Flyin' Frogs Open Season Saturday in Norman
Jan. 14, 2004
"Fastest Frogs in the West."
That's the theme of this year's TCU track & field team.
But that theme may be a bit of an understatement. For the 2004 edition of TCU track & field will feature not only some of the fastest runners in the West, but in the nation as well. And these Frogs are not only fast, they can jump, they can hurdle and they can pass the baton as well, if not better, than most.
"On the men's side, we expect to challenge for the title at the national level and more than challenge at the conference level both indoors and out," said TCU head coach Monte Stratton. "On the women's side, we are tremendously improved in our traditional events and also have more depth and more events covered than we've had in the past. For the first time, we have a realistic chance to win the conference title."
Stratton has had to temper his enthusiasm just a little on the men's side with a pair of setbacks suffered in the fall. First, NCAA 400-meter finalist Brandon Simpson elected to forego his senior season and turn pro. Then, national junior college sprint champion Erick Wilson suffered a torn ACL while practicing with the TCU football squad and will miss the 2004 season on the track.
However, the cupboard is far from bare. Once again the Flyin' Frogs should fare very well in the speed events, relays and jumps, with experienced national-caliber athletes ready to take their place on the award's stand. But this squad also has something unique about it, according to Stratton.
"This is a team we like very much," said the TCU coach. "This team is a more together team. It's more focused and team-oriented than most track teams. We have world-class individuals who buy into the team concept. It should make for a very exciting and enjoyable season."
As usual, the Frogs are deep and talented in the sprint events. Five-time All-American Michael Frater heads the unit after placing third in the 100 meters at the NCAA Championships last June. Prior to his injury, Wilson figured to push Frater in the 100 and 200 and run a leg on the sprint relay as well, but Stratton has several other strong candidates from which to chose for the sprint relay. Jabari Fields earned two All-America certificates a year ago and looks to finish his collegiate career in strong fashion. Versatile Jerry Harris, who earned three All-America certificates a year ago, is an excellent stickman on the relays and could figure at the national meet in the quartermile as well. Tyrone Sanders, Cleavon Dillon and Aundre Edwards have all run a leg on the 4x1 relay in the past. Freshman Chaime Breaux is another possibility.
The Frogs finished second in the 4x4 at the indoor meet in Fayetteville last March and, even without Simpson, could challenge again this year. Fields, Harris and Jackson Langat all return after running a leg on that silver medal winning squad a year ago. They will be challenged by Nathaniel Garcia and newcomers Ché Chavez, Dwayne Lynes-Bell and Brett Wilson. Lynes-Bell and Wilson were teammates of Harris at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville, Alabama.
Langat heads up the middle distance runners for the Horned Frogs. The three-time All-American placed sixth in the 800 meters at both the NCAA indoor and outdoor meets a year ago. Garcia looks to bounce back from a sub-par season a year ago and could surprise in the 400 meter hurdles.
Frogs are known for their jumping and TCU features two of the nation's best long jumpers in Edwards and Dillon. Both have gone 8.0 meters and have earned All-America honors in the event during their careers. Freshman Jonathan Jackson may be the most versatile athlete on the squad and could be a factor in several different events.
"We're very grateful to the football program for allowing their players to come out for track and help us out," said Stratton. "Harrell, Peoples, Sanders and (shot put specialist) Shane Sims contributed a year ago."
While the men's team will be looking for a top 10 finish at the national meets, look for the TCU women to make a strong push for their first-ever conference title.
"We are much better team-wise than we were last year when we finished third at the C-USA meet," said Stratton. "Both of our relays are national caliber, with the 4x4 most likely being the stronger of the two. We have some strong distance runners to go with our sprinting corps. If this team has a drawback, it may be that it's very young, but that is not always a disadvantage," note the TCU coach. "This is potentially the best women's team ever at TCU."
The TCU sprint crew lost one of the school's best in Monica Twum, who used up her final year of eligibility, but return a pair of sophomores who made an immediate impact a year ago in Donita Harmon and Kandis Bell. Harmon earned a pair of All-America certificates, placing eighth at the NCAA outdoor meet in the 200 and running a leg on TCU's 4x1 unit which placed sixth. Bell joined the sprint relay unit at the national meet and helped the foursome establish a new school record in the semifinal round with a time of 43.37. A quartet of freshman in Marquita Davis, Virgil Hodge, Deborah Jones and Jamee Jones figure to round out the sprint relay unit.
The 4x4 relay is an event that Stratton expects to be much improved. Harmon figures to be the leader of the group that could include the freshman trio of Davis, Jones and Jones. Senior Larissa Bakasa and sophomore Julie Curtis could also challenge for a leg on the mile relay unit.
The Frogs should be strong in the distance events as well. Mary Kinyanjui, who earned South Central Region Athlete of the Year honors during the 2003 cross country season, and Ami Butler, who joined Kinyanjui at the national cross country meet, head the group. A healthy Alayne Thompson would help solidify the distance events.
Curtis, a regional qualifier a year ago, and freshman MaKeatha Cooper, give the Frogs their best hurdles tandem in years. Freshman JimAnne Baker, is a potential point-scorer in the horizontal jumps, but will not be available until her commitments to the women's basketball squad are completed. In addition, the Frogs will compete in the throwing events on the women's side for the first time in years. Freshmen Kandra Lakey and Zelma Wade have the ability to score at the conference meet.
Stratton expects both Frog teams to challenge for the conference titles in 2004. He expects the men to be challenged by Houston, with Memphis improved enough to be a factor. On the women's side, he expects the Frogs to give Houston and USF a strong run for the title.
Nationally, look for the TCU men to be in the mix, along with traditionally strong squads from Arkansas, Florida, Auburn, LSU and Texas. The women will vie for a top 20 finish with a goal of scoring in double figures.
"This is our best shot since 2001," said Stratton.
And in June, we'll know if this group is regarded not only as the "Fastest Frogs in the West," but the fastest in the nation as well.