NORTON, MA- Under veteran head coach Paul Souza, the Wheaton College men's and women's track & field teams return a number of national champions and All-Americans entering the 2011 campaign. Combine those credentials with strong upperclassman leadership and a slew of potential from the underclassmen, Souza has reason to be optimistic entering his 17th season with the program.
"There is talent across the board," said Souza, who has guided the women to eight national titles. "We have talent in every event area, which is something we haven't had in the past. We have outstanding throwers, distance runners, sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers. That is a unique thing about this team."
A school-record seven national champion men were a part of last year's NCAA outdoor meet, where Wheaton tied for fifth for its second-highest finish in program history. The men also tied for ninth at the indoor national championship, as the Lyons had 15 All-America awards in 2010. The women sent five athletes to the indoor meet, marking the 14th straight year at least four women headed to a national championship. The women were also represented at the outdoor meet for the 14th consecutive time.
"On the men's side, qualifying several athletes for the national championship is a goal of ours," said Souza. "On the women's side, we hope to be more competitive at the conference meet as well as at some of the championship meets. The men will have a tough time at the league meet because of sheer numbers, but I believe at the national meet we have an opportunity to finish as high as we did last year."
Seniors Raiyan Banaji (Mumbai, India/American School of Bombay), Nick Kacher (Waltham, Mass./Waltham) and Mark Williamson (Vienna, Va./James Madison) captain this year's men's team. Banaji and Williamson return as national champions in their respective relay races, as Banaji ran a leg of the victorious outdoor 4x100M team and Williamson of the outdoor 4x400M squad. Banaji and Williamson are a part of three and two school records, respectively, between the indoor and outdoor seasons. Williamson is a two-time All-American.
Kacher, who is a member of both the indoor and outdoor 4x800M school records, leads the distance group. He is joined by fellow classmates and middle-distance runner Colin Fahey (Waltham, Mass./Weston) and distance runner Natan Levy (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Pine Crest School). Fahey, who earned all-league honors a year ago, sided with Kacher during the program-record 4x800M races.
The five-member junior class is comprised of distance runner Sean Astle (Fairfield, Conn./Fairfield Ludlowe), middle-distance runner Ezra Citron (Bellingham, Wash./Bellingham), sprinters Miles Ketchum (South Lee, Mass./Monument Mountain Regional) and Kyle Ricci (Warwick, R.I./Bishop Hendricken), and thrower Kyle Souza (Wellesley, Mass./Wellesley).
The six sophomores are headlined by sprinter Ben Miklovich (New Gloucester, Maine/Gray-New Gloucester), who is a two-time All-American and national champion in the 4x400M relay. He is also a member of two school-record relay teams. Joining Miklovich as a sprinter is Howard Manly (Ayer, Mass./Lawrence Academy), who begins his Wheaton track career as a member of the men's soccer team.
Sophomore Brandon Holmes (Highland Mills, N.Y./Monroe-Woodbury) returns as a combined-event athlete, Karl Mader (Northfield, Minn./Northfield) and Michael Richard (Chicopee, Mass./Holyoke Catholic) are distance runners, and Cameron Souza (Norton, Mass./Saint Sebastian's School) is a jumper.
The Class of 2014 consists of distance runners Erik Allamby (Warren, R.I./Providence Country Day School) and Nick Emard (Griswold, Conn./Griswold), combined-event athlete Ben Dibble (Salem, Mass./Salem), middle-distance runner Chris Panzini (Revere, Mass./Revere), sprinters Brad Mattocks (Sharon, Mass./Sharon), Olufunsho Olagundoye (New York, N.Y./Cushing Academy) and Michael Read (Barrington, R.I./Barrington), and pole vaulter John Wisener (Ridgewood, N.J./Ridgewood).
For the women, seniors Caleigh Greenwell (Warwick, R.I./La Salle Academy) and Laurenmaria Smith (Providence, R.I./Hope) and junior Lauren Cardarelli (Cranston, R.I./La Salle Academy) were named captains. Greenwell and Smith, who is an All-American recovering from season-ending surgery, are captaining the team for the second straight year, while Cardarelli, who like Smith is also an All-America sprinter, was named captain for the first time. Greenwell is a thrower.
Rounding out the senior class is combined-athlete and sprinter Meagan Jennett (Charlottesville, Va./Western Albemarle), distance runner Christina Nelson (Cranston, R.I./Saint Mary Academy-Bay View), middle-distance runner Stephany Perkins (Monmouth, Maine/Monmouth Academy) and pole vaulter Becca Rose (Sudbury, Mass./Lincoln-Sudbury Regional). Perkins is currently finishing out her final season as a swimmer, while Rose closed out her volleyball career in the fall.
The seven-member junior class consists of All-American Didine Jusme (Providence, R.I./Classical), who is listed as a combined-event athlete and sprinter, middle-distance runner Savannah Geasey (Portsmouth, R.I./Portsmouth), distance runners Kimberly Nash (Tempe, Ariz./McClintock) and Rachel Scavera (North Bend, Ore./North Bend), jumper Ashley Dell'Aira (Shoreham, N.Y./Shoreham-Wading River) and throwers Aliza Underhill (Corinth, Maine/Central) and Tope Waheed (East Providence, R.I./East Providence). Underhill also plays field hockey at Wheaton.
Six athletes make up the sophomore class, led by all-leaguer Samantha Bennett (Weymouth, Mass./Weymouth), who is also a member of the Lyon soccer team. Amanda Claflin (Pembroke, Mass./Pembroke) is a jumper, Naomi Hodges (Wethersfield, Conn./Wethersfield) a sprinter and thrower and Sylvia Okoye (Stanhope, N.J./Pope John XXIII Regional) a thrower, while Lindsay Petrenchik (Chagrin Falls, Ohio/Chagrin Falls) and Elizabeth Urena (Maywood, Calif./Bell) are distance runners.
Comprising the 13-member freshman class are distance runners Lauren Andres (Branford, Conn./Branford), Rose Harris (Worcester, Mass./Doherty), Shoshana Kruskal (Newton, Mass./Newton North) and Hillary Wilson (Amherst, N.H./Souhegan), jumpers Mollie Lane (Hanover, Mass./Hanover) and Lindsey Ross (Dracut, Mass./Dracut), sprinters Charmine Bien-Aime (Cambridge, Mass./Cambridge Rindge & Latin School), Joanna Bouras (Middleton, Mass./Masconomet Regional), Valerie Knapp (New Britain, Conn./Plainville), Ashante Little (Seabrook, N.H./Winnacunnet), Meredith Scannell (San Marino, Calif./San Marino) and Amber Spencer (Wellesley, Mass./Wellesley), and thrower Claire Sampson (Middletown, R.I./Prout School). Knapp and Little are also hurdlers.
Wheaton opens its indoor season in a familiar place, at the Dartmouth College Relays on Sunday. The two-day NCAA Championship is slated for Capital University in Ohio on March 11-12. During the outdoor season, the Lyons will compete at the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Championship on April 30 at the United States Coast Guard Academy before the NCAA outdoor championship takes place on May 26-28 at Ohio Wesleyan University.