BY MICHAEL HAMMOND | USD Sports Information
Dec. 12, 2016 | Track & Field
VERMILLION, S.D. — The South Dakota men’s and women’s track and field teams are wrapping up fall training as they prepare for the 2017 season ahead.
With the completion of the Lillibridge Track Complex in the spring, the Coyotes have had their own facility to train at during the fall season for the first time.
“This has been the best fall training we have ever had,” said director of track and field/cross country Lucky Huber. “I believe this group of athletes is five or six weeks ahead of where we have been in the past as a team. The new facility has made a significant change in how we have trained.”
The Coyotes will kick off the indoor season with the Red/White Intersquad meet tonight. The meet provides an opportunity for athletes to compete and test where they are at before heading home for winter break.
“It gets competitive, but it is a fun, relaxed environment for our first meet,” Huber said. “It gives us a chance to evaluate how our fall training has gone.”
After the break, the indoor season gets underway with the Hawkeye Challenge in Iowa City, Iowa, on Jan. 14.
South Dakota will host a pair of indoor meets in February, the USD Alumni Meet on Feb. 4 and the USD Last Chance Meet on Feb. 17, before traveling to Brookings for the Summit League Championships on Feb. 24-25.
The Coyote women finished second as a team at the Summit League Championships for the third year in a row last indoor season. Junior Shanice Cannigan, the 2016 Summit League Indoor Track Championship MVP, will look to repeat as league champion in the pentathlon and the 60-meter hurdles.
Returning to the track to lead the distance squad is fifth-year senior Amber Eichkorn. Eichkorn, a two-time qualifier for the NCAA Cross Country Championships, holds five school records and has captured four individual Summit titles in the distance events.
Another event the Coyotes will expect a strong showing in is the women’s pole vault, where the Coyotes swept the podium a year ago. While last year’s victor, senior Emily Grove, has no indoor eligibility remaining, seniors Hunter Wilkes and Madison will look to improve their podium standing.
South Dakota’s men have two returning indoor champions in junior Gawain Williams (60 meters) and senior Tyler Frank (high jump). The Coyote men’s squad will be bolstered by an impressive freshman class. Highlighting the class is freshman pole vaulter Chris Nilsen, out of Kansas City, Mo., who broke the American high school record with a clearance of 18-4 ¾ on his way to winning his second straight Missouri state title in the pole vault.
“We have great athletes, both returning and freshmen coming in, so we have a great mix,” Huber said. “We feel like they can get us to that level where we can be conference champions. That is the goal, starting with the red/white meet, to use every meet to get a little better and build up to conference.”
The NCAA Indoor Championships are held March 10-11 in College Station, Texas.
South Dakota’s track and field teams will head south to start the outdoor season at the Baldy Castillo Invitational hosted by Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz.
The Coyote women will be boosted by the addition of Grove during the outdoor season. Grove, the 2016 Summit League Indoor and Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year, has earned five All-America honors in the pole vault with a best finish of second place at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships. Grove was granted a sixth year of outdoor eligibility by the NCAA last spring after missing two outdoor seasons to injuries.
“Emily has been to two Olympic Trials and made it to the finals this summer,” Huber said. “She will bring elite level experience to the younger athletes in our program.”
The Coyotes return six other Summit League champions from the 2016 meet besides Grove. In addition to her indoor race, Cannigan breezed to a victory in the 100 hurdles. Senior Danielle Waldner captured her second shot put title in 2016 while Frank earned his second consecutive high jump title outdoors. Senior Jay Cooper dove across the finish to earn a championship title in the 400 hurdles, Williams collected the crown in the 100 meters and junior Jake David became the fourth consecutive Coyote to capture the pole vault title.
Aside from Grove, senior Emily Brigham is the only other returning All-American for the Coyotes. Brigham tied for 15th in the pole vault at the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
South Dakota’s men’s pole vaulting program has a trio of freshmen this year. In addition to the signing of Nilsen, the Coyotes have added Nick Johnson, a five-time state champion from Hot Springs, Ark., and Ethan Bray who finished runner up at the 2016 state meet from Fishers, Ind.
Another addition to the vertical jumps is Parker, S.D., native, Zack Anderson became the sixth South Dakota prep athlete to clear 7-0 in the high jump during his senior year. He also won titles in the long and triple jumps as a senior.
The women’s freshman class is highlighted by Julia Noah, a distance runner who finished third at the Summit League Cross Country Championships in October to lead the Coyote women to their third-straight league title.
A trio of Jamaica natives, freshmen Samara Spencer, Britny Kerr and Tashkea Gordon, will help the Coyote sprint and jump event groups.
The Coyotes will look to accomplish three goals that the program is built on.
“We want to be an Academic All-American team, we want to compete for all six conference championships in track & field and cross country, and we want to have 30 athletes qualify for first round of the NCAA outdoor meet,” Huber said. “If we can reach those goals in the end, we will be successful.”