NORTON, MA- The Wheaton College women's track & field team looks to employ a strong balance between event areas in 2010, as the Lyons aim to gain experience after replenishing their roster following the loss of a large graduating class.
"In the morning when we go over to the throws and jumps, we're going to have people scoring points at meets," said second-year co-head coach Marc Mangiacotti, who is in his sixth year with the program. "When we go to the afternoon and start doing more of the jumps, sprints and distance, we're going to have people scoring points. It's really exciting that no matter what part of the day it is, no matter what event is going on, we're going to have people scoring points at every meet."
To combat the graduation of nine seniors who combined to earn 14 career All-America laurels, Mangiacotti and co-head coach Paul Souza, now in his 16th year guiding the program, welcome eight new student-athletes, including seven freshmen. Those who remain on the 26-athlete roster lay claim to six All-America finishes.
"Having the leadership and experience about what it takes to get to the national championship and having so much experience at the highest level is really going to help this program, not just this year but in the future," said Mangiacotti.
Souza, who has earned 16 national, regional and conference head coaching honors while leading the women to eight NCAA titles and 11 league crowns, looks for the veterans to bring the team together for a program he expects to be among the top 25 in the nation. "We're hoping the NCAA experience the older women had will help guide some of the younger athletes along," he said. "Experience is going to be a big factor there. We're going to need some people to step up in a major way."
Mangiacotti and Souza are joined on their staff by 11th-year assistant coach Paul Carr, who is also the school's head cross country coach, and first-year assistant Ed Delgado, who was Bridgewater State College's head coach for 23 years until 2007. Delgado, who was Mangiacotti's college coach, has put his broad knowledge of the sport to work in a multitude of areas, and Souza appreciates the opportunity to have him on staff. "Having Ed Delgado here as an assistant coach is a huge benefit to the program. He brings a wealth of knowledge, and I love working with him. It's an honor to have him in this program."
The Lyons carry only two seniors this year, including captain Katie Pratt (Litchfield, CT/Litchfield), while six juniors - among them two captains - round out a small upperclassman corps. "We have a smaller senior class this year, but we have a good group of leaders," said Mangiacotti. "Two of the captains we have are juniors, but they have the work ethic and leadership ability of someone that is a senior, and they have the respect of all the athletes on the team."
Pratt nabbed an all-league placement during the 3,000-meter steeplechase as a sophomore and has a hand in the school's indoor and outdoor 4x800M relay marks. The cross country squad's top finisher in her first four races last fall, Pratt will be the most veteran among the middle-distance runners. An All-American in the outdoor 4x400M relay as a sophomore, senior sprinter Kelly Libert (New Haven, CT/James Hillhouse) returns to the track after missing her junior year.
Juniors Caleigh Greenwell (Warwick, RI/La Salle Academy) and Laurenmaria Smith (Providence, RI/Hope) will also captain the team in 2010. Greenwell is the eldest thrower in the program, while Smith, a sprinter, competed at both NCAA Championships in 2009, earning All-America praise in the outdoor 4x100-meter relay.
"What we do is look for people that lead with a hard-work ethic and communicate well; carry themselves very well on and off the track; do well in the classroom; do well on the track, in practice and at meets," said Mangiacotti. "Those are the type of people we want being leaders here because they lead people in the right direction. You don't have to score points at big meets to be a leader and have the team's respect."
Junior Meagan Jennett (Charlottesville, VA/Western Albemarle) will sprint and be a combined-event athlete, while distance runner Christina Nelson (Cranston, RI/Saint Mary Academy-Bay View) has also competed on the cross country team the past three years. Completing the Class of 2011 are middle-distance runner Stephany Perkins (Monmouth, ME/Monmouth Academy), who earned All-America honors for the swimming & diving team as a sophomore, and pole vaulter Becca Rose (Sudbury, MA/Lincoln-Sudbury Regional), the volleyball team's setter and a first-year track & field athlete.
Of Wheaton's 11 sophomores, Lauren Cardarelli (Cranston, RI/La Salle Academy), Didine Jusme (Providence, RI/Classical) and Mickey Jusme (Providence, RI/Classical) each earned All-America finishes in 2009. Sprinter and jumper Mickey Jusme, the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Field Athlete of the Year as a freshman, earned accolades in the triple jump at both the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships. A sprinter, Cardarelli was on the nationally-honored outdoor 4x400-meter relay quartet, while Didine Jusme ran the outdoor 4x100M relay and will sprint while also competing in combined events.
Sophomores Savannah Geasey (Portsmouth, RI/Portsmouth), Kimberly Nash (Tempe, AZ/McClintock) and Rachel Scavera (North Bend, OR/North Bend) each provide experience as members of the cross country squad. Geasey, who will compete in middle-distance events, and Nash both ran a leg for the school-record outdoor 4x800-meter relay foursome last year. Nash is slated to run longer distances, where she will join Scavera, the cross country team's top finisher during both the NEWMAC and regional championships in the fall.
Five field athletes round out the sophomore corps. Lauren McGrath (Wading River, NY/Shoreham-Wading River), a member of the volleyball team, competed in the high jump at the NCAA indoor championship as a freshman and also sprints for the Lyons. Ashley Dell'Aira (Shoreham, NY/Shoreham-Wading River) will also jump. Thrower Tope Waheed (East Providence, RI/East Providence) broke the school record in the hammer and earned all-conference laurels in 2009, and she joins fellow throwers Leah-Perle Bloomenstein (West Bloomfield, MI/Walled Lake Northern) and Aliza Underhill (Corinth, ME/Central). Underhill also plays field hockey for Wheaton.
Of the seven freshmen, four have already gained college experience competing for another Wheaton team. Distance runners Savannah Moore (Plattsburgh, NY/Plattsburgh), Lindsay Petrenchik (Chagrin Falls, OH/Chagrin Falls) and Elizabeth Urena (Maywood, CA/Bell) each ran cross country, while middle-distance runner Samantha Bennett (Weymouth, MA/Weymouth) played in 14 games for the nationally-renown women's soccer team.
In addition to being a jumper, freshman Amanda Claflin (Pembroke, MA/Pembroke) joins classmate Naomi Hodges (Wethersfield, CT/Wethersfield) as a sprinter, while Hodges and Sylvia Okoye (Stanhope, NJ/Pope John XXIII Regional) provide the Lyons with two more throwers.
Wheaton will compete at six meets prior to its first regional championship in late February, as the Lyons kick off their indoor season at the Dartmouth College Relays on Sunday. Included in the season-opening run is the Wheaton Invitational in Beard Field House on January 23.
"We call the early meets every year 'test days,'" said Souza. "They're really an opportunity for us to try some things; as far as the relays, different combinations; as far as the field events, we handicap the athletes, might make the long jumpers run from a half approach. We put a little bit of extra pressure on them because when you get to the national meet it's all pressure, and you have to be able to deal with and respond to that."
The indoor NCAA Championship takes place at DePauw University in Indiana on March 12-13, with the outdoor slate starting the next weekend. Wheaton heads to the NEWMAC Championship at Springfield College on April 24 before the NCAA's outdoor meet occurs May 27-29 at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.
"The women all work hard, and it really shows," said Mangiacotti, who estimates that building numbers back to the mid-30s in the future will put the squad back in position to be a perennial contender at the NEWMAC Championship, where the Lyons took third last spring. "We have a smaller team than we've had in a long time, but we still have a very talented team that could be very successful."