Track and Field: Women's Season Preview

Feb. 26, 2009

Led by an All-American and two NCAA Regional qualifiers, the Gaucho women are looking to build on the positives from last season by continuing to strengthen the roster from bottom to top. With only two seniors on this year's roster, the team is still young and has several promising years on the horizon. Last season's newcomers have a year of collegiate-level training to work with, and another strong group of freshmen are ready to provide depth to this year's squad.

Danielle Domenichelli

Liza Hitchner

Jane Doolittle

Kayla Smith

Sheneice Vargas

Leading the way for the women's team will be Danielle Domenichelli, an All-American in the 5000 meters. Domenichelli qualified for Nationals by running a 10-second personal best at Regionals, and would go on to set another personal best at the NCAA Championships with a 16:27.98. Already in the Gaucho record books in three events, Domenichelli has her goals set on improving her 5k time even further and adding a second All-American performance to her résumé.

The distance squad will be deeper this season, as the program struck gold in late autumn by signing Crystal Reed. Reed competed for Orange Coast College and was a two-time state champion of California in junior college cross country. She will need some time to transition to the intensity of a Div. I training regiment, but look for Reed to advance to Regionals and make a serious effort to qualify for the NCAA Championships in the 5k.

Another welcome addition will be the return of Liza Hitchner to the squad after redshirting last season. Hitchner ran under the Regional qualifying standard for the 5k while competing unattached in open races, so look for her to score big points at Conference and advance to Regionals. She also has the ability to run a fast 10,000 meters, which opens up the possibility of qualifying for Nationals in that event.

Ashley Ramirez represents the middle distances this season, and it will be her first season competing in Div. I track after transferring from Oxnard College. She will run the 1500m and will be looking to score high at Conference. The 800 meters is wide open this year, with several returners sitting around 2:13 and a handful of freshmen sitting in the 2:14 range.

"It's going to be a season of discovery in the 800 this season," said assistant coach Avery Blackwell. "Our team is still young, but we have some good leaders that the freshmen can learn from." Head coach Pete Dolan also expressed optimism regarding the distance squad.

"We got this huge boost in the offseason, from signing Crystal Reed," Dolan remarked. "We've got an All-American in Danielle Domenichelli, and Liza Hitchner starting to emerge, and now Crystal Reed. It's already added some excitement to our training atmosphere, and I don't think there's any team in the Big West working as hard as our teams."

The Gauchos also have some top-class athletes in the high jump, with Jane Doolittle and Christina Nowak coming off seasons where they made their first appearances at the NCAA Regionals. Doolittle jumped 5-10 last year, and Nowak cleared 5-9. High jump coach Keith Baker is confident that they will improve even more this season.

"Doolittle and Nowak have both competed at Regionals," said Baker. "I know experience is talked about a lot, but don't underestimate how important it is. It has made them confident and determined to do what it takes to improve. They have the ability to open the season at high bars and to keep jumping at high bars all season long."

The throws will be another strong area in the field for the Gauchos. Kayla Smith, Jean Lightfoot and Ingrid Sutherland are all returning and looking better than ever. Smith's strongest events will be the shot and discus, Lightfoot's strongest will be the discus and hammer, and Sutherland's strongest will be the discus.

"Those three will lead the charge," explained Baker. "All three girls will be vying for top-five spots at the Conference Meet in their respective events. Kayla and Jean are also spinning in the shot now, which could help their discus marks since we're getting double the reps with a similar technique."

The horizontal jumps and pole vault should be improved this year, as Maureen Ajoku has now undergone a solid year of training. This year she will be joined by Christina Nowak, who has tremendous potential in the long and triple jumps in addition to her main event, the high jump. The pole vault will be headed by Jennifer Brown and Missy Burley, who will be joined by freshman Tess Balcomb this season. Balcomb is one of the best recruits the women have ever had in the pole vault.

The Gauchos are starting to develop a strong foundation of sprinters and hurdlers, something the team has lacked in years past. Some of the performances from last year were promising, particularly those of Sheneice Vargas and Barbara Nwaba.

Vargas scored points at the Big West Championships as a freshman, finishing sixth with a personal-best time of 56.23. Nwaba had a great start to her collegiate career in the 400m hurdles before a stress fracture at the Stanford Invitational ended her season prematurely. Both athletes will be back this season, striving to improve their times and score some points at Conference.

Also contributing in the sprints will be Dominique Augustus and Lauren Kodama, who both have the potential to run some fast 200 meter times. Sprints coach Josh Priester believes that his athletes could eventually run a formidable 4x400 meter relay as well.

"We have the beginnings of a good nucleus of women for the relays," explained Priester. "It takes a lot of numbers to have good relays, but we keep getting better. The group is looking good right now, and we're going to have some pretty exciting times ahead if we continue to have the desire to get to the next level."

The Gauchos compete this Saturday, Feb. 28, at the All-Cal Challenge at UC Irvine. The All-Cal Cup will be awarded to the winning team of the meet between UCSB, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Riverside.

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