Women's Track & Field Kicks Off 2007 Big Ten Championships Friday

May 9, 2007

Ten conference schools, including two ranked in the Trackwire 25 Rankings, will compete at the 2007 Big Ten Championships this weekend, which is hosted by Penn State University.  The women's portion of the annual conference event will begin with the 100-meter hurdle section of the heptathlon competition at 12:15 p.m. ET, on Fri., May 13.  Reigning Big Ten champion Minnesota will be vying for its second-consecutive outdoor team title after claiming the indoor conference event in February.  Wisconsin leads all squads with eight Big Ten Team Championships.

Sprints and Hurdles
After finishing as runner-up in last year's event, senior Yvonne Mensah of the Fighting Illini looks poised for gold this season in the 100-meter dash with the fastest time in the conference at 11.41 seconds, which ranks as the 23rd -fastest in the nation.  Her teammate Tiara Armstron also enters the race as one of the fastest Big Ten sprinters with an NCAA qualifying time of 11.60. Joining the Illini duo with a qualifying performance of 11.71 seconds this season is Iowa's Peaches Roach. In the 200-meter event, Mensha again holds the best regular-season time on the season at 23.64, while 2005 champion Stacey Clausing of Indiana holds another qualifying time at 23.93.

Penn State's Shana Cox will face some steep competition in vying for a second straight Big Ten crown in the 400-meter day. The Lady Lion leads the way in the event with a time of 51.81 seconds that ranks fourth in the nation. Cox is one of six student-athletes to have qualified for the NCAA Regionals in the event.  Joining her in qualification are teammate Dominique Blake, Illinois' Carlene Robinson, Ayrizanna Favours of Ohio State, Illinois' Ugiagbe and Indiana's Clausing, who will all be vying for the top spot on the podium this weekend as all seven finalists return from last year's event. 

Michigan's Tiffany Ofili will be vying for a repeat of her first-place finish at the 2006 Big Ten Championships in the 100-meter hurdles event. Her NCAA qualifying time of 12.99 seconds ranks fourth in the country, but she will have to fend off last year's runner-up in the event, Tiffany Johnson of Iowa. Johnson's season-best of 13.20 seconds holds a top 10 spot nationally, and the event is loaded with even more talent, as there are no fewer than 14 conference athletes who have already met regional-qualifying times during the regular season. Both Michigan and Purdue have already secured at least three representatives at regionals, while Illinois, Indiana and Penn State will each have at least two. 

In the longest hurdle event, the 400-meter hurdles, the Illini twins of Camile and Carlene Robinson look poised to keep the gold in the family once again. Both have set the high marks during the regular season, with Camile ranking eighth in the nation at 57.47 seconds and Carlene's time of 57.88 not far behind in 11th. Camile, who won the event in 2004 and 2006, edged her sister in last year's event. The Jamaica natives will face tough competition from Penn State's Kim Markel and freshman Aleesha Barber and Illini teammate Briana Cunninham, who have all qualified for NCAA Regional competition. 

Middle Distance
The 800 meters is yet another event that will feature some of the country's best talents. At least 14 event participants have already met regional qualification times, including a quartet of Michigan runners who rank among the nation's top 15: Katie Erdman, Anna Willard, Nicole Edwards and defending champion Geena Gall. Erdman's time of 2:02.99 is the second-fastest performance in the country this year, while last year's runner-up, Heather Dorniden of Minnesota, is fifth-fastest at 2:04.11.

As the distance gets longer, the Wolverine troupe gets stronger, holding the top four spots in the 1,500-meter event. Willard comes in with a conference-best time of 4:15.99 to lead the way, and is followed by defending champ Edwards' time of 4:16.47.  Sophomore Wolverine Gall enters with the Big Ten's third best time and will be hoping to make a run for yet another title. The Maize and Blue crew are among an outstanding group of 20 athletes who have already qualified for regionals.

The field for the 5,000 meters also boasts solid lineup with 12 runners already qualified for NCAA Regional competition. Willard again leads the way, while teammate Erin Webster is not far behind. Both Wolverines own top-10 season-best times this season. Rebecca Walter, a senior from Michigan, is the reigning conference champion, finishing just ahead of fellow Wolverines Webster and Alyson Kohlmeier. Iow also boasts a strong contingent in the race with juniors Diane Nukuri and Meghan Armstrong holding the third and fourth spots respectively.

The 10,000 meter contest will feature four NCAA provisional qualifiers in Iowa's Nukuri, Michigan's Erin Webster, Indiana's Jessica Gall and Wisconsin freshman Claire Maduza. The group should push each other to the brink while defending gold-medalist Walter will look to claim her second straight title after entering unseeded.

Rounding out the distance events is the 3,000 meter steeplechase. Penn State's Bridget Franek will look to make her mark in her first conference outdoor championships meet on her home track. She leads the Big Ten and ranks third in the nation with a time of 9:59.21 this season. Close on her heels is Minnesota's Emily Brown, who claimed the title and set the championships record in the 2006 edition. Her teammate Jamie Cheever will also challenge for the top finish, while the Badger duo of A. Havahla Haynes and Amanda Ganser should make a run for the podium.

With a time of 44.63, the 4x100-meter relay team from Illinois has set the bar for Big Ten teams during the regular season.  Tiara Armstrong leads the group of La Neisha Waller, Carlene Robinson and Mensah to make up the formidable and deep quartet with Nikkita Holder, Camile Robinson and Ugiagbe waiting in the wings for a group that returns everyone from last year's runner-up finish. Also meeting regional qualifying marks is the team from Iowa, made up of Tiffany Johnson, Roach, Megan Clarke and Rhonda-Kaye Trusty, who took second in last year's event.

The final race of the Big Ten Championships, the 4x400-meter relay, will feature six teams who have already exceeded regional qualifying marks, and who will be looking to make a difference in their teams' final standings.  Defending champion in the event, Penn State has posted the conference's best time of the year in early April with a 3:34.81 performance.  The Nittany Lions, who claimed both relay events in the 2006 championships, will look to reprise their title on their home track while Illinois, Michigan and Iowa will all be in hot pursuit.

Roach of Iowa is a double threat, starring both on the track and in the field. She is tops in the conference in the high jump as the only person to break the six foot (1.85 meter) mark in the regular season, and was the runner up in the past two championships to Ohio State's Jessie Stringer, who returns to defend her title.  The Buckeye junior has hit jumps of 1.70 meters this year. Not far behind Roach is Michigan's Bettie Wade, whose season-best is a 1.81-meter jump.

Indiana rookie Vera Neuenswander leads the field in the pole vault, with a 4.12-meter mark she secured last weekend. Minnesota will look to gain valuable team points in the pole vault, holding three of the top 10 heights on the year from Andrea Smith, Alicia Rue and Ashley Nord. Purdue's Mallory Peck is the only other jumper to have cleared the 4-meter mark at 4.06m.

Mensah joins Roach as another dangerous multitalented athlete as she stars on the track and in the long jump. She won last year's title and has qualified for regional competition with a season-best 6.05-meter performance. But Minnesota sophomore Christin Kingsley has taken over the top spot through out the regular season with a 6.21m jump. Not far behind her is Purdue's Leah Kincaid at 6.19m.

Iowa's Renee White is tops in the triple jump with a season-high 12.59 meters.  Her teammate Johnson is not far off that mark with a 12.55m jump already under her belt this year.

Minnesota's Liz Podominick will be looking for her third consecutive gold in the shot put. The Gopher junior holds a season-best performance of 15.62m that earned her the third seed in the event behind teammate Liz Alabi. Both rank among the nation's top 25. Leading the way in the event is Purdue's Sheena James at 16.16m.

With the departure of Penn State All-American and two-time champion Jennifer Leatherman in the discus and hammer throw, the events are wide open. Purdue's Astin Steward holds the best regular season performance in the discus with a toss of 52.41m while Podominick is not far behind at 51.72m. In the hammer throw, Ohio State's Veronica Jatsek - whose older brother Leonard is an All-American in the event for the Buckeyes - leads the conference with a throw of 61.50m that is 11th in the country. Chasing Jatsek are Iowa's Rebecca Franklin, Minnesota's Alab and Penn State's Helen Higgins.

In the javelin competition, the Gophers' Ruby Radocaj will look to reclaim her title after a dominating performance in last year's event. She leads the conference with a  toss of 52.54m this season. Purdue's Lindsey Blaine, last year's bronze medalist, is also at the top of the Big Ten, coming into the championships with a throw of 50.57m.

Four NCAA provisional qualifiers will highlight the heptathlon this weekend, with the seven events taking place over the course of two days.  Minnesota's Elizabeth Roehrig will gun for her second straight title as she enters the championships with the Big Ten's best performance of the season. Her score of 5621 points narrowly edges Penn State's Gayle Hunter's season-high tally of 5606. Also fighting for podium spots will be Wisconsin's Melissa Talbot and Michigan's Bettie Wade. The 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200-meters will all be held on Friday, with the long jump, javelin and 800 meters on Saturday.