Track season preview: Fresh faces in track and field

By Cassie Blombaum
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 26, 2006

With exciting new faces and returning starters ready to compete, Arizona track and field head coach Fred Harvey has a lot to be excited about this season.

Harvey said he has high expectations for the year after having seven athletes earn NCAA indoor provisional qualifying marks at the Modrall Sperling Lobo Invitational Saturday.

"We really proved we have potential," Harvey said.

The invitational, which took place in Albuquerque, N.M., was a great way to kick off the season and showcase Arizona's athletic talent, Harvey said.

"It was excellent," Harvey said. "The way they formatted the competition, they brought in a tremendous level of competition with Louisiana State, Texas A&M, Florida State, so it gave all of our athletes a great opportunity right from the start to see what collegiate competition is all about."

Overall, one of the most exciting aspects about the upcoming season is the batch of newcomers who will hopefully bring great success for the team, Harvey said.

Among the new members of the team is assistant coach Sheldon Blockburger, who came to the Wildcats from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and is considered one of the top jumps coaches in the country. 

Blockburger, an ex-decathlete who will coach long jumps as well as the multi-events, said he is looking forward to this season and believes the Wildcats will keep improving.

"Each week the marks across the board should get better and better," Blockburger said.

There are many new athletes, and Harvey said he sees a lot of potential in them.

"We have so many young people that are talented, but they haven't had the opportunity to compete against that level of competition," Harvey said.

The newcomers on the men's side include freshman jumper Jordan Powell, who holds the record for the most points scored in Tucson Canyon Del Oro High School history, as well as junior transfer sprinter Troy Harris, Harvey said.

When it comes to seasoned male athletes, however, senior hurdler Jeff Hunter and senior distance runner Robert Cheseret are the athletes to watch out for.

Already the school record holder in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles by earning a time of 50.47 seconds, Hunter said he hopes to improve upon that time and win a Pacific 10 Conference Championship.

"It'd be nice to get a Pac-10 ring, especially this year being my last year," Hunter said.

Now that his collegiate track and field days are numbered, Hunter said he has become more focused and wants to go out with a bang.

"I just realized that this is the start of kind of the end," Hunter said.

The men will also rely on Cheseret, who ranks No. 1 individually in the 5,000-meter and No. 9 in the 3,000-meter races. Cheseret, the Pac-10 cross country athlete of the year, took home the individual Pac-10 Championship in the 3,000-meter last year.

Cheseret has an opportunity to be a national champion three or four more times, Harvey said.

"It's tough to bet against a guy like that," Harvey said. "He's a talented athlete and a fierce competitor."

There are plenty of new and old faces on the women's track and field team as well, Harvey said.

Coming off last year's No. 60 finish in the NCAA Championships and losing school record-holder Sharifa Jones to graduation, Harvey said he is confident other athletes like returning junior sprinters Nikki Martin and Marquita Taylor, as well as freshman jumper Shevel Quinley, will help improve on last year's season.

"You hear coaches say it all the time, you can't replace a person of that level... but you hope you can get somebody who can come in and fill that void," Harvey said.

Quinley, a U.S. Junior Champion in the heptathlon, has actually jumped 20 feet, 10 inches in the long jump and could be a big contributor to the team, Harvey said.

"She has the jumping ability and the hurdling ability that Sharifa did, but she is young," Harvey said. "She has a lot of potential."

Returning senior Jennifer Whitlock will also help the hurdlers tremendously, Harvey said.

"(S)he's another one who made it to the NCAA regional meet last year and ran her personal best there," Harvey said. "From a talent stand point of view she's one of the top hurdlers in the country."

Whitlock, who has been struggling with injuries, said she believes she will accomplish a great deal this season.

"This year I have high expectations for myself because I nor anyone on my team has yet to see how good I really am," Whitlock said. "'The sky is the limit,' as my coach Fred Harvey would say."