May 10, 2006
Ten conference schools, including five ranked in the Trackwire 25 Rankings, will compete at the 2006 Big Ten Championships this weekend, which is hosted by Michigan 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 12. Reigning Big Ten champion, No. 18 Illinois, will be vying for its second-consecutive and sixth overall outdoor team title. Wisconsin leads all squads with eight Big Ten Team Championships.
Sprints and Hurdles
Junior Yvonne Mensah of the Fighting Illini leads the way in the highly competitive 100-meter event with the fastest time in the conference this year. Seven Big Ten sprinters have already met NCAA Regional times, including defending champion Jenna Harris of Ohio State, who last year finished the event with a time of 11.61 to take the crown. Senior Ara Towns of Indiana will be fending for first place in her last chance to become a conference champion, while Wisconsin junior Shantia Lucas will also be vying for first place. Towns and Lucas have the second- and third-best times in the Big Ten this season, running an 11.50 and 11.53, respectively.
In the 200-meter event, Lady Lion Shana Cox has the best regular-season time on the season after finishing eighth at last year's Big Ten Championships. The junior will be battling four other runners with regional qualifying times, including Penn State teammate Sara Shoaff, in addition to defending championship Stacey Clausing of Indiana.
Cox also leads the way in the 400 meters, an event in which she is the defending champion, and is one of four student-athletes to have qualified for the NCAA Regionals in the event. Joining her in qualification are Kineke Alexander of Iowa, Ayrizanna Favours of Ohio State and Heather Dorniden of Minnesota, who will all be vying for the top spot on the podium this weekend.
Lorian Price of Indiana will be vying for a repeat of her first-place finish at the 2005 Big Ten Championships in the 100-meter hurdles event. She will have to fend off Hoosier teammate Courtney Johnson, who enters this year's event with the top time in the conference just ahead of Iowa's Tiffany Johnson (no relation). The event is loaded with talent, as there are no fewer than 10 conference athletes who have already met regional-qualifying times during the regular season. Illinois will have at least three representatives at regionals, while Indiana and Penn State will each have at least two.
In the longest hurdle event, the 400-meter hurdles, a pair of twins have set the high marks during the regular season. Camile and Carlene Robinson, both of Illinois, hope to take the two top places on the podium this weekend to help their team in its quest to repeat as champion. The Jamaica natives will face tough competition from Kim Markel of Penn State, freshman Katie LaValley of Michigan and Illini teammate Natalie Young, who have all qualified for NCAA Regional competition.
The 800 meters is yet another event that will feature some of the country's best talents. Eleven event participants have already met regional qualification times, including a trio of Minnesota runners in Dorniden, Julie Schwengler and Jamie Cheever along with three Michigan representatives: Katie Erdman, Geena Gall and Nicole Edwards. Erdman, Carlene Robinson and Edwards finished first, second and third at the event in 2005, and will all return to compete for this year's title.
The strong Michigan tandem of Erdman and Edwards will be joined by another Wolverine, Theresa Feldkamp, in the 1,500-meter event. Edwards comes in with a conference-best time of 4:18.98 to lead the way, and is followed by Dorniden's time of 4:23.22. Sophomore Nicole Bush of Michigan State enters with the Big Ten's third best time and will be hoping to make a splash on her home track.
The field for the 5,000 meters is among the best in the country, with 19 runners already qualified for NCAA Regional competition. Cassie Hunt, a junior from Illinois, is the reigning conference champion and was a runner up at the 2005 NCAA Championships in the event. Alyson Kohlmeier of Michigan holds a conference-best time of 16:05.45 in the regular season and leads a strong contingent of four Wolverines in the event. Katrina Rundhaug and four Wisconsin teammates will be hoping to pick up some valuable team points as well.
The 10,000 meter contest will feature three NCAA provisional qualifiers in Michigan's Rebecca Walter, Rundhaug and Ana Gjesdal, also of Michigan. The three should push each other to the brink, and Michigan State senior Michelle Rafferty will also be looking for first-place in the final home race of her career.
Rounding out the distance events is the 3,000 meter steeplechase, another event in which Hunt is a defending conference champion. Though she has the third-best conference time this year, the junior will be one of the favorites in the event. Emily Brown of Minnesota and Bush will prove to be tough competition for first place as well, posting the first- and second-best times, respectively, in the Big Ten throughout the regular season.
With a time of 45.23, the 4x100-meter relay team from Iowa has set the bar for Big Ten teams during the regular season. Ashley Granger teams up with Alexander, Peaches Roach and Tiffany Johnson to make up the formidable quartet. Also meeting regional qualifying marks is the team from Illinois, made up of Tiara Armstrong, Mensah, Omoye Ugiagbe and LaNeisha Waller, three of whom were apart of the team that took second in last year's event. The two squads will battle it out for the top spot in the race, but will not go unchallenged as six other teams (Penn State, Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota) have regular-season times that fall within 1.50 seconds of the Hawkeyes.
The final race of the Big Ten Championships, the 4x400-meter relay, will feature five 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, Illinois, posted the conference's best time of the year just two weeks ago at the Drake Relays. The teams in pursuit of the Illini will include Iowa, Penn State, Ohio State and Minnesota.
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 last year's championship to Jessie Stringer, who returns to defend her title. The Ohio State junior has hit jumps of 1.78 meters this year.
The Boilermakers will look to gain valuable team points in the pole vault, holding three of the top four heights on the year. Blair Leuthmers of Wisconsin will try to break up the Purdue sweep, and is tied with Boiler freshman Brianna Neumann for the conference lead of four meters. Neumann's teammates Jocelyn Lindsey and Mallory Peck have cleared 3.97 and 3.95 meters, respectively.
The long jump is up for grabs with last year's defending champion, Rosalind Goodwin's, graduation. Mensah, who has jumped 6.23 meters this season to lead the conference, hopes to take over the top spot on the podium, but Michigan freshman Casey Taylor and Indiana junior Candace Perry are right on her tail. Five other competitors have jumped 6.00 meters or farther, meeting regional standards, including a pair of Minnesota sophomores, Liz Roehrig and Christin Kingsley.
Mensah is also near the top of the conference competition in the triple jump with a season-high 12.94 meters. The mark is good enough to be tied for the conference best with teammate Nina Henson, setting up a duel between the two Illini.
Penn State's Jennifer Leatherman and Minnesota's Liz Podominick have been duking it out all season to get in position to take the league title in the shot put and discus throw events. The two are tops among seven throwers who have already secured a place in the NCAA Regionals in shot put, with throws of 16.36 and 15.81 meters, respectively. Fellow Gopher Liz Alabi will join Podomick in a quest for the conference championship, as will three Ohio State representatives - Janine Zylinski, Veronica Jatsek and Keturah Lofton. In discus it is the Gophers who will be vying for the sweep with Jessica Stephan and Amanda Solberg joining Podominick in the top six regular season throws, each besting 154 feet.
Leatherman is also the defending conference champion in the hammer throw and has posted a 66.78 meter throw this season. Chasing the Penn State senior are her teammate Helen Higgins, Minnesota teammates Alabi and Nina Cotolupenco, Ohio State's Lofton, Ashley Riehm and Zylinski. Each of those seven has already qualified for the regional championships.
In the javelin competition, Kara Patterson and Lindsey Blaine of Purdue lead the conference coming into the championship with throws of 56.19 meters and 49.68 meters, respectively. Minnesota's Ruby Radocej hopes to break up the one-two punch, while three Lady Lions are also in the mix. Heidi Nadeau, Diana Bruch and Ashley Colley will represent Penn State, and have also qualified for NCAA Regional competition.
Three NCAA provisional qualifiers will highlight the heptathlon this weekend, with the seven events taking place over the course of two days. Roehrig (Minnesota), Bettie Wade of Michigan and Etienne Chaplin of Michigan State will likely be competing for one of the top three positions after provisional NCAA qualification, and will have to fend off Wisconsin's Lindsay Biel and Michigan's Beth Vinckier. 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.