Track & Field Preview: Distance
Jan. 13, 2014
MILWAUKEE - Scoring in the middle and long distances at BIG EAST Conference Championships has gotten increasingly difficult and the altered conference landscape makes things even more challenging as seventh-year assistant coach Mike Nelson leads his harriers into another track and field season.
"I see events like the 3k and the 5k being absolutely loaded at the BIG EAST Championships," Nelson said. "To be able to score in those events you will have to be elite, a national-caliber performer. I think we have a few people who can score in those races, but it will be very difficult."
The strength and depth of the BIG EAST's distance programs was put on full display during the fall cross country season, especially on the women's side where Providence was crowned NCAA champion and Butler and Georgetown finished third and fifth, respectively, at the national meet.
"Some of these schools put all of their resources into distance running," Nelson said. "They might not even do field events at all and have very few sprinters. The only chance that they will have to score is in these distance events, so if we are taking points away from them, it is kind of like playing defense."
As the Golden Eagles discussed their strategy heading into track and field season for possible team championships, one thing that became apparent was the need for Marquette's distance runners to score points.
"With there being so many middle and longer distance events, it divides up athletes across the board, which we hope will allow us to squeeze a few points in those events," Nelson said. "What we have talked about on our team is that we are going to the indoor championship trying to win on both sides. We have to take away points from some of these schools in the middle and long distances."
MU does not return an individual scorer in the distance events after the graduation of Jack Hackett and the transfer of women's miler Molly Hanson. The Golden Eagles did earn a few points in the distance medley relay and the men's indoor 4x800-meter relay last season and Nelson is hopeful that his runners can score again in those areas.
"You are always looking at those guys who can run middle distance and cross country," Nelson said of the program's recent distance recruiting philosophy. "Our goal is to be very competitive in those relays and if we are going to try and win the championships we have to do well in the relays."
Once cross country season ended on Nov. 15 in the NCAA Great Lakes Region Championships, Nelson shut his squad down and gave them through the end of the month to recover mentally and physically from what can be a grueling training schedule.
"Starting about Dec. 1 they got back into what we call base-phase training, a lot of easy runs, slowly building up the mileage and fitness level," Nelson said. "Right around Christmas is when they are fully back into normal training. Once you get into January they are starting to hit harder workouts."
It can take a little while for those in the middle distances to get up to speed as the transition from cross country means more sprint workouts. Nelson believes the biggest challenge comes in maintaining fitness and health until championships season.
"Your focusing on running a lot of tempos and then all of a sudden you are being asked to run a half mile in 1:55 or better," Nelson said. "That is a tough transition and it can take time, especially in the colder climates when you are being asked to sprint hard or do a lot of sprint training. It is easier to go outside and put the miles in as opposed to sprint training. In the longer distance runners, they put in so many miles that the biggest thing for them is just health at championship time. Getting to the starting line healthy is often the first and biggest step to success."
The men's middle distance group is led by fifth-year senior Spencer Agnew, who placed 10th at the BIG EAST outdoor meet last season in the 1,500-meter run. Agnew also anchored the men's distance medley relay indoors and competed in the 4x800-meter relay outdoors.
"Spencer Agnew is going to focus primarily on the mile but he could run anything from the 800 through the 5k," Nelson said. "He had some injuries early on in his career, but has had over a year now of solid training and has done very well in practice and he is poised for a good senior season."
Junior Brendan Franz did not compete during the cross country season, but after placing 10th at last year's BIG EAST indoor meet in the 1,000, is someone who can be a difference maker for MU. Sophomore William Hennessy, who joined Franz at the BIG EAST indoor meet in the 1,000, and David Sadjak will most likely run in the relays at conference.
The Golden Eagles are dealing with the losses of Jack Hackett, Connor Callahan and Patrick Maag in the longer distances, but return redshirt senior Jack Senefeld for a lone season of outdoor eligibility. Senefeld led the men's cross country squad at all but two meets this past fall and has run in the relays as well as the 1,500-10,000-meter runs at previous BIG EAST track championships.
"In a perfect world I would love to see Jack run in that 5k at the BIG EAST meet, where we have never had a guy score outdoors," Nelson said. "That is an event that is normally dominated but the Villanovas, the Georgetowns and the Butlers of the world, so if he could sneak a few points it would help us a great deal. For the 1,500 we want to see him get under 3:50 and for the 5k as far under 14:30 as he can get. For him it's less worrying about times and let's get to the starting line healthy and have a nice block of training behind us. If he gets there he has proven that he will do well for us."
Senefeld will be joined in the longer distances by redshirt sophomore Blake Lawson, who turned in one of the most impressive cross country seasons on the squad during the fall. Lawson, who did not run as a freshman and saw action in just two cross country meets in 2012, ended the 2013 campaign as MU's No. 3 runner behind Senefeld and Agnew.
"Blake Lawson definitely is poised to have his best track season," Nelson said." Sometimes you get outdoors and the number of kids who focus on the 10k have dwindled because of injury. You get to the starting line and there may only be 10 guys or 11 ladies. Blake really impressed me during the cross country season and I can see that continuing into the spring in the 10k."
The women's distance group has an experienced leadership core returning although results at the conference level have varied.
The Golden Eagles return seniors Hannah Frett, Sarah Ball, Grace Magliola and junior Haley Loprieno but will miss Molly Hanson, who scored in the mile and placed 12th in the 1,500 as a freshman in 2013. Classmates Kayla Spencer and Kellie Greenwood should each find ways to contribute in 2014 as Spencer competed in the conference meet in the 1,000 indoors and 1,500 outdoors as well as the 4x800 relay during both seasons.
Spencer will be Marquette's primary option in the middle distances along with redshirt junior Rebecca Pachuta and freshman Alison Parker. Pachuta recorded the best cross country season of her career in the fall, even finishing as MU's top runner at the NCAA Great Lakes Regional meet.
"Rebecca will do a little bit of everything and will probably run something different every weekend," Nelson said. "She did well in track last year and it carried over to the fall cross country season. She is doing fine right now and she I could see her anchoring the DMR and running the 3k at conference. We have a lot of time until then."
Parker, who was among MU's top seven all season in cross country, enters competition on the track with an impressive high school career under her belt. The Neenah, Wis., native captured three state titles in the girls 4x800-meter relay and was a two-time runner-up individually in the 800. She also won the indoor 1,600 as a senior and competed at the 2013 Penn Relays in the High School Girls'4x800 Championship of America.
"Alison has run at a high level and trains at a high level so she won't be scared in the middle distances," Nelson said. "I think in cross country the 6k may have intimidated her a bit. She is very confident on the track and after competing at the Penn Relays as a senior in high school she isn't afraid to go mix it up with high level competition."
The longer distances will feature Greenwood, MU's top cross country runner for much of the fall, as well as junior Elisia Meyle, who placed 18th at the 2013 BIG EAST outdoor meet in the 10k.
"Kellie has come a long way as an athlete and has built up a lot of confidence over the past year," Nelson said. "During the track season she will tackle anything from the 1,500 to the 10k and would do very well at any distance. The confidence she has gained has steadily increased and will be competing against elite completion in the 3k and the 5k at the conference meets."
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