April 17, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Marshall won’t have its own track and field home until the new Indoor Athletic Facility opens for the 2014-15 school year.
There is no question, however, that the Thundering Herd is making its mark in the sport, sans oval.
As Coach Jeff Small’s team heads to the Heart of the Bluegrass Classic at Kentucky on Saturday, the MU women are primed to add to what already is an impressive list of accomplishments.
This school year -- indoor and outdoor seasons combined – Marshall has produced 16 school record performances. There already were 14 school marks set in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
“It’s the best year we’ve had here,” said Small, in his 18th season at Marshall. “I’m sure it’s the most we have broken in one year.”
Yet, there’s much more for an emerging program guided by Small and assistants Willie Johnson, Lacee Carmon-Johnson and Matt Pfleger.
“I did kind of expect this,” Small said. “The last couple of years we’ve just gotten better and better and we’ve had a bunch of good recruits come in. And now there’s a culture and mentality that we can do this and will do this, so I think it looks promising as we move forward.”
Setting school records is one thing. Another is building a reputation with numbers that stand strong against the competition nationally and regionally. Marshall has done that in multiple ways this outdoor season.
“What’s more exciting to me than even the records is how highly the kids are ranked nationally,” said Small, for whom the six-lane, 300-meter track in the Herd’s indoor facility will be named. “We haven’t ever done that before. We’ve never had anybody ranked fourth in the country, like (long jumper) Crystal Walker is.
“Back when Erin Compton
placed eighth in the discus at the (2003) NCAA Championships, she went into the first round (regionals) ranked 28th. But top 10, top 15, we haven’t had that like we do now.”
Walker, who has reset the school long jump mark (20 feet, 10 inches) twice this outdoor season, ranks in a tie for fourth nationally in Division I and is tied for the best jump in the East Region with Sharika Smith of Western Kentucky.
She isn’t alone.
Jasia Richardson’s triple jump of 42-4 3/4 ranks 12th in the country and seventh regionally, while Vanessa Jules’ 5-11 1/2 high jump is 14th in the nation and ninth in the region.
Amanda Kennedy, who impressively pushed her own Herd javelin record from 149-7 to 158-3 in last weekend’s Hilltopper Relays at future Conference USA foe WKU, ranks No. 18 nationally and ninth in the region.
Jules also has a ranking in the 100 high hurdles at 13.68 seconds – a tie for 56th in the country and a tie for 32nd in the region.
“The sad part to me about this – well, it’s not sad – but the kids that are ranked are all seniors,” Small said. “But this has just been kind of building the last 3-4 years. And we’ve been able to do it with no track.”
This spring, Jules has reset the high jump record twice, as has Walker with the long jump mark. Richardson’s triple jump, Kennedy’s javelin and Jules’ 100 hurdles numbers are new MU marks, as is the 45.97 in the 4x100 by Shanice Johnson, Moriah Njoku, Delkira Maybin and Walker.
Last weekend in Bowling Green, Ky., the Herd set five school records and came within a whisker of two more, Small said.
In the 4x400 relay (Johnson, Amber Pierson, Kearra Haynes, Loren Dyer), at 3:45.36 – just .15 short of the school mark set last spring by Dyer, Jules, Pierson and Hadassah Lynch.
Pierson’s 400-meter effort of 55.80 closed in on the school mark of 55.46, set by Zedmalia Wolfe back in 2004.
“I’m really excited about all of the national rankings,” Small said when asked if one of the top efforts was more gratifying or surprising than the others. “Crystal’s is great, No. 4 in the country.
“The fun thing with all of them is just to see if they’re going to get better, when it really counts. We basically told Crystal she had 20-10 now, so we just need three more jumps out of you – one at Conference (USA) outdoors, one at the NCAA first round, one at the NCAA finals.”
After the Saturday meet in Lexington, Ky., the Herd competes in the venerable Penn Relays, then the Ohio Open in Athens on May 4 before the C-USA Championships from May 8-11 in Houston.
Small said sprint coach Willie Johnson continues to “tweak, change up, mix and match” in the relays as the season heads toward crunch time.
Meanwhile, Small said there’s more talent in the pipeline to follow Jules, Walker, Richardson and Kennedy.
Three Herd freshmen – Johnson, Asia Bange and Shyra Molton – are primed to qualify for the USATF Junior Nationals in mid-June in Des Moines, Iowa.
Johnson’s 24.70 in the 200 last weekend was only .27 off the Herd outdoor record (24.43 by Wolfe in 2004). Johnson set the Marshall indoor standard in the 200 in her first collegiate season with a 24.86 at Akron back on Feb. 2.
This spring, Marshall track and field definitely has spiked.