By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
Even though he was a decorated marathoner in college, the head Wildcat track and field coach now only runs about twice a week.
And anyone who knows Murray knows it isn’t because he doesn’t still have it.
He just doesn’t have the time, between being a father and husband, coaching four teams and tirelessly recruiting gifted athletes literally from all over the world.
Friday, many of the first-year Wildcat athletes will attempt to demonstrate why this year’s recruiting class might be one of the most talented in the school’s history. The men’s and women’s teams will travel to Lubbock Friday for the Red Raider All-Comers Meet, the opening meet of the 2004 season and the first of three consecutive indoor track and field competitions on the Texas Tech campus.
ACU’s women’s team likely will benefit most from Murray’s recruiting, as 15 women will put on purple Wildcat singlets for the first time in 2004.
“This is probably one of our best recruiting classes in the women that we’ve ever had-it ranks up there in the top three or four,” said Murray, who added 11 to the men’s team for 2004.
Murray said he is excited about showcasing his athletes at a small, low-key competition.
“It’s going to be a lot more low-key than it has been in the past, but we’re anxious to get out there and show what we’re able to do,” Murray said. “We had a great recruiting year in the women, and we’re back solid in the men, so we think we’re going to qualify numerous people for nationals automatically and some really strong provisionals at this meet.”
When it comes to potential, probably no Wildcat athlete has more on paper than heptathlete Liga Klavina of Latvia. Murray calls her “one of the best athletes we’ve ever had here at ACU,” and for good reason-Klavina comes to Abilene ranked No. 23 in the world in the heptathlon.
Klavina already has a decorated career on the professional level, having placed well at numerous international meets, including a 17th-place showing at the IAAF World Championships in Paris last August. The 23-year-old will compete in the shot put Friday in Lubbock.
Others expected to make immediate impacts for the women’s team are sibling sprinters Brooklyn and Jessica Hunt out of North Garland, middle-distance runner Adeh Mwamba from South Plains College, and Roby graduate and hurdler Lyndi Stuart. Olha Kryv’yak, who missed the entire cross country season after suffering heat stroke in August, is expected to be a big contributor as well for the women.
Murray said the men’s team will “pretty much the same as last season,” which is OK-last season the men’s team picked up two more national championships under third-year head coach Murray.
Seniors Christie Van Wyk, Manuel Brandenborn and Nick Branen will lead the men’s team, which will attempt to win its fifth and sixth straight national titles. Van Wyk had a disappointing season in the sprints in 2003, but Murray said the Namibia native is in great shape so far this season.
Brandenborn has been a constant force on the national shot put and discus scenes the last three years, both in the United States and his homeland, Sweden. However, he had disappointing fourth- and seventh-place finishes, respectively, at the indoor and outdoor national championships in 2003.
Brandenborn, who didn’t compete for much of the 2003 season because of a back injury, said one of his main goals for 2004 is to be injury-free.
“I know, from my past experience, if I stay healthy, it will show good results,” he said.
He sees the team’s wide array of talents as an advantage for nationals.
“I think we look strong this year, because we have such a diversity on the team,” Brandenborn said. “From throwing, jumping, sprinting, middle-distance-we have people in all the events. From that perspective, we’ll be strong.”
When one throws in four-time middle-distance national champion Bernard Manirakiza and outdoor triple jump winner Ben Washington, two more titles certainly aren’t out of the question.
Friday, however, Murray said he will encourage his teams to perform the best they can at the small Lubbock meet.
“Being low-key might be in our favor, with the young team we have in the women,” Murray said. “Hopefully they won’t be quite as nervous and will perform a little bit better in this first outing.”