Jan. 8, 2008
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Season previews for the 2008 University of Maryland men's and women's track and field teams. Returning ACC champions Dominic Berger and Toni Aluko are primed for their senior seasons, which begin this weekend at Virginia Tech.
MEN'S TRACK & FIELD OUTLOOK
Andrew Valmon talks a great deal about "turning the corner" when discussing the 2008 University of Maryland men's track and field team.
He feels he's got a number of student-athletes who have already shown they have outstanding talent, who might be ready to take the next step necessary to grow into stars. Such will be the story line to watch for the 2008 Terrapins throughout the indoor and outdoor seasons.
As such, Valmon has stocked his coaching staff with both new talent and a strong commitment from some veterans. AuDrey Dempsey-Branch comes to Maryland after successful stints at ACC powers Georgia Tech and Clemson, while Terry Weir is the Terrapins' new distance coach, moving to College Park after building a successful distance program at nearby American University. Roland Desonier has moved to a full-time position and will continue his work with the throwers, while Frank Costello gives Valmon a Hall of Famer and former head coach to assist with hurdles and jumps.
"We're looking for a lot of guys to turn the corner," said Valmon, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is in his fifth season as Maryland's head track and field coach. "In a number of areas, we have people who are ready to take the next step.
"This year, our focus is not as much about placing, but it's about sacrifice. Our student-athletes are in training for 12 months and competing for six. We're talking a lot about answering the question, `Why do you do this?' If they're working hard to be successful, to grow and improve, then the places and marks should take care of themselves."
"We'll want to send these guys out right," said Valmon. "They were members of our first recruiting class here and that's always a group that you have special feelings about as a coach."
They will lead a group of veteran sprinters, jumpers and a thrower who each seem ready to make big moves in their performances in 2007. Combined with a youthful corps of distance runners that showed improvement late in the cross country season, Valmon hopes his team is ready to continue the consistent improvement shown during each of his seasons in College Park.
Maryland is as deep in the sprinters group as any time during Valmon's tenure with the Terps. He has a solid group of veterans to place anywhere from 100 to 400 meters and a pool of talent to blend together onto improving relay teams.
Sean Lowe heads a talented and veteran group in the sprints and will seek to continue the momentum he gained by placing second at the ACC Outdoor in the 400. He had four marks last season under 48 seconds in the 400 and ranks seventh outdoors at Maryland with a career-best 46.98. He also ranks on Maryland's all-time list outdoors in the 200 (21.24 set at last spring's Disney World Invitational).
Earl Gray returns for his senior season with an eye toward returning to the form he showed when he earned spots on Maryland's all-time lists in the 200 both indoors and outdoors. His collegiate bests at those distances are 22.21 indoors and 21.22 outdoors. Gray had four of Maryland's top five marks outdoors in the 200 last year.
Jeremy Samuels, a sophomore, is another of those who Valmon seeks to turn a corner. He posted a 48.58 in the 400 indoors last season and went 47.99 to place sixth in the ACC Outdoor meet.
Another Terp benefiting from Valmon's expertise at 400 meters is junior Anthony Walker, who has gone 48.63 indoors to sit near the top of Maryland's performance list. Walker also went 48.07 in the 400 outdoors last season.
Maryland will get some experience also from Afolabi Aromire, who transferred to College Park from the University of Florida and will compete this season. Robert Duru also returns to the roster after a season off the track.
Maryland has a number of solid student-athletes competing in the 800 to 1,500 range. As is the story in the sprints, the Terps can enter a number of strong and veteran talents in these events.
Juniors Josh Davis and Kyle Rauser, along with sophomore Tommy Friscia have all shown some strength at the middle-distance events. Rauser (1:53.99) and Friscia (1:54.87) have moved onto the Terps' all-time lists indoors in the 800. Davis had Maryland's best marks of the outdoor season in both the 800 (1:52.83) and 1,500 (3:53.08), earning a top-10 finish in the 1,500 at the ACC Outdoor meet.
Junior Zach Martinez has been solid at the middle distances, posting a 4:18.03 indoors in the mile last year and standing as one of two Terps under four minutes in the 1,500 outdoors a year ago. Joe Simpson also adds depth for Maryland in the middle distances.
The Terrapins showed outstanding improvement during the 2007 cross country season, moving up positions in team standings at both the ACC meet and the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regionals despite field a sophomore-laden team.
Valmon is hoping the improvement and momentum from the end of cross country translates into some strength in distance events on the track.
Greg Kelsey seemingly turned a corner for Maryland last fall while leading the cross country team, earning All-Region honors. He manned the 3,000-meter steeplechase for the Terps last outdoor season. Fellow sophomore Ben Diestel also comes off a strong cross country season and topped Maryland's indoor list a year ago in the 5,000 (sixth all-time at 15:05.20).
Berger is a three-time All-America hurdler and four-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion who will look to end his senior season with a bang. Finishing as the runner-up at the 2007 NCAA Outdoor in the 110-meter hurdles, Berger is an athlete who displays uncommon focus and preparation when he competes.
"Dominic leads by example," Valmon said of his current star. "He's a student of the sport and I think the rest of the team has responded to his type of leadership. He's shown how important it is to prepare and separate himself mentally. When it's time to compete, it's time to compete and nothing else comes into focus."
Durham had an outstanding performance at last year's NCAA East Regional, placing fifth and earning a nationals berth with a mark of 14.03 in the 110-hurdles. He has moved onto the all-time top-10 lists in both the 110 hurdles (seventh) and 400 hurdles (fifth).
David Edwards-Brennan earned All-ACC honors in the men's high jump, using home-field advantage to place third outdoors at the meet hosted by Maryland at the Kehoe Track Complex. His best mark outdoors last year was 6-10.75 and the Terp junior from Jamaica was also fourth at last year's IC4A Indoor meet. Chris Haley scored for Maryland in the men's high jump outdoors at the ACC's last year.
Sophomore Jason Allen posted a long jump mark of 24-5 last summer to win the USATF Junior National title. He also scored for Maryland at last year's ACC Indoor in the long jump and his indoor best of 24-2.25 is on a strong all-time list at Maryland.
Jayson Alexander is a solid veteran in the long jump for Maryland and returns for his senior season. Victor Gilreath handled triple jump duties (47-5.25 indoors) for the Terps a year ago as a freshman.
Freshman Nick David comes to Maryland from the same Mount Sinai (N.Y.) High School pole-vault program that produced Terp teammate Kaitlyn Fitzgerald. David could make immediate impact with the potential to go 16 feet in that event.
Junior Sal Delhierro has been handling all the Maryland throwing duties for the past two seasons. Delhierro had a breakthrough mark of 58-9.50 last year in the 35-pound weight throw and placed sixth at the ACC Indoor meet. He placed 10th outdoors in the hammer at the ACC meet and had a season-best of 160-6 in that event.
He'll get some help this season from freshman Geoff Goidell, who is another New Jersey product on the Maryland squad.
WOMEN'S TRACK & FIELD OUTLOOK
Head coach Andrew Valmon will be seeking to blend together a pair of strong ingredients into what he hopes will be a winning season for the University of Maryland women's track and field team.
Valmon has strength in the field in a veteran senior class that includes reigning ACC outdoor high jump champion Toni Aluko, four-year veteran throwers in Jillian Anwah and Aysha Gregory and combined-event standout Christina Smith.
On the track, the Terrapins' strength could come from a group of newcomers who arrive in College Park this spring with the chance to make a significant impact.
"We're a senior-laden team," Valmon says of his 2008 Terrapins who will be led by eight seniors. "On the track and in the field, we've got some talented people already here who have shown some improvement. I think we've added an excellent group of newcomers who could make some noise at some point this season."
Senior Natasha Emmanuel will be the veteran of the sprint crew this season and comes into her final year in College Park already on four top-10 lists at the school. She has posted career-bests of 7.33 indoors at 55 meters, 25.16 indoors at 200 meters and 56.42 outdoors at 400 meters. She and fellow senior Candace Holness will provide veteran leadership to the sprinters this season.
Valmon is hoping for continued improvement from a group of student-athletes who were newcomers a year ago. Tiffani Long, Ashley Carbray, Natalie Goodman, Brittany Lee-Richardson and Tolulope Olugbemi all provided depth for the Terrapins from 60 to 400 meters last season.
A pair of newcomers could provide some spark in these events in 2008. Michelle Fedrick comes to Maryland after transferring from Arkansas-Pine Bluff. She owns a 24.30 in the 200 and a 54.18 in the 400 and has the experience of having competed at the NCAA Regionals.
Maryland also hopes to get points from Heidi Paul, who was a New York all-state sprinter at 100 and 200 meters.
Some of Maryland's top times in the sprints have also come from combined-event standout Christina Smith, who posted the Terps' best marks in 2007 at 55 and 60 meters indoors and at 200 meters outdoors.
The Terrapins have some solid youngsters who showed great promise at the middle distances in 2007.
Erin Matyus, Christina Nelson and Lindsay Ritchings finished 2007 atop the outdoor list at 1,500 (each had bests under 4:45) and provide a trio of sophomores who Valmon hopes will carry some momentum from a good cross country season.
Newcomer Bianca Strachan comes to Maryland from Essex County (N.J.) Community College as a strong competitor in the 800 meters.
The 2007 season showed a return to form for Meghan Braffet, who is back from injury and poised to have an outstanding senior season. Braffet won the ACC 10,000 meters for the Terps outdoors two seasons ago. A very strong 2007 cross country performance, in which she earned All Mid-Atlantic Region honors, shows that she's recovered from injury troubles that plagued her a year ago.
Braffet appears on no less than seven of Maryland's top-10 lists in distance events both indoors and outdoors from 1,500 meters through 10,000 meters.
Sophomore Kristen Reed had Maryland's best marks in the 3,000 indoors (10:10.73) and the 3,000 steeplechase outdoors (11;24.24) last season. She will join junior Amanda Robotti (10th all-time indoors in the 5,000), junior Kylynn McKinley and sophomore Andrea Rothschild in the distance group this season.
Already strong in the hurdles events with a breakout season from Chanel Williams, Valmon has added a pair of newcomers here who could provide a number of points.
Williams ended her sophomore season in second all-time in the 55-meter hurdles, fourth in the 60 hurdles and second on both lists in the outdoor hurdle events. Her 13.78 in the 100-meter hurdles at the ACC Outdoor was a blink off the school record in that event.
Toni Aluko provided one of the highlights of Maryland's hosting of the 2007 Atlantic Coast Conference Outdoor Championships in the first event contested. She outdueled the competition to score an upset victory in the women's high jump, going 5-10 to win the event and move into fourth on Maryland's all-time list in the event.
Aluko, who also earned All-ACC honors indoors with a third-place finish in the high jump, enters her senior season on all-time lists in five events. She became only the third Terrapin woman to clear 40 feet in the triple jump by finishing sixth at 40-11.75 to place sixth at the ACC Outdoor. Aluko went a season-best 19-3.25 to finish fifth in the long jump at the ACC Indoor.
Smith posted a mark of 5-6 in the high jump during her outstanding performance in the ACC Pentathlon a year ago, and could provide points in that event. Junior Katie Rogus, another talented combined-event performer, gives Maryland another 18-foot threat in the long jump.
Long and Carbray also had solid freshman performances in the horizontal jumps last year.
Junior Kaitlyn Fitzgerald surpassed the 12-foot mark indoors in the pole vault last season and still ranks third all-time outdoors for the Terps.
Like Aluko, senior Jillian Anwah hopes to take advantage of her previous three collegiate seasons to finish her Terrapin career on a high note.
Indoors, Anwah had Maryland's best marks in both the shot (49-8.50) and the weight throw (59-11.75) to score points at the ACC Championships in both events. Outdoors, Anwah added a fifth-place finish in the discus to her point-scoring efforts for Maryland. The talented senior is second on all-time lists indoors in the shot and weight throw and outdoors in the discus.
Fellow senior Aysha Gregory had a breakout effort last year in the hammer, going 178-6 to finish fourth at the ECAC Championships after finishing seventh at both the ACC Championships and the Penn Relays. Gregory comes into her final season in fourth all-time in the hammer.
Junior Ashley Williams began her participation in 2007 during the outdoor season and made an early impact. Her season-best of 45-3.75 in the shot put placed her sixth on Maryland's all-time list in that event.
Adding to the throws group is freshman Kristen Batts, who is fifth on the New Jersey high school all-time list in the discus.
Smith rolled to her career-best in the heptathlon when Maryland hosted the ACC Outdoor. She scored 3,342 on the opening day en route to a 5,165-point total that placed fifth in the league but appears second on the Terps' all-time list. Her strength in the jumps and running events also make her a constant threat to score in a number of events.
Rogus placed ninth at the ACC Championships in the heptathlon at 4,228 (7th all-time at Maryland) after hitting the Terps' all-time list with a 3,297 total in the pentathlon.