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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.