Women’s track coach Sean Cleary plans on using senior Chelsea Carrier-Eades at this weekend’s Big East Championships the same way he used her last year when she helped West Virginia to a school-best second place finish – a lot.
The Olympic hopeful will participate in the 100-meter hurdles, the 400-meter hurdles, the long jump and possibly even a relay or two depending upon how the meet is going, says Cleary. Carrier-Eades has already qualified for NCAAs in the heptathlon and will not participate in that event this weekend.
“Her main three events she did last year we’re going to do the same thing,” said Cleary. “Then, we’re going to evaluate our relay situation and we are going to put together the best relays that we can. If that is the 4x400 then she will run. If it’s the 4x800 then we’ll swipe a girl from the 4x400 and we may not run a 4x400, so it’s really up in the air right now what she will do this weekend.”
For the first time in a couple of years, Carrier-Eades, the Big East’s most outstanding performer last year, actually comes into a conference championship without the top billing in the 100 hurdles. That belongs to Shericka Ward of Villanova with a time of 13.16. Carrier-Eades’ best clocking is 13.37 so far this spring.
“She’s ranked second or third in the long going in and, interestingly enough, this is the first time she’s been ranked No. 2 in the hurdles going into the championships,” Cleary said. “Both of her hurdles races she is ranked No. 2.”
Cleary said Carrier-Eades is coming off a subpar performance at Princeton a couple of weeks ago that has left a sour taste in her mouth.
“She was a little off and one or two girls got by her that should provide enough motivation for this weekend,” Cleary said.
The Mountaineers will have an outstanding one-two punch in the 100-meter hurdles with Carrier-Eades and sophomore Chené Townsend, an NCAA regional qualifier last year in the 100-hurdles and Carrier-Eades’ daily training partner. Townsend comes into this weekend’s race with the fourth-best time of 13.66.
“Obviously she’s got to make it to the finals and who knows, it’s a crazy event,” said Cleary. “She chases Chelsea every day in practice. Where Chelsea is right now, she is only going to improve marginally for the rest of her career (in the hurdles) where Chené is still at that point where she has got some big jumps in her.”
Speaking of big jumps, Cleary is looking for some outstanding performances from his group of jumpers this weekend, specifically Meghan Mock and Sydney Cummings. Mock, a senior, was an NCAA qualifier who peaked at this time last season.
“Last year she sandwiched this event,” Cleary said. “She won Penn Relays, was a little off at Big East, and then she went out and qualified for NCAAs. We’re hoping she can put together a series of meets in the Big East, regionals and the national meet.”
Cummings, a junior from Charleston, could also provide points in the high jump. Cummings scored for the Mountaineers during the Big East indoor meet. She is ranked 10th heading into this weekend by clearing 5’8.75 earlier this spring.
Minnesota transfer Stormy Nesbit in the jumps, pole vaulters Kaitlyn Shelar and Carrie Long, and thrower Terina Miller should also add to West Virginia’s point total. Shelar is ranked fourth in the pole vault while Miller is also fourth in the hammer throw. In the past, West Virginia typically hasn’t produced a lot of points in the field events at the conference meet, and Cleary is pleased to finally have some across-the-board depth on his roster.
Cleary is also excited for the 2012 debut of senior Kate Harrison in the 10K. Last year, Harrison blew up at this time of the season, winning the regional race before placing second at nationals. Harrison is one of the favorites to win the 10K this weekend.
“She’s had a great year of training and an incredible fall so we’ll see,” said Cleary. “She sustained a little bit of a late-season injury and she’s making progress every day. We’ll find out how close she is to being as good as she was this time last year. She may be caught up, but if not, she’s similar.”
Cleary purposely limited Harrison’s work early in the year because he knew the next month and a half is going to be extremely taxing on her.
“For a 10K runner at the end of the year it’s very different,” Cleary explained. “Now, you’ve got to run three 10K races in five weeks, so we’re just going to go boom, boom, boom with her and hopefully right into the national championships. The plan is to have her in the best shape of her life by nationals.”
After qualifying for outdoor nationals in the 3,000 in 2010, senior Jessica O’Connell has been battling a series of injuries that kept her from competitive racing last spring. Now, Cleary said she is back and totally healthy, but unfortunately, O’Connell is competing in a stacked 5K field on Saturday that features four women that already possess Olympic qualifying times.
“There is no other event (at this year’s Big East championships) with more than one or two (Olympic qualifiers),” said Cleary. “The 5K is her event this year and she is in an incredible race this weekend, but she is rounding into the best shape of her life. She is everywhere we hoped she would be at this point, so that is a real plus for us.
“She’s got big goals this year so we need to have her start racing people,” Cleary added.
Cleary is without one of his top performers, junior Sarah Brault, who placed 10th in the 10K at last year’s NCAA championships. Brault has opted to devote this semester to try and earn a spot on the Canadian Olympic team in the triathlon but she will be back with the team next semester for cross country season.
Also, Katie Gillespie, a regional qualifier in the 10K, is out for the remainder of the year with an injury and has since been redshirted.
This weekend’s meet will be West Virginia’s last event in the Big East Conference. Cleary said his athletes have already started transitioning for what they will be facing in the Big 12 Conference beginning next season.
“You notice in the vans and the buses the kids are beginning to look at Big 12 results a little more closely,” Cleary said. “Some are understanding that when we go into the Big 12 it’s going to be much more difficult in some events, and in other events, it’s going to be a touch easier for them.
“They’ve got some phenomenal front runners in the Big 12 and the depth in certain events isn’t quite what we have in the Big East right now; it’s a mixture, but overall it’s a stronger track and field conference,” Cleary said. “The kids in our program that are going to be with us next year understand that the process to be ready obviously begins this year.”
Cleary said the general philosophy of the program will remain the same, although event emphasis may change a little bit going into a new conference in a different part of the country.
“We are going to have to pick some areas where we feel like we can get something done, instead of trying to go 21 events across the board and nickel and dime ourselves until we are up to par with the rest of the Big 12,” he said.
Cleary noted that distance, jumps and the multi-event athletes are likely going to be the program’s emphasis at the outset. And from that, Cleary hopes to continue to develop outstanding relays.
“I just feel that in order to continue to be a nationally-recognized track program, we’re better off focusing on a couple of event areas and building a great culture (of training and success),” he concluded.
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