Women's track: aiming to advance

Two Badgers have already qualified for the NCAA Championships; a few others have the potential

For Division I college track teams throughout the country, the goal this weekend is pretty simple: have as many athletes qualify for the NCAA Championships as possible. So it is for the University of Wisconsin women's track and field team, but with one mightily important caveat: the two Badger athletes with the best chance of scoring at the national meet—sophomore Katrina Rundhaug and junior Melissa Talbot—compete in events that are exempt from this weekend's regional competition.

Rundhaug has already qualified for the NCAA Championships, which take place June 8-11 in Sacramento, Calif., in the 10,000 meters. Likewise, Talbot has secured a spot in the heptathlon.

"We'd like to see some other people, other than Katrina and Melissa, qualify for the NCAAs," UW head coach Jim Stinzi said in a telephone interview this week.

Among the Badger contingent that will compete in the Mideast Regional Friday and Saturday in Bloomington, Ind., Stinzi pointed to sophomore Shuntia Lucas (ranked 14th in the 100 meters and 15th in the 200 at the regional), sophomore Michelle Bellford (15th in tripe jump), sophomore ‘A Havahla Haynes (3,000 steeplechase), -junior Linsey Blaisdell (17th in 5,000) and senior Michelle Lilienthal (19th in 5,000) as the most likely to advance. The top five in each event automatically qualifies for the NCAA Championships, and the sixth through eighth place finishers are placed in a pool for at-large bids.

Rundhaug has posted the 11th best 5,000-meter time in the region, but she will not take part in that event this weekend, Stinzi said. Rather, Rundhaug, who won the 10,000 at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, is focusing on placing in that event at the NCAAs.

"At the NCAA meet our goals really are to get some people that score," Stinzi said. "So you have to be in the top eight to score and I think Katrina and Melissa both can do that."

Talbot will be in Bloomington this weekend to compete in the open 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles. She is seeded 15th in the 400 hurdles and has a good chance of qualifying for NCAAs in that event. She is seeded 30th in the 100 hurdles.

"But if she makes it in those events, will she race in those events (at the NCAA Championships)?" Stinzi said. "I'm not sure."

Three other Badgers will compete this weekend: senior captain Courtney Bauer, seeded 18th in the shot put; sophomore Amanda Ganser (25th in 3,000 steeplechase) and senior Christina Taylor (29th in long jump).

UW finished sixth at the Big Ten meet but was in second after the first two days, led by Talbot's winning performance in the heptathlon and several strong outings from the Badgers' distance runners.

"I would say that it was a good performance for us," Stinzi said. "It was something that point-wise we thought we'd be in the ballpark. We thought we could score a little bit more than that on a good day and on a bad day we wouldn't have scored quite that many. It met expectations, but we know that we can do better."

"The first two days I think it went pretty much as well as it could possibly go."

In addition to Rundhaug's victory, Lilienthal and Blaisdell finished third and fourth, respectively, in the 10,000. Haynes placed fifth in the steeplechase. It was an impressive performance for the Badgers' distance runners, who experienced a mediocre cross country season last fall.

"I think that we are a lot further along than I frankly thought we would be at this time of the year," Stinzi said of his distance runners. The first-year Badger coach is also the head coach of the women's cross country team. "I wasn't coming in with real high hopes when I looked at the group that was coming back here from last year."

"I think that Lindsey and Michelle and ‘A Havahla all have legitimate shots, even though maybe their times wouldn't look like it," Stinzi said. "I think that they have shots to make it to nationals if they race really, really well. That to me is a positive step and a step in the right direction."

Adding potential NCAA Championship points to the Rundhaug/Talbot mix would be nice, but the immediate concern is getting more athletes into the competition.

"At this point we'd be happy if they make it there," Stinzi said. "That's our first goal. And if they do qualify then we'll worry about it."

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