With the 2012 North Coast Athletic Conference Indoor Track & field Championship set to begin this Friday at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., both Big Red squads are looking to improve over last season's finish.
Denison first-year head coach Mark FitzPatrick enters the weekend with a pair of Denison runners on the verge of qualifying for the Division III Indoor Track & Field Championship on March 9-10 in Grinnell, Iowa.
Leading the way for the men's team is senior Dee Salukombo who is seeking his third consecutive indoor conference title in the 3,000 meter run. Salukombo checks in with the NCAC's second-fastest time this year in both the 3,000 and the mile. In the 3K, his time of 8:34.37 is just over a second behind Allegheny's Bobby Over. Both runners could potentially break the conference record of 8:34.04 set in 2008.
In the mile, Salukombo will be going toe-to-toe with Wabash's Kevin McCarthy. The two have gotten familiar racing together at the front of the pack since cross country, and this year's mile should be quite a battle. McCarthy's time of 4:06.58 is the second-fastest time posted in Division III, this year. Salukombo is ranked second in the NCAC at 4:14.35. While Salukombo will compete in these two distance events this weekend, it is likely that he will only run the 5,000 meters at the NCAA Championship next week.
For the women's team, sophomore sprinter Tiffany Davis has opened plenty of eyes this season with her ever-improving times in the 60 and 200 meter dashes. Davis leads the conference in both events and her time of 7.81 seconds in the 60 is .33 seconds faster than the second-place entry from Wittenberg.
FitzPatrick has been pleased with the progress displayed by Davis so far.
"She has been focused and committed this year and I think she has found a little bit of structure. I can't take much credit in what she's done. It's been more about her starting to believe in herself and just gaining confidence. She's been great in the 60 and the 200 but we really think that the 400 in the outdoor season might be her best event."
FitzPatrick and the Denison coaching staff have placed an emphasis on looking at the track and field season as one long season, rather than separating it between indoor and outdoor. In that way, this conference championship is just the midpoint to a season that is all about developing the talent that is here, and rebuilding through recruiting for the future.
"We have some defined goals set for this meet and we are going to try hard to achieve them," stated FitzPatrick. "This is a process and we all understand that it's not going to happen overnight."
Joining Salukombo in the hunt for points on the men's side will be junior Chad Kosanovich who is ranked eighth in the 800 meters and fourth in the mile at 4:19.31. Alexander Chappars will run the 3,000 meters and the 5,000 meters while Jonathan Brachna will also be in the mix in the 800. Senior sprinter Chris Roth is seeded seventh in the 60 meter dash with a time of 7.18 seconds and he will also run the 200 meter dash for the first time this year in preliminaries.
In field events, senior Wendell Taylor leads Denison's chances in the shot put and the weight throw. Taylor is third in the shot with a season-best distance of 13.54 meters. He checks in 11th in the weight at 11.70 meters.
One area where DU can leapfrog some teams in the standings could be in the relays and for that to happen, Denison senior Win Fox will need to have a strong meet. Fox will only appear in the 4x200, the 4x400 and the Distance Medley Relay so his relay legs and exchanges will be critical.
Moving back to the women's side, current NCAC Distance Runner of the Week Michelle Clark is seeded fourth in the 3,000 meters after her time of 10:40.27 in last weekend's Denison Last Chance meet. Clark will be flanked by plenty of Maroon and Gold in the race as eight of the top-11 runners in the 3K are from Oberlin College.
In the 800 meters, senior Ani Mutafova is fifth in 2:24.10 and Emily Siskind could also battle for points in the race. Another DU runner on the verge of scoring is freshman Abbi Boss who is eighth in the mile at 5:25.24.
The 2012 NCAC Indoor Track and Field Championship will begin on Friday with field events starting at 2 p.m. and running events set to start at 4:30 p.m. A live video stream of the championship will be provided by Wabash College along with live results.