Jan. 8, 2009
Rome, Ga. - That first step is always the key to be successful in any track and field event - the quicker, the better.
That's the approach the Shorter men's and women's track and field teams will be taking this weekend when they hit the indoor wood for the program's earliest start to a new season in the program's brief three-year history by competing in the Clemson Invitational in Clemson, S.C.
"We're ready to go," head coach Scott Byrd said about the team's indoor opener, the first of six meets - the most ever - scheduled this season. "We've been preparing since September for this, laying the base of this year's foundation. We've still got a ways to go, but we're ready."
Despite being the proverbial "new kid" on the NAIA track block, Shorter has already gotten its foot into the national door thanks to some outstanding performances last season.
Sophomore Montagious Brown opened the All-American door for Shorter at the 2008 NAIA National Indoor Championships when he won the national high jump title by clearing the bar at 6'10", an accomplishment magnified by the fact that he was also a member of the men's basketball season and won the same week of the SSAC basketball tournament. He went on to add another All-American honor by finishing third overall at the national outdoor meet.
Senior K'Ianca Dupree added her name to the NAIA All-American list as well at the national indoor meet when she finished fourth in the 60 meters and fifth in the 200 meters, then repeated the double feat at the NAIA national outdoor meet taking third place in the 100 and second in the 200.
Byrd said that the early start to the indoor season pays dividends beyond the meet experience itself.
"The biggest issue we face," the coach said, "is that we don't have the indoor facilities to practice in. Every time inclement weather hits, we lose practice time. We have to use (the scheduled meets) as a practice session as much as a meet. The more you run the better."
"We've got the numbers and we're fortunate to have some great additions to the teams," the coach said, noting that the roster has grown from 35 three years ago to 85. "On paper we look very, very competitive. We've got the depth, the experience and the right additions."
There's little doubt that the Hawks enter a new year having taken the NAIA by storm as they posted a 10th place finish at last season's NAIA National Outdoor Championships.
"Winning the (outdoor) Mid-South conference championship last year," Byrd said, "did more for the team's psyche as anything else - it opened their eyes."
Brown returns hoping to help the team focus on bigger rewards as he will try to defend his national title the same way - playing basketball for Shorter and switching over to the jumping pit.
"(Men's basketball coach Chad Warner) and I have a real good relationship," Byrd said about how the two teams share Brown, who was originally recruited as a track athlete. "Last year he jumped only once to qualify the week before the national meet. This year he'll jump earlier when we go to Indiana (Jan. 23), the day after the basketball team plays Berry."
Yet it's very possible that Brown will be joined by a long list of other veterans who return with All-American credentials.
Nick Dodson, who was second in 400 national outdoor hurdles, is back running the banked track in the 400 and the 4x400 relay; Remy Charpentier, third in the outdoor 800, returns to run the 600 - he finished ninth at last year's indoor nationals - and be a part of the 4x800 foursome; and sprinter Shaun Kennedy is set to run the 60 and 200, hoping to add to his sixth-place finish in the 100 at the 2008 national outdoor meet.
"I feel those three will have a big year for us on the track and as far as leadership goes," Byrd said. "They have their eyes on the big prize."
Shorter has another ace up its sleeve in the form of Nate Scott, who was an outdoor All-American in the 110 hurdles and will represent the Hawks inside this season in the 60 hurdles.
Veterans A.J. Baker and Joe Chisholm head up the Hawks in the field events. Baker, a former Calhoun High standout who plays football at Shorter, will concentrate on the long jump, while Chisholm is ready to give the team points in shot.
"This is the first year we've had the talent level to compete in the 200 and 400," Byrd said, "and we feel like we've got a good shot at the 4x400."
Experience and newcomers gives the Lady Hawks bright hopes for an even better season, with Dupree leading the way.
"She's the nucleus of the women's team," Byrd said of the Columbus, Miss., native. "She's a special person."
While the senior gives Shorter an edge in the sprints, Byrd believes that sophomore Justyna Mudy of Poland balances the running equation in the 3,000 and 5,000.
Last fall as a member of cross-country team, Mudy won every regular season race she competed in and went on to become an All-American after finishing third at the NAIA National Championship.
"I'd say she's probably among the top three runners in the NAIA," Byrd said. "We've never had that kind of talent in the distance events, the same kind of talent K'Ianca has in the sprints."
Senior Rashunda Luster will be counted upon in the high jump, while Jessica Coons, Courtney Pike and Whitney Ringer return after being a part of last year's 4x400 relay team that qualified for the national indoor meet.