Jan. 5, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. – The Army track and field teams will host the annual Crowell Open on Friday and Saturday at the Black Knights’ Gillis Field House. This weekend’s meet marks the first competition of the season for Army, with the first events of the men’s heptathlon and women’s pentathlon beginning Friday at noon and the individual competitions commencing Saturday at 11 a.m.
Army is coming off a runner-up Patriot League finish on the men’s side and a sixth-place effort on the women’s at last season’s outdoor conference championships. Between the two conference meets a season ago, the Black Knight men brought home nine individual titles, while the women captured six. Of the 15 medals won, nine were collected by members of the class of 2011, including three by All-American hurdler Domonick Sylve and five combined by Tonya Stallard and Kaci Clark.
The shockwaves felt by the graduation of 2011’s senior class isn’t lost on fourth-year Army head coach Troy Engle.
“We had a lot of turnover from last year to this year,” said Engle. “How do you replace sprinters like Domonick Sylve and Alfred McDaniel? Or for the women, Kaci Clark who broke every Academy pole vault record, or Tonya Stallard who was the best all-around athlete in the conference last year.
“It’s going to be a matter of finding out where our holes are, how big they are and who can step up and fill them.”
Despite the graduations, Army returns a number of Black Knights with patterns of success. On the men’s side, four-time Patriot League champion and two-time NCAA Regional qualifier Tom Wagner will look to produce another standout season. The senior jumper swept the conference triple jump belts last season while also winning the indoor high jump title for the second straight season.
Wagner and senior captain Michael Hutchins lead Army’s talented group of jumpers. Hutchins, who won the 2011 indoor long jump conference crown, also competes on the Black Knights’ 4x400-meter relay contingent, which won the Patriot League title in 2010.
“Hutchins has been a stalwart within the conference and I think he’ll have a great year,” said Engle.
Hutchins is in a group with a number of other Black Knights which Engle felt had solid seasons a year ago and are poised to have breakthroughs this winter and spring. Along with co-captain Taylor Kensy, classmate Fred Beebe, and Wagner, Engle also has high hopes for the men’s distance contingent, throwers and pole vaulters.
“Our throwers, guys like Grady Davis, Scott Geary and Nick Snoad, had what could only be described as meteoric rises last year,” said Engle. “We also bring back 2011’s conference pole vault champion in Justin Harris.”
Engle especially believes in the distance group due to a recent sharing in responsibilities. “Last season I coached all 40 or so distance kids. Now, with the addition of assistant coach Jennifer DeRego, all of our athletes can get the attention they deserve. “
Another much-needed addition to the coaching staff this offseason was Rondell Ruff, who is charged with leading a depleted group of sprinters for both the men’s and women’s teams. The Black Knight women failed to reach the final round of any sprinting event at last season’s outdoor conference championships, while also graduating their top performers from that meet in Stallard and Hallie Huggins.
One solid contributor from the women’s sprinting unit who returns in 2012 is sophomore Crystal Christian. Christian was the only freshman to register points in an individual event at last season’s Patriot League Indoor Championships, placing fourth in the 60-meter dash. She is one of five returning point-earners from 2011’s indoor meet.
Junior McKenzie Majchrzak capped off her sophomore campaign with her second consecutive conference high jump title and will look to capture her first indoor belt after leaping to a runner-up finish last season. She is joined by classmate Ashley Gordon (sixth place, 500m) and senior Jari Ross (fifth place, triple jump) as the sole conference point-earners on this season’s roster.
“On the women’s side, we have good talent across the board but with huge holes as well,” said Engle. “Given the style of the Patriot League, where some teams have one dominant event group, like Navy and their distance kids, and other teams are just deep all around like Bucknell, we consider ourselves to be in somewhat of a rebuilding process.
“To say ‘rebuilding’ indicates we’re in a sensitive position. We’re not going to say it isn’t without any expectations, but the key word is ‘unless’. Unless we get freshmen to have big meets; unless we get people to step up; unless people are healthy when they need to be; unless people dig in and show tenacity. We’re cautiously optimistic, but a lot of it depends on the individuals.”
One of those individuals who Engle feels could turn heads at the conference level is senior Chelsea Prahl. Prahl enjoyed a breakout cross country season this past fall, running away with All-Patriot League first-team honors for the second time in her career by finishing sixth of 84 competitors.
This weekend’s meet, which pits Army against a group of over 700 entrants from more than 20 colleges and track clubs, is the Black Knights’ first test of 2012, yet Engle doesn’t believe it to be a barometer for the rest of the season.
“With such a short week of prep, all this meet will show is who worked hard over break and who didn’t. The benefit of this meet is that it provides a volume and quality of work that we can’t replicate in practice.”
Army’s true tests begin in Week 2 of the season when the Black Knights host their first scoring meet of the season by welcoming Lehigh, Monmouth, Rider, Columbia and Williams to Gillis Field House on Jan. 14. The aggressive scheduling continues the following week for the second installment of the Harvard Invitational, which pits Patriot League schools Army and Colgate against Ivy League teams Brown and the host Crimson on Jan. 21.
After their first trip to The Armory of the season on Jan. 28, the Black Knights will travel to Annapolis, Md., on Feb. 4 for the indoor Star Meet against rival Navy. Army men’s senior class will look to continue their flawless streak against the Midshipmen as they travel to Navy with a perfect 6-0 Star Meet record.
After another trip to The Armory on Feb. 10, as well as sending a group of athletes to the Cyclone Classic (Feb. 11-12) in Ames, Iowa, the Black Knights enter postseason competition with the Patriot League Championships, Feb. 17-19, hosted by Bucknell. Qualified athletes will then compete at the IC4A and ECAC Championships, March 3-4, in Boston, Mass., before rounding out the indoor season at the NCAA Championships at Boise State, March 9-10.
Engle hopes the competitive nature of this season’s schedule will change the attitude of the Black Knights as a whole. “We’re doing things differently this year. We need to be strong as a team, not just individual events, and be gunning for team championships.
“The curse of our successes has been that it results in complacencies. In the past we’ve walked into meets with an incredible amount of confidence which isn’t always a good thing. We’re not going to do that. We have to continue to work and stay focused and count on the strength of our team as a whole.”