Next Friday when most Western students are enjoying the feeling of sweet relief after a hard week of finals, the track and field team will be thrown into the challenge of trying to win its first conference title since 1979.
“From the start of the season, the focus is always to win the conference championships,” sprint and jumping coach Erik Jenkins said.
In order for the team to take the top spot at the Sun Belt Conference Outdoor Championships the team will have to overcome a strong opponent in Middle Tennessee as well as beating tough teams in North Texas and Louisana-Lafayette.
“Middle Tennessee is one of the most talented teams for sprints and jumps,” Jenkins said. “But they can be beat just like everyone else.”
Jenkins believes that the men’s team will be very strong in the throwing events led by sophomore Raigo Toompuu, junior Ryan Thomas and freshman Kristo Galeta. He then believes that the rest of the team can provide support.
On the women’s side Jenkins says the team will be led by terrific trio distance stars senior Olga Cronin, senior Bonita Paul and sophomore Cara Nichols.
The goals the athletes will try to achieve at Sun Belt will be much different from a regular meet.
“(Conference) is mainly about points for the whole team and not about (personal best),” Cronin said.
In a typical meet, the score is usually not kept, and even if it is the team’s main focus is improvement. In the conference championships the team will have to go all out if they want to win.
“Everyone will be doing several (events),” Cronin said. “Your goal is to do your best in one while resting for the others.”
Besides trying to win the conference championships, the team will try to qualify more people for NCAA Regionals. Those who do well at regionals move onto NCAA Championships.
Even though the Hilltoppers have not won a conference championship since taking the Ohio Valley Conference title in 1979, that does not mean they have not enjoyed good teams.
From 1982-91 during the early years of the Sun Belt Conference, the conference did not hold a conference championship. The Hilltoppers also came in second in the indoor championships in 1999 and 2002.
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