MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In order to get the best from his team at this weekend’s Big East outdoor track and field championships taking place at Villanova University, West Virginia University women’s track coach Sean Cleary has decided not to run his best athlete in her best event.
Sounds confusing, huh? Actually, it could turn out to be a stroke of genius by Cleary.
Returning All-American Chelsea Carrier has the nation’s top score in the heptathlon and would likely win this weekend, but the hep is a grueling two-day event that would keep her from competing in other events that she can score in.
Therefore, West Virginia will actually benefit greatly by having Carrier doing less this weekend.
“He’s been focusing on that since indoor,” said Carrier of Cleary’s decision to have her not compete in the multi this weekend. “He’s putting me in some other events to try and score some more points for the team and I agree with it. I usually do like 11 events at Big East, but with prelims and finals I will be doing eight, so it’s not as bad on my body.”
In addition to the hep, Carrier is also nationally ranked in the 100 hurdles where she recently set a school record with a time of 12.97 at the Jesse Owens Invitational out at Ohio State a few weeks ago. Carrier has topped the 20-foot mark in the long jump, has a nationally ranked time in the 400 hurdles and will also run legs on the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
Yes, you can say she is West Virginia’s Bruce Jenner.
“The events I’m doing this weekend are laid out pretty well,” she explained. “Saturday it starts with long jump, prelim hurdles, 400 hurdles and then Sunday is our finals. Usually when I do the heptathlon on Saturday, which is the final day, I have the 100 hurdles right after the 800, so that’s a little hard so this weekend should be a lot better.”
In the past, Cleary has always taken extra care not to overuse a talent such as Carrier, and in reality that’s what he’s doing this weekend by not using her in her best event.
“It’s a little different because I am not doing the multi, but I expect that because I’m a person who likes to do as many events as I can as long as I don’t injure myself,” said the Buckhannon, W.Va. resident. “But since last year we’ve been trying to go for the team award, so as long as I can score points in the other events hopefully we will have a good chance.”
Maximizing points from Carrier is going to be important this weekend because Cleary doesn’t have two big guns he was counting on, one by her own choosing and the other because of injury. Nine-time All-American Marie-Louise Asselin has opted not to compete during the outdoor season while 2010 NCAA qualifier Jessica O’Connell is currently on the shelf.
“They would score points in their races but we also have so many other girls this year,” Carrier pointed out. “Last year, when we finished fourth with just pretty much distance girls, April (Rotilio) and I redshirted, and we are both in a lot of events this year, so hopefully we can make up for that.”
Carrier believes this year’s team is better-rounded than in past seasons when Cleary relied mostly on distance runners.
“Last year, not one track person qualified for Big East and this year we have it in everything,” she said. “We have people in the field. Katelyn (Williams) is ranked third going into the hep and me and Megan (Mock) can finish near the top in the long jump. And then our relays - our 4x100 we’re trying to get top three, and then our 4x400 we’re trying to get that together, too. We’ll see.”
Carrier is one of the big-name performers in this weekend’s meet, something she admits she is still getting used to.
“I was good but I was never nationally ranked, and now my name is out there and going into all of these races with these great competitors and winning, I think that’s getting my name out there a little bit and people are watching,” she said.
The turning point for her came during the semifinals of the 100 hurdles at last year’s NCAA championships. Carrier was able to get into the finals and earn All-America honors and from that moment her career has really blossomed.
“I was ranked last coming into nationals for that race and I ended up seventh going into the finals,” she said. “I was just really excited about that, and that is when I knew that I can run with these girls and be an All-American.”
Today, she is winning at some of the biggest meets in the country. Her heptathlon score at the University of Texas is the best score in the country right now, and the sub-13 she ran to win the Jesse Owens Invitational at Ohio State a few weeks ago is the ninth fastest time in the country.
“It was raining off and on, and sometimes wet tracks are a little faster,” Carrier said of her school-record performance at Ohio State in the hurdles. “In Austin the winds were crazy, it was plus-5 winds, and I was running by myself because there was no competition in the hurdles (as part of the heptathlon) and the wind had a lot to do with that. But I knew I could be in the 12s this year, maybe toward nationals. Everyone thought, oh, she ran a 13.04 at Texas and it was a fluke because she had a plus-5 wind with me, but I knew at the right competition I could do it. I was just excited when I saw it was a 12.97 with a legal wind.”
Carrier is already locked in for nationals in the hep and will not have to run that event again until June, meaning she can concentrate on Big East this weekend while also trying to reduce her time in the hurdles heading into NCAA regionals.
“I was looking at the schedule at nationals and it’s unfortunate because I run the 200 meters in the hep before the prelims in the hurdles, so that is going to take a lot out of me, especially with the competition at nationals,” she noted. “The top 10 this year it seems like everyone is in the 12s, and that is amazing considering two years ago if you had two girls in the 12s that was good. So I’m really nervous about that coming off the 200 straight into that. I’m just going to try my best in that competition and see how it goes.”
Once nationals are completed in June, Carrier will then have the rest of the summer to take care of some personal business.
“I’m getting married at the end of July,” she said.
Wes Eades, a Bridgeport High graduate and a former track standout at Wheeling Jesuit, is the lucky guy, so when you check out next year’s outdoor track roster be sure to look for Chelsea Eades instead of Chelsea Carrier.
Well, not quite.
“Actually, it will be Chelsea Carrier-Eades,” she laughed.
You can keep track of Chelsea and the rest of the Mountaineers at http://www.bigeast.org
.Follow John Antonik on Twitter: @JohnAntonik