With a strong cast of both newcomers and returnees, Arizona track and field coach Fred Harvey is setting the bar high for the upcoming indoor season, which opens Friday.
Harvey is particularly optimistic about the men’s team as he enters his 16th year.
“Our goal for the men is to finish in the top 10 nationally in both the indoor and outdoor NCAA championships,” Harvey said.
The women’s team is talented but young, Harvey said. His goal for the women’s squad is to finish in the top 20 or 25 nationally.
Harvey’s incoming men’s class is ranked seventh in the country by Track and Field News. It’s headlined by a trio of freshmen rated among the top 12 in the world among junior athletes – those age 19 and younger. They are shot-putter Jordan Geist, a Pennsylvanian who won the Junior Pan American Games last summer; discus thrower Turner Washington of Tucson, a Pan Am silver medalist; and Maksims Sincukovs, a 400-meter hurdler from Latvia.
Geist won the national high school outdoor championships last year in both the shot put and hammer throw and finished second to Washington in the discus. Harvey says Sincukovs has “a perfect frame for the hurdles, about 6-4, 180 pounds, and has a beautiful stride between hurdles.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams launch their indoor seasons on Friday in Flagstaff in the Friday Night Challenge against host NAU, ASU and three other teams. Harvey calls it a low-key opening to an indoor season that will climax at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.
While other college sports have one national championship, track and field has both indoor and outdoor seasons. The outdoor season, including meets at the UA’s Drachman Stadium, will begin in mid-March and conclude in June at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
While little known in the Southwest, indoor track is a mainstay in colder U.S. climates. Some events, including the 400-meter hurdles and javelin, are not contested indoors. And instead of the hammer throw, athletes compete in the weight throw (35 pounds for men; 20 pounds for women).
Harvey says Geist is “a great young man who has made an excellent transition” from the high school 12-pound shot put to the college 16-pound iron ball. While still in high school at Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, Geist heaved the heavier shot 68 feet, 4 inches, setting a national high school record for the 16 pounder. That distance would have placed him second in last year’s NCAA indoor championships. Geist is also a top contender in the hammer throw, and he’s expected to compete in the indoor weight throw.
Because the discus event is not held indoors, Washington, a Canyon del Oro High grad, will redshirt during the indoor season but continues to train for the outdoor meets. Sincukovs, who just enrolled for the spring semester at UA, may also redshirt during the indoor season.
Heading the men’s returnees are Justice Summerset and Bailey Roth. Summerset, a graduate of Mountain View High School, gained All-America honors last year by finishing third in the NCAA outdoor championships with a high jump of 7 feet 1¾ inches. He also finished third in the Junior Pan Am Games. Roth won the Pac-12 title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and became an All-American by finishing 11th in the outdoor NCAA steeplechase.
Harvey also expects good things from senior Collins Kibet, who is looking strong after missing the outdoor season last year because of illness. He won the outdoor Pac 12 championship two years ago in the 800 meters. He also will compete with three teammates in the 4x400 relay.
Other top returnees are Carlos Villarreal of Rio Rico, who finished fifth in the 1,500 meters at the outdoor Pac-12 meet, and Viktor Gardenkrans, who placed third in the Pac-12 discus.
On the women’s side, the team lost NCAA 400-meter hurdles champion Sage Watson to graduation. High jumpers Lisanne Hagens and Karla Teran, of Nogales, Sonora, return after finishing first and second last year in the Pac-12 outdoor championships. Hagens cleared 5-11½ to place 10th in the NCAA outdoor championships.
Redshirt senior Alyssa Thompson, a Salpointe Catholic graduate, is back after earning All-Pac-12 and All-America honors in the 2016 heptathlon.
Distance runner Claire Green won second-team All-America honors by finishing 24th in December’s NCAA cross country championships. Harvey also anticipates a strong season from Karolina Pahlitzsch, a transfer from Nebraska, in the 400-meter hurdles.
The Wildcats are expected to field competitive teams in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays. Among runners competing to fill relay roles are sprinters Anaya Bailey, the state 100- and 200-meter titlist, and returnees Brena Andrews; Tatum Waggoner; Diana Gajda, a Salpointe Catholic grad; and Savaughn Christman of Sierra Vista.
The women’s and men’s teams each carry a roster of nearly 45 athletes. Harvey’s staff includes five assistant coaches and several volunteer coaches, including Watson, a 2016 Olympian, and Georganne Moline, a UA track alum and 2012 Olympian.