July 30, 2012
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON - During the Vision Campaign to fund a $30 million enhancement for Marshall's athletic facilities, there has been a recurring theme running and jumping through Athletic Director Mike Hamrick's message to anyone who will listen.
"We have a women's track team," Hamrick always says in part of his remarks on needs, "but we have no track."
Yes, Marshall does have a women's track and field team, and has the numbers to prove it. The whole sport gets a quadrennial boost during a Summer Olympics, but Thundering Herd Coach Jeff Small is looking forward to a date more than a year after the London Games.
If continued Vision Campaign financial support and then construction progresses as estimated, Marshall might be able to host its own indoor track meet early in 2014 in the new 101,000-square foot practice facility.
A six-lane, 300-meter track ... long jump and pole vault runways with pits ... a portable surface atop the football practice turf to accommodate the high jump, shotput and weight throw ... bleacher seating for about 1,000 spectators.
Those indoor facility plans might be things Small dreams about at night. Can anyone be more excited about what's to come for the Thundering Herd besides the facility-less coach that's heading into his 17th Marshall year when the 2012 cross country season opens in early September?
"I wouldn't think so," Small said. "We're really enthused about it. It's really what we need because we can take advantage of it year-round. An outdoor track, you're not really going to be able to get out there until April because of the weather.
"Especially competing (in Conference USA) against schools in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, it's going to really help us become more competitive. And it will be nice in recruiting to have something to show a kid."
Men's track and field became history at Marshall in the spring of 2003 when the program was dropped. The Herd lost its outdoor track a few years later to the footprint of the Rec Center.
However, the progression of the program continues. In his 15 seasons as the women's track and field coach, MU athletes have established 25 of 26 outdoor school records (all except the 10,000 meters) and 22 of 25 indoor records. Seventeen is those marks have been posted since 2010. Ten of those Herd standards are owned by rising senior Vanessa Jules.
"In a sport that's measured by inches, we're breaking records by feet, and we're proud of that," Small said.
He remembers how and when he got the news that he was coaching a sport with no facility.
The Herd team was in the Houston airport, heading for rental vans and the C-USA indoor championships in Marshall's first year (2005-06) in the conference when Small got a phone call "from Beatrice (Crane Banford, associate AD)," Small said, "and she said, `Hey, you may not have a track when you get back.'"
The coach smiled at the recollection, because he has persevered - in a big way - with what's available.
"The sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers practice upstairs on Level E in the Henderson Center," Small said, sitting in his corner office near the basketball media room in The Cam. "Cross country runners train in Huntington parks.
"The throwers have a setup in Gullickson Hall where they can go. I've really got to compliment Mr. Hamrick, because he really helped us get a place where we could throw indoors and helped us get a surface up on Level E for our athletes to train on, which is a lot easier on the legs than concrete."
Small said Marshall women's track and field and cross country are fully funded with 18 scholarship equivalencies, and it's in recruiting where the lack of an oval is sometimes an issue.
He and his two full-time assistants -- husband and wife Willie and Lacee Carmon-Johnson - sell what the Herd does have, and what it will have once that indoor facility is sitting next to the Pruett Training Complex off Third Avenue.
"It's not like we dance around it, or avoid it," Small said of the "no-track" issue with prospects. "Well, sometimes we dance around it a little bit. But basically, we try to sell the fact that when we do get to somewhere to compete, we're really excited about being there and are ready because (the Herd has overcome obstacles) to practice.
"The track at Huntington High is adequate; it's just kind of a hassle to get out there. In spring, once the weather turns, our sprinters and jumpers go out there. Throwers have an outside area next to the weight room down the street, another thing Mike Hamrick got us that was really great.
"Besides, lots of times, kids we recruit in West Virginia may not have a track at their high school. So, with them, it's like `That's OK, Coach. We train in a parking lot.'
"I think, No. 1, having a great staff makes everything so much easier. Willie was here before (as a graduate assistant, then returned) and Lacee, they do a great job. They love Marshall and never look at the negatives, just accentuate the positives. They're great recruiters, care about the whole kid, have a great family atmosphere going, then tend to things we need.
"So, we get better and better and better -- look at school records. But our conference is extremely competitive in track and field, and then just not having the facilities, and the weather, training outdoors, makes for a challenge, but just knowing what the records were 15 years ago and where they are now tells me at least that it's all in better hands."
The proof is in the feet and minutes, not just inches and seconds. Following are some of the more significant indoor and outdoor Marshall school records progressions in Small's 15 seasons as the Herd track and field coach:
improved 3.72 seconds
improved 3.4 seconds
improved 13.66 seconds
improved 20.73 seconds
improved 9.16 seconds
improved 3 feet, 11 inches
improved 14 feet, 9 inches
Then: 5-5 1/4
Now: 5-9 1/4
improved 4 inches
improved 6 feet, 6 inches
Then: 3,278 points
Now: 3,791 points
improved 513 points
improved 14.49 seconds
improved 34.33 seconds
improved 2.61 seconds
improved .91 seconds
Then: 4,488 points
Now: 5,216 points
improved 728 points
improved 2.2 seconds
improved 6.57 seconds
improved 9.59 seconds
improved 5 feet, 5 1/2 inches
improved 30 feet, 3 inches
improved 15 feet, 10 inches
Now: 41-11 1/4 inches
improved 4 feet, 2 1/4 inches
improved 48 feet, 2 inches