Jan. 1, 2013
WEST POINT, N.Y. – The 2013 Army track and field season officially gets under way Friday with the Crowell Open which is the first of eight meets on the Black Knights’ indoor schedule this season, and the first of four slated for Army’s home at Gillis Field House. Fifth-year head coach Troy Engle hopes the Black Knights’ home-laden schedule will serve them as well as it has in the past.
Included in the four meets Gillis will house is the 2013 Patriot League Indoor Championships, as Army will serve as the host for the fifth time overall and first time since 2010. The 2010 conference meet was also the last time the Black Knights took home a team trophy as the men edged out Bucknell that season by six points.
The Army men have won the Patriot League Indoor Championship team crown all four previous times the meet has been hosted at Gillis Field House, while the women have won the title once at West Point and have finished in the top three in three of the four meets.
“We love the opportunity to host the conference meet,” said Engle. “I’m convinced our kids compete better at home. Our kids do very well with routine and thrive in this environment and going on the road takes us out of our zone, so we love to have home meets. To have the Patriot League at West Point is a good thing for us as a team as well as for the Corps of Cadets to be able to see us. We’re excited for it.”
Army, which was picked to finish third on the men’s side and fourth on the women’s in the league’s preseason poll, will look to improve upon its finishes from last season’s indoor meet where the men earned the bronze and the women took home fifth place.
A lot has changed on both sides since that meet, with the Army men losing a core of perennial performers to graduation. Included in the graduating Class of 2012 is four-time indoor Patriot League high jump and triple jump champion Thomas Wagner, long jump title-holder Michael Hutchins, and 500-meter Academy record-setter Taylor Kensy. The women’s losses include their workhorse from a season ago in Christina Johnson and distance specialist Chelsea Prahl.
“Because of injuries on the men’s side last year, we worked around those guys, in the spring in particular, but it’s still a significant hit,” said Engle. “Those guys are hard to replace in the short term, they were four-year contributors.
“For the women, we’re going to face the same challenge – we continue to have holes that we need to fill that are hard to fill with a small female population at West Point.
“In the off-season we’ve seen some significant improvements, especially with our sprinters under second-year coach Rondell Ruff. We have a couple of folks who look like they’re really ready for breakthrough performances.”
Ruff’s group of sprinters is highlighted on the men’s side by the return of Jason Wilkes and Brian Cobbs, who missed most of last season with an injury, while the women’s unit has high hopes for newcomer Haley Winters.
“I feel better than I did last year with this group because everyone is back on the men’s side, and they’re just a more mature group now as well,” said Engle of his sprinters.
The middle distance and distance contingents have been fortified on both sides by youth and experience. The men’s middle distance group will rely on sophomore Clyde Wilson, who boasted an IC4A-qualifying season during his first year at West Point, and Ian MacPherson. For the women, sophomores Katrina Donarski and Jennifer Comfort return, both of whom attacked the Academy record book during their inaugural years at the Academy.
The distance group was able to prove themselves during the cross country season as five Black Knights took home All-Patriot League honors at season’s end, including a first-team certificate by Lisa Junta. Junta had a breakthrough outdoor track season a year ago, becoming Army’s first ECAC running champion (10,000 meters), and continued that success through the cross country calendar.
Junior Ricardo Galindo shone bright on the men’s side, earning Army’s top time in every meet of the cross country season while taking home second-team all-conference accolades. Engle will rely on Galindo as well as classmate Kendall Ward to carry much of the workload this season for the Army distance runners.
Field events have many unanswered questions for Army this season. The men’s jumping unit will need young members of its team to step up following the graduation of Wagner, Hutchins and Fred Beebe, while senior McKenzie Majchrzak, a two-time Patriot League high jump champion, will be relied on heavily in at least a pair of events for the women.
The throwers are highlighted by a pair of NCAA Regional qualifiers in senior co-captain Nick Snoad and junior Jessica Waggoner. Waggoner won the discus at last season’s outdoor conference meet and also set the Academy standard in the event, while Snoad earned the silver medal in the hammer throw at the Patriots.
“Nick Snoad will be one of the best weight throwers in the conference and certainly one of the best hammer throwers outdoors,” said Engle. “Scott Geary and Shane Jones are awfully good, but we need depth.”
The multis and the pole vault groups are under the direction of first-year coach Jon Hill. Engle has high hopes for sophomore Chris Kittle on the men’s side, while the women’s group could be highlighted by a pair of freshman in Avrie Welton and Anna Smith.
Engle will rely on leadership from not only Snoad but fellow men’s team captain Thomas Ryan, who came on strong last season in the hurdles. Fellow hurdler Kaitlyn Love is one of two captains on the women’s side, as she is joined by middle distance runner and sprinter Ashley Gordon.
The mix of experience and maturity as well as what Engle described as “youthful exuberance” will hopefully work in Army’s favor this season. The Black Knights made strides last season, attacking the Academy record book like they never had before, and the goal is to continue in that direction once again in 2013.