stratton expects continued improvement from a squad that finished fourth among 13 teams at the conference outdoor meet a year ago.
"I didn't think we were that strong of a team a year ago and still finished fourth in the conference championships," said Stratton. "This year I think we're greatly improved and could challenge for the conference title. We definitely should be better. The problem on the women's side has been and will continue to be depth. But if our top people perform up to expectations, we could be right there at the end and have a handful of athletes with a chance to compete at the national meet," added Stratton.
Like the men, the TCU women's team will feature some excellent sprinters and relay units, along with some young distance runners that could make their presence felt. Three-fourths of TCU's All-America 4x100-meter relay unit return in tact and, according to Stratton, could be better than a year ago. The Frogs will also put out a 4x4 relay squad that could possibly be a national qualifier.
Senior and three-time All-American Monica Twum heads the sprinting corps. A healthy Twum figures to be an NCAA qualifier in the 100 and should anchor the 4x100 meter relay unit. La' Toya White and Tiffany Starts were on the 4x1 unit that finished eighth at the national meet a year ago. Experienced senior Chanel Hewitt or talented freshman Donita Harmon figure to be the final piece of the sprint relay puzzle.
The Frogs will get a huge lift with the arrival of middle distance runner Mary Kinyanjui in the spring. The junior transfer from Butler County was dominate on the junior college level in distances ranging from 1,500 to 5,000 meters. Conference USA Cross Country Freshman of the Year Alayne Thompson heads up a group of talented young distance runners. Freshman Julie Curtis was a highly decorated hurdler as a prep standout in Kansas. She has a chance to be the best hurdler in recent memory at TCU.
"It will be another interesting season," said Stratton. "We have a talented group of athletes on both the men's and women's sides. Our focus will remain the same as it has in the past during the outdoor season. We will put the emphasis on four key meets: the Texas Relays, the Penn Relays, the conference meet, and finally, the NCAA Championships."
And if it all comes together like he hopes, Stratton will have the TCU Flyin' Frogs walking through the 2003 NCAA Championship door in Sacramento, Calif. with the first place trophy in hand.