TRACK: Hilltoppers loaded with potenitial

Amber North

The Western track team is offering stiff competition in the Sun Belt conference right now because of its triple threat in distance events.

That trifecta is made up of distance runners Olga Cronin, a senior, sophomore Bonita Paul and sophomore Cara Nichols, who held the top spot in the Sun Belt conference last week.

The throwing team is also stacked deep with talent and has potential conference champions in sophomore Raigo Toompuu and junior Erin Gruenke, each coming off a tremendous week and having been named field Performers of the Week.

Despite these honors, head coach Curtiss Long isn’t getting complacent.

“They were well-deserved honors at the moment, but the world doesn’t stand still,” he said. “They still have to continue to get better.”

Gruenke, who said she didn’t know about receiving the award until Toompuu informed her, has been focusing on just that.

“My main focus is to correct my technique and work on a few problem areas,” she said. “I want to get the school record sometime this year in the indoor season.”

Nichols ran her best time at 2 minutes, 16.74 seconds in the 800-meter run last week — and it was the first time she’s run the event the entire season.

“This isn’t an event I run very often. That’s why I was shocked that I ran that fast in the event,” she said.

Long is also enjoying seeing other performers emerging.

“When you look at people stepping up, good things happen,” he said.

Junior Ryan Thomas, an offensive lineman on the Hilltoppers’ national championship football team, is one of those surprise contributors. He placed second in the weight throw last week.

Sophomore sprinter Brad Eickhoff and distance runners Cheyenne Carmack, a sophomore, and senior Janette Pike are improving as well.

This week, sprinting sensation Jonathon Brown, a junior, will compete in his primary event, the 200-meter dash, for the first time this season. Brown broke the school’s 200-meter record three times in the previous season.

And freshman sprinter Shanea Wilson is getting better each meet.

“She always does something out of the ordinary,” Long said.

The team will showcase its progress as it heads to Murfreesboro, Tenn., again to compete at the Middle Tennessee State University Invitational.

Fields events begin at 10 a.m., followed by the running events at 2 p.m.