"Unfortunately, the past two weeks, it's turned into Wisconsin weather. We had split the group up a little bit, so I had taken my crew around, more Iowa and here, and actually coach [Jim] Stintzi is just on his way back from California because he took his crew out to Stanford. So we were trying to work for some weather. In track and field, definitely, that plays into our performances, so we try to do the best we can in finding the best situations for the athletes.
"But we've been very successful with our top crew. So far, we have eight people qualified for regionals. We're excited about that, and we'll look to this weekend and next weekend to try to get a few more in there when we travel down to Indiana for regionals."
Out of those eight individuals, how many do you think will advance to the NCAA?
"Well, that's a great question. Katrina Rundhaug is our 10K runner and she's our, I would say, she's ranked 11th in the country right now. She competed at cross country nationals this past fall, so she's definitely in the top layer. And actually, with the 10K, they don't compete at regionals. She's already hit her auto qualifier, so she will be at nationals.
"From there, we go to Melissa Talbot, our heptathlete, who is currently 18th in the country. She just competed at Drake relays this past weekend, and hit a personal record, scoring 5,275. It's a little bit of a crapshoot in terms of how many they take to nationals for the [heptathlon]. That's another event that they don't compete at regionals. Last year, they took 28 athletes, so she's sitting 18th right now. Big Tens (and) most of the conference championships are in two weeks, so there will be some movement in the rankings, so we'll see what happens there.
"Shuntia Lucas, a sophomore, she's qualified in the 200 right now. She's someone who gets better and better every weekend, so I would look to her as someone to keep an eye on. I don't want to jinx anyone. ‘A Havahla Haynes is in the steeple and she's 31st in the country right now. She's doing well. Michelle Bellford in the triple jump, she's got a shot. I think I'm going to leave it at that."
Could you share with us the improvement you've seen from the indoor to the outdoor season with your squad?
"With the team as a whole? I was joking with coach Stintzi. We actually haven't been at a meet together since maybe indoors, because we've been splitting up the crew quite a bit. So improvement in the team as a whole... We don't do a lot of team scoring, so that's something unique about our sport, so I can't really say in terms of team scoring."
Have you seen progress from individuals?
"Oh, absolutely. You know, if you look at, and this is what I do as a coach, and being my first year with this group, looking at where they were at this point last year compared to where they are right now. And across the board, you know, we see improvement. So that bodes well for making improvements as a team versus what we did last year.
"Now we did lose some really quality athletes last year, but we've had some of our younger people stepping up and hopefully will be able to place higher at Big Tens than they did last year."
Coach, what kind of goals do you set for the upcoming Big Ten meets, both for the team, for individuals? As a coach, what do you look for?
"Well, again, first year with this staff, so our goals have been really to look at what we had coming in, and just looking at where we could maximize our athletes. Again, they are performing better than they did last year at this time, so we look to hopefully place higher in those areas and score more points.
"You know, yes, I did sit down this morning and do a quick look through and think, well, I think I can score, you know, so many points. Within the Big Ten, there's a little bit of a separation in women's track. You've got a group like first through fourth place, which are pretty solid. To be honest with you, I don't think we can crack that. Fifth through eighth is pretty close. I mean, we're talking within 10 to 15 points. And I would definitely much rather be fifth or sixth than eighth.
"That was the goal we had set indoors. It was the same sort of situation. Unfortunately we did not accomplish that. We ended up more on the low end. And so that's something that we will pose to the team as, hey, you know what, we didn't pull it off indoors. We need to step up and we need to get this done. And rather than being eighth, let's shoot for the high end."
How has this first year been under coach Stintzi?
"As his assistant, myself? It's been great. I've worked at several different Division I institutions, and just being at the University of Wisconsin is just a joy. It's just such a great environment to work in. And coach Stintzi does a great job. You know, he was an assistant at Michigan State but head cross country, and, yes, this is first year as a head track and field coach. But his experience and leadership qualities are fabulous. And I think the team relies upon those skills and knows that they're going to get the right direction from him. And so for me, working as his assistant, you know, I can rely upon those things as well and know that there's a plan, there's progress, there's expectations, and we just work to meet those."
Could you tell us a little bit more about Katrina and how much better can she get? She's only a sophomore and already qualified for the NCAAs.
"Right. Well, that's a little tough. I'm not a distance coach. But from what I know, you know, coach Stintzi only has just really positive things [to say]. She's also already hit the automatic qualifier for USA Nationals. Within our sport, you know, we'll have our conference championships next week, and then regionals, and then nationals, which is the collegiate nationals. And then in June, I think it's June 23, around there, is the USA Nationals, so that's for post-collegiates and collegiates if they hit the qualifiers. And she's already hit that auto mark. So that's, you know, that's a good thing.
"As to how much better she's going to get, I mean, she's just solid. You know, each week does great things. You're not going to run 10Ks very often, so this week she actually ran a 5K and she also qualified for nationals, or, let's see, I shouldn't lie.
"She hit the regional qualifier, and that put her 20th in the country right now. She won't race that at nationals. She'll do the 10K. But she's just, you know, a solid athlete. And like you said, she's young, and so there's, within the distance events, time is a good thing. And just the number of miles you can continue to accumulate, it'll just bode well for her performances."