June 24, 2008
NEW ORLEANS - The Tulane University women's track and field and cross country teams enjoyed a successful 2007-08 academic calendar. The cross country team placed ninth at the NCAA South Central Regional Championships, the team was represented at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships for the second year in a row, and five members of the team competed at the NCAA Outdoor Mideast Regional Championships.
The 2007-08 seasons served as another big stepping stone for the program, as it tries to get back to the top of the conference where it stood for the late 1990s and early 2000s. The season review is broken down by individual season, beginning with cross country, and then moving into indoor track and field before finishing with outdoor track and field.
The Tulane cross country team had a banner year in 2007. Freshman Laurie Dalrymple was a third-team All-Conference USA selection and named Louisiana Sportswriters Association Female Cross Country Freshman of the Year, while senior Aubrey Phillips was named LSWA Female Cross Country Runner of the Year, freshman Rebecca Coady earned a spot on the LSWA All-Louisiana team and head coach Heather Van Norman was named LSWA Cross Country Coach of the Year.
The Green Wave began the season by winning its first three meets in team scoring, and with two athletes winning the first two meets individually. While the races at the end of the season - conference, NCAA regional, NCAA Championship - are the most important, and while team victories outside of those meets do not count for much, the three dominating performances to open the 2007 season were very important for Tulane.
"We started off the season great," Van Norman said. "I think once we got to the Chile Pepper the competition became extremely difficult, and we kind of set it up that way. At the beginning (of the season), there are only two weeks of team training. We had the home meet, and we headed over to LSU, and then we started getting into the more challenging courses. Chile Pepper was obviously where we were going to go because that was where regionals were being held, so it's good that they went and got out on the course twice."
The team began by sweeping the points in its home meet, the Green Wave Invitational, on Aug. 31, and was led by freshman Rebecca Coady - a middle distance runner on the track - who felt right at home on the two-mile course. She was followed closely by junior Aubrey Phillips, freshman Laurie Dalrymple, junior Cecelia Clarke and senior Jill Shriver.
The Green Wave went on to nearly sweep the Southern Miss Invitational the following weekend, scoring 16 points. Phillips won the race, while Coady, Dalrymple, Shriver and senior Savannah Moon squared up the points. Tulane also won the LSU Tiger Cross Country Festival, and then placed fifth at the Auburn Invitational to complete an outstanding start to the season.
Tulane traveled to Fayetteville, Ark., on Oct. 13, for the prestigious Chile Pepper Festival, one of the biggest cross country meets in the nation. The Wave finished 16th out of 41 teams, not as well as they had hoped, but respectable in its first appearance.
The Green Wave finished sixth in Conference USA for the second straight year, led by Dalrymple's 15th placed finish to earn her all-conference honors, and the team posted its second-ever top ten finish in an NCAA regional when it placed ninth at the South Central Regional Championships.
"I think sixth place was really discouraging for us," said Van Norman. "We expected to do better, we had been training to do better, and we did not want the season to end like that. It could have been easy to put your hat in the fire, but we said no, let's go into regionals. That's where it started getting exciting again because I think it kind of reconnected the women. So, I was really, really excited with being at the top, up at regionals.
"Cross country season - we always look forward to it, and it's so short you snap your fingers and it's gone. So, you kind of have to strategically plan it out and prepare the women for every single week. I thought the cross country season ended up very well."
Indoor Track and Field
The Green Wave sent a representative to the NCAA Indoor Championships for the second consecutive year in senior Gloria Asumnu, who became an All-America for the fourth time in her stellar college career when she finished seventh in the finals of the 100-meter dash. The team also earned a sixth-place finish at the Conference USA Championships for the second year in a row.
Asumnu was named C-USA Indoor Track and Field Female Athlete of the Year, and earned the co-Performer of the Meet for the conference championships, her second year in a row winning the honor. She also won conference titles in the 60-meter dash, 200-meter dash and with the 4x400-meter relay team, which also consisted of senior Shanon Beelendorf, junior Vanessa Kienast and freshman Aieshia Brooks.
Asumnu set two C-USA records at the championships when she tied her own record time in the 60m of 7.22 seconds, and she became the first athlete in C-USA history to win one event four times at the conference championships.
Also standing out for the Green Wave at the C-USA Championships were sophomore Jasmine Momoh, who placed sixth in the 60m, Wilson who placed second in the 400m, Dalrymple (eighth in the 3,000m), Phillips (fourth in the 5,000m) and Minor (fifth in the pentathlon).
"We participated in a lot of major meets, and I thought the girls performed very well during the season," Van Norman said. "Obviously, with Gloria getting high marks and going on to the NCAA's, that was big for our program. We gained as a team in certain areas, and we are always trying to improve."
Tulane's strongest showing of the indoor season was the weekend of Jan. 31-Feb.2 when the team competed at the Sykes-Sabock Challenge Cup hosted by Penn State in University Park, Pa., and the LSU Combined Events in Baton Rouge, La. The Wave set 11 personal bests, garnered six top five finishes, including victories by Asumnu in the 60m and 200m, Phillips in the 5,000m and a runner-up finish by the 4x400 relay team. Sophomore Arielle Minor placed fifth in the pentathlon at the LSU Combined Events, setting personal records in four of the five events and a personal-best point total. It was at the Sykes-Sabock that Asumnu automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 60m.
The following weekend, the Green Wave traveled to New York City for the New Balance Collegiate Invitational at the world-famous New York Armory Track. The Wave tallied five top-ten finishes in a meet the featured at least 50 competitors in nine of the 15 events in which Tulane athletes participated.
Tulane split the squad between the Tyson Invitational which was held in Fayetteville, Ark. - the site of the NCAA Championships - and the Iowa State Classic in Ames, Iowa. The sprinters went to the Tyson Invite, which featured the top runners from all over the nation, and the long distance runners traveled to the Iowa State Classic. Following the split weekend, the Wave went to the LSU Twilight Invitational in its last preparation before the Conference USA Championships.
"We were a fairly young team, but we did well," said Van Norman. "Aubrey did a good job of bringing the young girls along. The sprinters held their ground. Gloria, obviously, winning back-to-back (championships) in the 60m and being named Athlete of the Year was great. We are always on an upward climb as a team and are always trying to improve."
Outdoor Track and Field
Tulane qualified five athletes for the NCAA Mideast Regional - Shanon Beelendorf in the 400-meter hurdles, sophomore Valencia Wilson in the 400-meter dash, sophomore Nicolette Taku in the triple jump and the 4x400 relay team of Beelendorf, sophomore Jasmine Momoh, Kienast and Wilson. Wilson competed at the regionals as a freshman in 2006 and Taku did so as a freshman in 2007. Taku set a personal best in the triple jump in that meet this season, with a mark of 12.41m (40-08.75) to place 12th.
The Green Wave placed 10th as a team at the Conference USA Championships, but had a strong showing from several individuals, including NCAA qualifying times by Wilson and the 4x400 relay team. Scorers for the team included: Valencia Wilson's sixth place finish in the 400m, Aubrey Phillips at sixth in the 5,000m and third in the 10,000m, Laurie Dalrymple at eighth in the 10,000m, Beelendorf at fourth and Vanessa Kienast at seventh in the 400m hurdles, Katarina Busljeta at fifth in the hammer throw and Arielle Minor at fourth in the heptathlon.
"I thought UTEP did a fine job of hosting the conference championships," Van Norman said. "We did not finish where we wanted to finish, which was top three or four. We realized we really need to recruit a lot more - we need to get more bodies out on the track and keep other teams from filling out those seventh and eighth spots, and get out athletes in those slots."
The outdoor season began with a trip to nearby Hattiesburg, Miss., for the Southern Miss Invitational, on the same weekend as the NCAA Indoor Championships. Beelendorf won the 400m hurdles, while freshman Zandria Debowles finished fifth, Busljeta placed second in the hammer and third in the discus. Debowles also placed third in the high jump, Phillips fourth in the 1,500m and Wilson fourth in the 200m.
The Green Wave endured a frustrating rain-shortened meet at Georgia Tech on the final weekend in March, but one in which freshman Rebecca Coady set the school benchmark in the 3,000m steeplechase. Coady was the first Tulane athlete in several years to run the steeplechase, and set the best time achieved by any of the steeplechase athletes before her.
Phillips provisionally qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 10,000m at the Stanford Invitational, and Minor set more personal bests in the heptathlon at the LSU Combined Events on April 10. The Wave then competed at the Ole Miss Invitational and the LSU Alumni Gold Invitational. Taku qualified for the NCAA regionals in the triple jump at Ole Miss, tying her personal best with a jump of 12.40m (40-08.25).
Phillips and Dalrymple ran at the prestigious and highly selective Drake Relays, while the rest of the squad competed at the Rice Twilight meet on April 24. Phillips and Dalrymple ran respectable times in the 5,000m at Drake, placing 11th and 15th, respectively. At Rice, freshman Peggy Keplinger set a personal record in the pole vault, with a mark of 3.20m (10-06.00)
"As long as I've been here, we have had people at the NCAA's and performing very well there. It's always good to get people at the NCAA Championships. We need to get back to that next year (after missing out on this season). Our girls always perform well nationally. We can be a top 20 team nationally and top 3-4 in C-USA."
Van Norman continued with her praise for the team's outdoor success, while also looking to the bright future for Tulane track and field.
"I thought the seniors held their ground pretty well," Van Norman said. "Aubrey did a fantastic job in the 10,000m. We had our first real steeplechase athlete in a long time and Rebecca Coady is really developing into a good steeplechaser. Shanon really stepped up in the quarter hurdles and found her place on the team. Valencia has always been good, and she came along at the end of the season to make it to regionals. We hope to gain in point totals in the future. The freshmen came in and did a really good job and made strides within the program. They will work during the summer to get better and come back stronger next year."
Van Norman and her team expect to be back at the top of Conference USA, and with the talent her and her staff has assembled, they expect to reach that goal in the very near future.