The University of Georgia track and field 2017 season jumped off to a running start on January 7th with the Orange and Purple Classic in Clemson, SC for the men’s and women’s teams. Here is a rundown of the team and events.
Petros Kyprianou has his sights set on another tremendous year for the Bulldogs in his second season as UGA’s head coach. If the last four years are a sign of Georgia’s success to come, Kyprianou will again be pleased when his teams wrap up their indoor and outdoor seasons and finally return to Athens from Oregon on June 11.
Last year, the Bulldogs combined to tally a school-record five NCAA individual titles, 17 First Team All-America certificates and seven Southeastern Conference crowns en route to a pair of third-place national finishes for the women’s team.
Since 2013, the Lady Bulldogs have accumulated 14 NCAA titles and 19 SEC championships while finishing in the country’s top 10 seven out of eight times, including six top-five rankings. The Georgia men have notched two national individual championships and 12 SEC titles during that span and have finished in the top 20 four times, including a program-best sixth-place finish in 2014 outdoors.
The good news for Georgia is that many of their point scorers from the last couple of seasons return in 2017. Even better news for the Bulldogs is that both teams have added more high-caliber firepower for the coming campaigns.
Guided by Kyprianou and his assistant, Tatijana Jacobson, Georgia has been associated with the nickname “JumpsU” following their recent success in the high, triple and long jumps. Junior Keturah Orji is back after finishing three centimeters from a bronze medal in the triple jump at the 2016 Olympics (third place was top U.S. finish ever in the event) with an American record jump of 48 feet, 3 ¼ inches. Orji, a steady All-American in the long jump as well, swept the SEC meets last year for the second consecutive year in the triple and also won her second and third NCAA triple crowns thanks to a collegiate record outdoors.
Two high jumpers in Tatiana Gusin (senior indoors, junior outdoors) and junior Mady Fagan give the Lady Bulldogs’ another loaded lineup in the high jump. A team captain, Gusin is a three-time All-American, coming as close as second place at last year’s indoor Nationals, and is back healthy after redshirting the 2016 outdoor season. Fagan turned her runner-up finish at last year’s SEC Indoor Championships into a win at the outdoor conference meet. A month later, the California native left the NCAA Outdoor Championships with a runner-up finish.
Orji stole the show in the triple jump last year, and she will be aiming to team up with junior Aliyah Johnson on the podium in 2017. Johnson (sophomore outdoors) has surpassed 43 feet outdoors in the triple and took 10th at last year’s outdoor Nationals.
While senior Kendell Williams will make her largest impact in the multi-events, the Marietta, Ga., native was fifth in the long jump at last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships to help the Lady Bulldogs score a school record 45 points at the meet.
Perhaps one of the biggest boosts to the Lady Bulldogs’ roster will be Iowa State transfer Kate Hall. The sophomore set the national high school and American Junior long jump records during her high school days in Maine. In 2016, Hall finished second in the long jump and fourth in the 60-meter dash at her first Big 12 Indoor Championships and then redshirted the outdoor season before transferring. She competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials over the summer, reaching 21-7.50 in her top effort.
Gone from the lineup are three-time NCAA high jump champion and 2016 Olympian Leontia Kallenou and six-time First Team All-American and 2016 NCAA outdoor long jump champion Chanice Porter.
Seven of Georgia’s NCAA individual crowns since 2014 have come in the multi-events – and Kyprianou and Jacobson are aiming to add to that hardware. Kendell Williams has developed into one of Georgia’s all-time greats in just three years and has trained tirelessly to improve her reputation to greater lengths in 2017. Three times she has traveled to the NCAA Indoor Championships and three times she has come back to UGA’s campus with a collegiate record and a national championship in the pentathlon, most recently scoring 4,703 last year. This year, Williams hopes to become the first competitor in history to win four NCAA pentathlon titles.
Outdoors, Williams captured the 2014 NCAA heptathlon title as a freshman, was second two years ago and returned to the top of the podium in 2016 with a heroic victory. She is preparing to defend her championship outdoors after setting a school record (6,402) at the U.S. Olympic Trials and representing America at the Rio Games over the summer.
Kendell’s older brother, Devon Williams, is also a senior this year after redshirting in 2014. Williams, who set an SEC Indoor Championships meet record in the heptathlon long jump with a mark of 25 feet, 3 ¼ inches last year, was a 2015 First Team All-American in the heptathlon indoors and was ninth in the decathlon (one spot out of scoring) at last year’s NCAA Outdoor Championships. Overcoming a couple injuries early in his career, Williams hit the Olympic standard of 8,116 for third place in the decathlon at last year’s SEC outdoor meet before taking fifth at the U.S. Trials.
Devon’s training partner in 2017 is junior Karl Saluri, who was the only competitor on the Georgia men’s team last year to score and earn First Team All-America honors at both NCAA meets. Saluri reached his 2016 indoor pinnacle by scoring a personal heptathlon record of 5,856 to take seventh at the NCAA Championships. Outdoors, Saluri, who also represented Estonia in the Olympics, exploded for his Olympic standard (8,108) to win last year’s Bulldog Decathlon and was also seventh at the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Georgia’s newest addition in the multi-events is freshman Louisa Grauvogel from Germany. Grauvogel was a top-five finisher at World Juniors and also a bronze medal winner at the World Youth Championships.
The Bulldogs will have to fill big shoes from the departed trio of Maicel Uibo, Garrett Scantling and graduate transfer Xenia Rahn from 2016. Uibo was a four-time SEC champion, two-time NCAA champion and six-time First Team All-American in the heptathlon and decathlon. Scantling became the first SEC competitor to win three league heptathlon titles, setting a meet record in 2015, and was a four-time First Team All-American, including his runner-up finish in the heptathlon at the 2015 NCAA indoor meet. Rahn, who came to UGA for a graduate year and single indoor season following her undergraduate career at North Carolina, scored for the Lady Bulldogs in the pentathlon last season as Georgia tallied a program record 45 points for third place at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Traditionally, the Bulldog throwers have showcased their immense talent with an array of SEC crowns, All-America plaques, NCAA championships, international medals and general sustained success. The coming year appears to be more of the same for Georgia and Associate Head Coach/Throws Don Babbitt with a cupboard full of weapons.
Versatile sophomore Denzel Comenentia is one of the Bulldogs’ biggest potential scorers. The Amsterdam native was a First Team All-American in the indoor shot put (63 3 ½ inches) and scored in three different events at the SEC Outdoor Championships, advancing to the NCAA Championships in both the shot and hammer.
Senior captain Alex Poursanidis is in search of both his third conference hammer championship (2014-15) and his second First Team All-America certificate (2014). Finishing one spot out of scoring position the last two years in the hammer nationally, Poursanidis has reached 229-11 each of the last two seasons. His training partner of three years, Alex Larsson, also returns to the lineup after redshirting in 2016. Larsson advanced to both the 2014-15 NCAA Outdoor Championships, has a personal record of 216 feet in the hammer and was fourth at the SEC meet during both of those years.
While she has just an indoor season left, senior Shelby Ashe is driven in 2017 to make an impact at the SEC level and score for Georgia nationally. The national high school record holder in the weight and prep national champion in the hammer has reached 216-8 in the hammer and 67-2.75 in the weight while at Georgia after spending her first two years at Cal-Berkeley.
A pair of Lady Bulldogs made sizable improvements in 2016 and will be back gunning for more in 2017. Senior Asianna Covington (junior indoors) earned runner-up honors in the weight throw (68-1.50) at the SEC indoor meet and then reached 195-8 in the hammer at a home meet before taking fifth at the 2016 SEC Outdoor Championships. Sophomore Hayden Merrick (freshman indoors) finished one spot outside of scoring at last year’s SEC outdoor meet in the discus with an effort of 165-8 and had the best meet of her career outdoors in her final action of the year.
Additionally, for the men, sophomore Joe Kimura Smith returns after winning the 2016 Georgia Relays with a season-best javelin mark of 215-6.
The Lady Bulldogs added freshman Beatrice Llano this year and the native of Norway should be a boost in the hammer and weight. She won the 2016 World Junior Championship in the hammer and comes in with a 222-7 personal-best attempt in the hammer. Another addition for the Georgia women is freshman Tairyn Montgomery, a native of Los Angeles who has a javelin personal record of 168-1.
Georgia will be without the services of 2013 NCAA javelin champion and three-time First Team All-American Freya Jones, who exhausted her eligibility. Two-time SEC shot put champion Ashinia Miller also graduated in December 2016 and will also not be in the Red and Black this year.
The Bulldog sprints are going through revitalization under Associate Head Coach/Sprints & Hurdles instructor Ken Harnden in his second year. Harnden features a talented and experienced corps mixed with the addition of two new standouts on the men’s side. The Lady Bulldogs are composed of a number of highly ranked freshmen with the existing crew.
Seniors Ayrian Evans, Maurice Freeman and Reggie Glover have run at a combined seven NCAA Championships, primarily in relays together since 2014. Evans is in his fifth year with the program and is a 21-second 200m runner and a 47-second 400m runner. Freeman, a former high jumper, burst onto the scene in 2016 with a 45.77 in the 400m and 20.64 in the 200m outdoors. A team captain last year, Glover has posted times of 20.87 in the 200m and 46.77 in the 400m outdoors during his Georgia career.
With junior Raytez Jenkins on the sideline in 2017 as he recovers from an injury, junior Cejhae Greene and sophomore Kendal Williams, who are both Florida State transfers, are expected to make their debuts after redshirting last year. Greene, a native of Antigua, was an Olympic 100m semi-finalist has run 6.64 in the 60m, which earned him third place at the 2015 ACC Championships, and clocked a 10.01 and 20.64 as an unattached competitor at last year’s Spec Towns Invitational. Williams was a U.S. Trials 200m finalist and won that same 2015 ACC meet with a 6.56 in the 60m. He has times of 10.06 and 20.26 on his resume and won 2014 World Juniors in the 100m.
Sophomore Jonathan Raines will also be a relay leg for the Bulldogs and is aiming to improve in his individual events.
The Georgia women have counted on their jumps and multi groups to score a majority of their points in recent years. Now, Harnden has added true freshmen Catherine Reid, Micaiah Ransby, Makenzi Kopp, Amber Tanner and Chelsea Zoller to help get this portion of the team back to Nationals. Reid highlights this group after winning a bronze medalist at the 2015 World Youth Championships.
Junior Katie Stone is the top returning sprinter after advancing to the 2016 NCAA Prelims and ran times of 11.44 in the 100m and 23.67 in the 200m. Another fast addition to the group will be sophomore transfer Kate Hall. Hall, a Second Team All-American in the indoor long jump last year, has run 7.30 in the 60m, which would be the second-best time in school history.
Sophomore Helene Swanepoel, another FSU transfer, is expected to be a weapon in the 400m hurdles and in relays after running on the Seminoles’ 2015 Second Team All-American 4x400m relay team. Junior Sarah Gardner will also add leadership and depth for Georgia.
Former Bulldog runner Patrick Cunniff has directed Georgia’s distance program since the 2012 cross country season. This year, Cunniff will be guiding senior Sid Vaughn and a tested group of runners on the men’s side and junior Morgan Ainslie and a talented trio of true freshmen and others on the women’s roster.
Vaughn, who started his career with Cunniff in 2012, was part of the Bulldogs’ 2013 run to the NCAA Cross Country Championships and was a 2016 NCAA Prelims 10,000m qualifier with his 29:40.64. Vaughn has been just outside scoring at his SEC track meets over his career, including his 14:20.12 5000m run at the 2015 league indoor meet. On the middle distance side, sophomore Jeramey Hampton ran 1:49 both indoors and outdoors last year and was a leg on Georgia’s 4x400m relay team that advanced to the 2016 NCAA outdoor meet.
A mixture of sophomores and juniors will also be expected to make strides this winter and spring. Henry Dwyer, Bryan Kamau, Austin Sprague and Daniel Navarro will be running in a range of events from the 1500m to the 10,000m. Kamau established himself as one of the region’s top distance runners after leading the Bulldogs in all six of their 2016 cross meets, including an All-Region performance to conclude the season. He ran a 4:06.68 in the mile during the 2016 season and also ran a leg on the school record distance medley relay squad (9:43.55) at SECs.
Sprague began his career at Georgia with the 2016 cross season after transferring from Furman. Scoring several times at the Southern Conference meet with the Paladins, Sprague will now aim to score at SEC meets. Navarro scored at this year’s league cross meet and then earned All-Region honors. His goal will be to continue his momentum in the fall to the track.
Redshirt freshman Stephen Martinez, junior Jon Moses and sophomores Terrell Estime and Eric Westog will also provide depth for the Bulldogs.
While it is Ainslie who has run at three SEC indoor and outdoor meets and has the most extensive cross experience for the Georgia women, freshmen twins Jessica and Sam Drop along with fellow first-year runner Yanely Gomez provide the Bulldog faithful with optimism going forward. Jessica, a high school All-American in the mile and two-mile outdoors, led Georgia in five of six fall cross meets, including earning All-Freshman and All-SEC Second Team honors with a 14th-place finish at the conference meet.
Her sister Sam, who ran with Jessica on their All-American DMR team, wrapped up the 2016 cross season by bringing All-Region honors back to UGA with a team-best 17th-place finish at the NCAA South Region. Gomez also scored in all five cross meets she ran in for the Lady Bulldogs in 2016 and will give Georgia another weapon for the years to come.
Junior Devon Artis, who started her career as a sprinter, has now assumed the role as an 800m runner with a time of 2:07.66 outdoors last year and looks to continue her descent closer to the two-minute mark. Additional depth for the longer races will come from junior Hailey Branch, senior Morgan Green and sophomore Addy Lippitt.