May 20, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - It's been well chronicled that Marshall does not yet have a track and field facility.
That hasn't stopped the Thundering Herd women's team from running, jumping and throwing its way into national consciousness this season.
When Marshall sends eight competitors into the NCAA Championships first round meet Thursday through Saturday in Greensboro, N.C., the Herd won't be competing as an unknown any more.
In the latest computer rankings from the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Association, Marshall is No. 40. To put that into some perspective, Coach Jeff Small's team was at No. 136 by the USTFCCCA entering the 2013 outdoor season.
"I think when you actually look at our marks, it shouldn't surprise me," Small said Monday. "We have quite a few kids ranked nationally, and according to whatever formula they use, we got there. But yeah, should we be ranked in the top 40? No, I don't think so."
Small wasn't saying his team didn't deserve its lofty status - which Marshall hasn't reached before. His reference point was the accomplishments of a team without a home oval, one that practices at Huntington High School and on rubber mats that run a length of a Henderson Center concourse.
The only Conference USA team ranked higher than the Herd is UCF, at No. 7. Marshall earned ranking points in the heptathlon, 4x400 relay, high jump, long jump, triple jump and javelin.
The Herd's school-best fifth-place finish at the recent Conference USA Championship elevated Marshall 19 spots from the week prior to that event.
Vanessa Jules (long jump, 100 hurdles, high jump), Amanda Kennedy (javelin), Jasia Richardson (triple jump), Crystal Walker (long jump, triple jump) and the 4x400 relay team (Amber Pierson, Kearra Haynes, Loren Dyer and Shanice Johnson) will compete in the first-round meet, hosted by North Carolina A&T.
Jules already has a berth in the NCAA nationals in early June in Eugene, Ore., in the heptathlon, which is not held in the two first-round regionals.
"It's just real neat to look at it," Small said of the national ranking. "It just tickles me. It's just fun to see where we are and see some other teams, like a Tennessee, how they're ranked 82nd or whatever."
The Vols are at No. 83.
The top 10, in order, is Kansas, Texas A&M, Oregon, LSU, Florida, Arizona, UCF, Arkansas, Arizona State and Georgia. The Herd is sandwiched by Connecticut (No. 39) and Colorado (No. 41).
"Being ahead of some of those regional schools kind of makes it neat for us," Small said.
Kentucky is No. 34, with Cincinnati is at No. 43, seven spots ahead of Ohio State. Virginia Tech is No. 55 and Louisville at No. 63. West Virginia is No. 123, Ohio at No. 154.
A year ago, the Herd had only three competitors in the NCAA first round at Jacksonville, Fla. - Richardson (triple jump, Jules (high jump) and Kennedy (javelin). This year, Marshall has seven individual event competitors headed to Greensboro, plus the relay team, plus Jules' advancement to the nationals in the heptathlon.
"Maybe realistically, I thought we could double that," Small said when asked about having three competitors a year ago and his expectations for this season's NCAA. "I thought we might have six, but it's one of those things.
"We never thought Vanessa would have it in the long jump, or Crystal make it in the triple jump. And that 3:37 in the relay (in the C-USA Championships), that was outstanding. Vanessa's 5,807 (in the heptathlon, a C-USA record and No. 2 national ranking) is a tremendous score, but you look at it, and she might be able to score more.
"It's kind of like, wow, maybe this is just the beginning."
Small is looking forward to the June 5-8 NCAA nationals in Oregon from a personal reunion standpoint.
The top ranking in the heptathlon belongs to Makeba Alcide of Arkansas, who is coached by Lance Harter. Jules is No. 2. At No. 4 is Keia Pinnick of Arizona State, coached by Greg Kraft.
Harter was the women's coach at Cal Poly when Small and Kraft were men's track athletes there. Small later worked for Kraft six seasons at South Carolina.
"So, all three of us are going to be out there two days, when you've got only about 20 coaches there and three of us know one another well," Small said. "It's going to be fun to compete with them."