2008 Season Preview
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs track team has produced several All-Americans over the past 10 years. During that same period, however, the UCCS women have never finished higher than fifth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship meet and the men have finished either last or next to last every season.
That focus on individual honors over team achievement went contrary to athletic director Stephen Kirkham's team-first philosophy. That's why, when he hired Mark Misch to be the new cross country and track & field coach for the Mountain Lions, he was a perfect fit.
"That's our number one goal this season; to create an entire track and field team, not just this person here and this person there," said Misch. "(We want) to create the positive environment that fosters the culture we need for a college track and field program.
"You want the kids to have that experience; what it's like to be out there with 40, 50, 60 people. It's really exciting when you get all of those people moving in a positive direction and enjoying being with their teammates and cheering them on.
"If you can create that type of atmosphere and develop core leaders within that, it grows."
That growth actually began last year, when Kirkham brought in Fred Slack as an interim track coach. That step showed the student-athletes that track was finally going to be a priority at UCCS.
The plain truth is that, previously, the Mountain Lions track teams have been more an offseason training regimen for the cross country athletes. Each of the All-Americans competed in distance events with everything else conducted like a club team. Misch and assistant coach David Harmer have worked hard to add sprinters, jumpers, throwers and mid-distance runners for this season and their recruiting for 2009 looks very promising.
The process began with tryouts. After that, a higher level of dedication and commitment was required of the non-distance athletes. While this step caused several to quit, the result will be a more cohesive and focused team.
"These kids are ones we've gone the hard yard with," said Misch. "I guess you could say we've sifted the wheat from the chaff. These people are committed to the program."
One athlete who has always shown that commitment is All-American Shannon Payne who, despite running with an injured knee, finished seventh nationally in the 3,000-meter run and 10th in the 5,000 meters. She had offseason surgery, though, and her status for both the indoor and outdoor track seasons is uncertain.
With or without Payne, Jenna Dorsey-Spitz is hoping to have a big senior season. She was fourth in the RMAC in the 1,500 meters as a junior and fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Also running in distance events will be Christy Severy, Leslie Bennett and Whitney Lund along with newcomers Vivian Reed, Kaitlyn Frier and Alicia del Pardo. Another, Tavia Hammond, is abroad for the semester and will rejoin the Mountain Lions in the fall.
Severy took seventh in the RMAC this past season in the steeplechase but is capable of much more. Her qualifying time coming into the RMAC meet was among the top five. Bennett, meanwhile, came in 14th in the 5,000.
One of the biggest finds last season was Kelsey Barry, who stunned onlookers at the RMAC meet with a fifth-place finish in the 400 meters. Now a sophomore, she could develop into UCCS' first champion sprinter.
Josi Heer, a freshman from New Hampshire, initially struggled with Colorado's altitude. She has acclimated so well that she ran the 60 meters at a warmup meet in December that, had it counted, would have broken the UCCS record in the event. Also competing in spints for the UCCS women will be Amanda Stoesz and Kirstin Knobbe, who has had two sisters compete in basketball for the Mountain Lions.
Junior Jessica Hudson, who took ninth at the RMAC meet in the 800 meters, leads the middle-distance athletes. Misch and Harmer are working with the talented and diminutive (4-foot-10) Hudson to be a racer rather than a runner. She has shown championship-caliber talent and can do great things if she combines that with savvy strategy.
Freshman Paige Hall, sophomore Tracy Falsetto and freshman Melissa McKinley will join Hudson in the mid distances. Hall was having a solid cross country season before getting ill, while McKinley is what Harmer refers to as a "true racer."
UCCS will also have two throwers competing in Brittanea Kirby and Jennifer Callam.
The men's team features senior mid-distance runner Dan Pinter. After a 13th-place finish in the 1,500 meters a year ago, Pinter looks to be peaking in his final collegiate season and is a candidate to qualify for nationals.
Alex Vazquez hoped to do exactly that at the RMAC meet a year ago but was disqualified after a false start. He will be UCCS' top threat in the 800. Freshman Chris Reynolds will likely compete in both events.
The Mountain Lion men will have five sprinters competing, easily the most in school history. The only returner among them is sophomore Carl Lum, who took 13th in both the 100 and 200 meters this past season.
Jason Shaver is an exciting freshman who will likely run the 200 and 400. Also in sprints will be Almir Hodzic, William Pendarvis and Vy Nguyen.
Branson Bartlett, who is coming off a brilliant first season in cross country, headlines what should be a solid group of distance runners. The freshman will likely compete in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.
Veteran Alex Tiernan was 15th in the 1,500 meters and 13th in the steeplechase a year ago and should improve upon those numbers. Joel Keinitz was 10th in the steeplechase and 19th in the 1,500. Gabe Small was 14th in the steeple and 19th in the 1,500, while Dustin Simeons was 15th and 17th respectively.
Carlos Ruibal took 10th a year ago in the 10,000 but will likely run shorter distances this season as he recovers from a prolonged illness. Allen Browne, David Andrews and Steve Yeager will also run distance events for UCCS.
The Mountain Lions' three throwers will be Preston Williams, Blake Hansen and Trevor Nau.
Talent will only take this group so far. If they are to be the true team that Misch wants them to be, they'll have to embrace the team's motto "Harrambee," a Swahili word meaning to come together as a unified whole. Misch and harmer think they're well on their way.
"We have a good group overall," said Misch. "We're headed in the right direction."
|Additional News Stories|
|July 14, 2008||UCCS women recognized as a D-II all-academic team||The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs women's track team was named a 2008 Division II Women's All-Academic Track and Field Team by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).|
|May 28, 2008||Former UCCS star takes 10th place at the Bolder Boulder||Former University of Colorado at Colorado Springs athlete Sarah Shepard took 10th place among amateurs at Sunday's Bolder Boulder.|
|May 22, 2008||Payne takes fourth at nationals, earns All-American honors||WALNUT, Calif. - It's been a long road back, but Shannon Payne is right back to being what she always expected to be - an All-American.|
|May 6, 2008||UCCS Has Many Positives in Final Day of RMAC Championships||With the RMAC (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) Outdoor Championships ending today, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs finished with a conference champion who also qualified for nationals, seven new school records, eight all-conference (All-RMAC) performers, and even an athlete that competed with one shoe.|
|May 5, 2008||Second Day of RMAC Championships Comes to a Close||The second day of competition at the RMAC (Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) Outdoor Championships is in the books. Gabe Small, Jason Shaver, and Josienne Heer had highlight performances in their events.|