Photo: File photo
The Drake men’s and women’s track and field squads will return to the oval this weekend in Arkansas to begin the outdoor season after over a month of down time following the indoor season. Other team members will travel to Pella, Iowa, for the Central Invite.
The men’s team will be anchored by junior Jon DeGrave who is coming off an indoor conference title in the 400-meter dash. DeGrave will be returning to the 400-meter hurdles, which is his best outdoor event. He has been nationally ranked 30th in the event by a poll released by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.
DeGrave won the MVC 400-meter hurdle title last year with a time of 51.27 seconds.That time was just .5 seconds off the school record time of 50.77 seconds set by Dan Cleveland in 1989.
“It’s something I have been keeping my eye on for a while, and it’s an attainable goal,” DeGrave said. “I have been working on my opposite leg so I can use either in a race and it won’t slow me down. I am more confident in it, and it should help cut down my time.”
Head coach Natasha Brown thinks DeGrave should break that school record soon.
“[DeGrave] has been at an amazing level all indoor season,” Brown said. “I don’t see why he wouldn’t break the record in the first few outdoor meets. He should crush it, weather permitting.”
Sophomore Isaac Twombly, who set the school record in the weight throw during indoor season, will return to the hammer throw where he already holds the school record with a toss of 164 feet, 8 inches.
Sophomore Kevin Harp holds the school record in the javelin with a toss of 202 feet, 6 inches. Joining Harp and Twombly in throwing events will be freshmen Phillip Beeler and Andy Curtis.
“Our throwers are probably one of our hardest working group of individuals,” Brown said. “We haven’t had four great throwers like this in my tenure. I am expecting big things from this group.”
An athlete for fans to keep an eye on this outdoor season will be Dan Karys, who will participate in the 4-by-100 relay, long jump, triple jump and the 4-by-400.
“He is a great athlete and utility guy for our team,” Brown said. “He is competing all day, whether it is starting in the 4-by-100, then doing his jumping events, rests for about an hour and then has to run the 4-by-400.”
The Bulldogs will look for big things from freshmen Brogan Austin and Omet Kak and junior Charlie Lapham.
“All three of them scored points for us at the indoors conference meet,” Brown said. “Three first-year athletes scoring is very impressive.”
The women’s team has plenty of senior leaders competing for their final year this spring.
“This is probably one of our largest class of seniors,” Brown said. “The track team is made up of mini teams, and each one has a senior, so there is someone for underclassmen to strive to be like.”
Senior Ari Curtis received a national ranking of 20th in the 400-meter hurdles and 38th in the heptathlon by the USTFCCCA polls. Curtis already holds school records in both events, and she was a member of the school record relay teams in the 4-by-100 shuttle hurdle relay and the distance medley relay.
“The rankings are nice but to be honest, you have to run the events to see the best times,” Brown said. “Jon and Ari both got a taste of regional NCAA qualifying last year, and it has left them hungry to get there this year.”
Sophomores Marissa Smith, Sarah Yeager and Emily James of the record-setting 4-by-100 shuttle hurdle relay team will be back in action this season. Smith had a second-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles at the MVC indoor championships and was followed by Yeager, who placed sixth.
Seniors Casey McDermott and Beth Hamling, will be back in action for the Bulldog distance squad. McDermott holds the school record in the 3000-meter steeplechase.
“McDermott is so diverse; I haven’t seen a person like this who can run so many events,” Brown said. “She has such a range of talents, it’s fun to have her on the team and to see what she can do this season.”
Senior Cambria Pardner is the women’s utility athlete, as she will compete in the triple jump and in sprints for the Bulldogs. Senior Johanna Sprang, school record holder in pole vault, will anchor the Bulldogs in field events, and senior Tyse Samani will look to achieve personal bests in the high jump in her final season.
“[Sprang] is a tremendous athlete and has been working hard at trying to get over that 12-foot barrier,” Brown said. “I fully expect a breakout season from Samani, who has been consistently getting over the 5-foot-6 mark. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her at 5-foot-8 this year.”
Fans will get their first chance to watch the teams at home during the Jim Duncan Invitational on April 15 and 16.
Outdoor Track and Field key meets
April 7-9. Texas Relays (Austin, Texas)
April 15-16, Jim Duncan Invitational (Drake Stadium)
April 21-23, Kansas Relays (Lawrence, Kansas)
April 27-30, Drake Relays (Drake Stadium)
May 13-15, State Farm MVC Championship (Cedar Falls, Iowa)
June 8-11, NCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Championship (Drake Stadium)