TRACK & FIELD: Runners gearing up for spring season

Amber North

With the men coming off a second-place finish in the Sun Belt Conference indoor finals last year — the best since 1992 — and the women loaded with various new talent, the Hilltopper track team has plenty to look forward to.

The team opened its season on Dec. 8 at the MTSU Invitational and had four first-place finishers: Olga Cronin in the 3,000-meter run, Raigo Toompu in the shot put and weight throw, Jonathon Brown in the 200-meter dash and Matt Moore in the pole vault.

The team’s next meet will be Friday and Saturday at the Kentucky Invitational in Lexington.

The women’s team continues to improve after finishing fourth in the indoor Sun Belt championships. Along with the veterans, there are some newcomers added to the team that are expected to do well.

Paducah freshman Shanea Wilson was a four-time state champion in high school. Head coach Curtiss Long said he has high hopes for her.

“She has shown tremendous work ethic,” he said.

The distance runners are led by All-Sun Belt cross country runners Olga Cronin, Bonita Paul and Cara Nichols. In years past, they have been staples of the track program.

“We are blessed with distance,” Long said.

In field events, junior Misty Hair and Kentucky junior transfer Erin Gruenke have an opportunity to succeed, according to Long.

The men’s team has returned this season intact, but will have a series of injuries to overcome. They will have much to repair with key performers sophomore Eigo Siimu, junior Enda Grandfield and senior Justin Miller out.

Siimu, who was the top point-getter last season, had surgery on his ankle and stayed home in Estonia to rehab. He competed in the high jump and pole vault during the indoor season.

Grandfield, a distance runner, suffered a stress fracture and is expected to come back in three to four weeks.

Miller, a sprinter, may be out six to eight weeks with a knee injury.

“Those players you can’t replace until March or May because of young athletes,” Long said.

Despite being clouded by injuries, there is still a bright side for the upcoming season with the help of co-Indoor Sun Belt Athlete of the Year, junior Jonathon Brown and sophomore thrower Raigo Toompu.

Brown broke the school’s 200-meter dash record three times last season, the third being an NCAA provisional qualifying time. He was also ranked 35th in the nation in indoor track.

“He’s going to be a major influence on our success,” Long said. “He’s the type of athlete who wins points for you and takes away competition.”

Sophomore thrower and student assistant Craig Morehead said that the team’s second-place performance was a surprise. He thinks the Toppers have more of those in their future.

“If we stay injury-free, we have a good shot at surprising some people,” Morehead said.