By Jared Fields, Editor in Chief
The pursuit of track and field’s “Triple Crown” may not be completely new to the Wildcats. Last year the men’s team entered the indoor season on Cloud 9 after the cross country team won it’s first NCAA Division II Cross Country Championship. However, injuries and a lack of depth prevented them from checking off step two toward winning the three national titles it takes to win track’s elusive “Triple Crown.”
This year, head coach Don Hood landed a large, talented and capable class of recruits to a team he hopes will make the difference between last year’s second place indoor team and a national championship caliber indoor team this year.
“Last year we had five guys in field events qualify,” Hood, who is now in his third year as the Wildcats’ head coach, said. “We have the potential to double that.”
The field events aren’t the only place the Wildcats could add depth.
The Wildcats qualified 12 men for the national indoor meet last year in Boston but didn’t qualify the 4x400m relay. All relays score double the points of individual events at meets. Hood said 20 men could qualify for the national indoor meet this year, and qualifying for the 4x400m relay is not a concern this season.
“[The relay] could be much improved over last year; that was a huge area of recruiting emphasis,” Hood said. “We feel real good over what we’ve got in.”
Five recruits instantly stack the Wildcats for a relay team with three freshmen and two junior college transfers who Hood believes can immediately contribute.
One newcomer, freshman Joe Fields, III, said that while he has no experience running indoors, he believes the team has the potential to post some of the fastest times in the country.
“I think it’ll be fun, real fun,” Fields said. “I’m really about this Triple Crown we’re going to win, I think we can get it.”
Like the quarter-mile prospects, Hood said the list of long-jumpers could be just as long.
Davy Manga, last year’s outdoor national champion in the triple jump, returns as a captain this year and highlights a group of jumpers.
Hood said five have a chance to qualify in the long jump, and three could in the triple jump.
“If they qualify, we’ll take them all, there’s no limit,” Hood said. “We’ll take as many as we can. The more we knock out, the more it gets us in.”
Other than quartermilers and jumpers, Hood said someone could qualify in every event except the shot put where he is redshirting the two athletes.
“In my mind I’m thinking four years from now they’ve got the shot to be national champion,” Hood said. “I feel pretty confident that that’s going to be a good investment.”
In the middle and long distance events, Julius Nyango, who placed fourth in the mile in Boston and won the 800m at the outdoor national meet, gives the Wildcats a strong distance presence in the individual events and on the distance medley
Harold Jackson, last year’s junior college national champion in the 600m, arrived on campus just this week. Jackson’s surprising addition further boosts the Wildcat’s depth in distance events and could add a quality leg to the distance medley relay.
No matter the depth or talent on the team, though, Manga said he recognizes one trait on this year’s team he hopes doesn’t go away: fun.
Only Arkansas University has won a track and field “triple crown,” – five times between 1992 and 1999 – but Hood, Manga, freshmen and veterans believe something is different this year from last to add ACU’s name to that list.
“I can feel the unity,” Manga said. “They’re laughing, and they are still practicing really good.”
Now the Wildcats have to take the ingredients – depth, talent, teamwork, chemistry – and make it into a championship recipe.
But no matter the ingredients or recipe, Hood said he knows things change, and he doesn’t want to himself or his team to get ahead of themselves.
“Potential is a coach’s cuss word,” Hood said.
-WILDCATS TO WATCH-
* JOE FIELDS: This freshman sprinter from Dallas Lancaster should add needed speed to the men’s 4x400m relay. Fields anchored his high school 4x400m relay team to a Texas Class 4A State Championship. Although it is only his first year with the team, head coach Don Hood said Fields leads the pack in almost every rep at practice.
* DAVY MANGA: Manga is the defending NCAA Division II outdoor triple jump champion and placed third in triple jump at the NCAA Division II Indoor Championships in 2007. Although he is nursing a knee injury from last season, the team captain plans to qualify for the indoor championships. The Frenchman’s personal best on the triple jump is 53-11 1/4 feet, which he posted at the 2007 outdoor championships.
* JULIUS NYANGO: In addition to being a vital part of ACU’s two-time NCAA Division II Cross Country championship team, Nyango won the 800m outdoor title in 2007. Nyango, who hails from Aldai, Kenya, runs the mile and the 800m indoors. Nyango finished fourth in the mile at the NCAA Division II Indoor Championships with a time of 4.07.65.