Georgia track & field teams open the 2015 indoor season at the Auburn Invitational in Birmingham, Ala., on Saturday following stellar 2014 indoor and outdoor campaigns.
The Bulldogs combined for three top-six national team finishes out of four tries at last year’s NCAA indoor and outdoor meets, including the women scoring a school record 40.5 points for third at the NCAA Indoor Championships. The teams also had five individual national champions in 2014, including Kendell Williams and Leontia Kallenou capturing the pentathlon and high jump titles as freshmen, respectively.
The Lady Bulldogs were fourth in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) 2015 preseason poll while the Georgia men were ranked 11th.
“I thought we had a decent year last year and what we want to be this year is consistent,” said Bulldog head coach Wayne Norton, who is starting his 16th year. “If we do this year what we did last year, we will be somewhat happy and satisfied.”
The Auburn meet kicks off with the women’s weight throw at 11:30 a.m. ET, although Georgia’s throwers will not open this weekend. Senior Caleb Ebbets (men’s pole vault) and junior Chanice Porter (women’s long jump) will be first up for UGA at 12 p.m.
Through the offseason training, Norton said his teams have tried to focus on one primary thing.
“We talked during the offseason about staying healthy during our training,” Norton said. “We figure if those people who went to the postseason and did what they did last year, if we get them back to the show this year then we have a very good chance of having those results again. We are trying to maintain our performances and our health and show up when it’s time to show up.”
Saturday’s Auburn Invitational is more than a month from the Southeastern Conference Championships in Lexington, Ky. (February 27-28), and just less than two months from the NCAA Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. (March 13-14). Norton understands his teams will be easing into the indoor season this weekend.
“When we get started in the indoor season, we are really trying to get our feet wet,” he said. “Winning events is good, but what we really want to do is for some of our top people to have some quality marks to show that they are ready to be a factor this year.”
Six scoring First Team All-Americans and all three of the SEC champions from the 2014 indoor season return for Georgia this year. However, Norton may be just as anxious to see a high jumper start her sophomore season after getting a slow start last year indoors.
“Tatiana (Gusin) was here last year, but she really didn’t do what she was capable of,” said Norton. “She came in January and didn’t really jump as well as she had been previously. I think and I am hoping that she will do a lot of great things for us in 2015.”
Who is making the trip for Georgia?
There are 27 women and 16 men scheduled to make the bus ride to the meet on Friday. Sixteen of those have never competed for Georgia on the track after joining the team either this fall or in January (Aliyah Johnson). For the women, Morgan Ainslie, Devon Artis, Natalie Bordes, Hailey Branch, Allie Castro, Quintunya Chapman, Victoria Coppage, Rachael Doverspike, Holly Ebbets, Mady Jean Fagan, Tatiana Gusin, Ashley Henry, Lauren Hovis, Johnson, Marrion Kalafut, Kallenou, Brooke Koblitz, Morgann Leleux, Addy Lippitt, Kate Northrop, Keturah Orji, Chanice Porter, Ashley Powell, Molly Schenck, Georgia Stefanidi, Katie Stone and Williams are expected to compete.
Drew Branch, Caleb Ebbets, Ayrian Evans, Reggie Glover, Christian Harrison, Jimmy Hicks, Brendan Hoban, Raytez Jenkins, Bryan Kamau, Jon Okoye, Garrett Scantling, Kisean Smith, Maicel Uibo, Sid Vaughn, Eric Westog and Devon Williams will be representing the Bulldog men.
They’re Baaaaack . . .
Bowerman Trophy Watch List member Kendell Williams headlines a group of returning Bulldogs competing in Birmingham. Williams followed up a runner-up finish in the pentathlon at the SEC Indoor Championships as a true freshman with a collegiate record performance at the NCAA meet. The Marietta, Ga., native scored 4,635 to establish a new No. 1 all-time collegiate mark. Williams will be in the 60-meter hurdles (1:40 p.m.) and the high jump (4 p.m.) on Saturday. Her senior teammate and roommate Quintunya Chapman was eighth at SECs last year in the multis and is back for her final year, starting with the hurdles and long jump (12 p.m.).
In the men’s multis, junior Maicel Uibo, junior Garrett Scantling and sophomore Devon Williams are all back and will be competing in the 60 hurdles (1:55 p.m.), pole vault (12 p.m.) and shot put (5:30 p.m.) in Birmingham. Uibo is the defending SEC heptathlon champion and was second at last year’s NCAA Championships. Scantling, who won the 2013 SEC heptathlon title and was third at NCAAs that year, and Williams both redshirted last indoor season.
Other 2014 NCAA indoor scorers for the Lady Bulldogs who will be starting their season this weekend are sophomore Leontia Kallenou, junior Chanice Porter and senior Morgann Leleux. Kallenou swept the SEC and NCAA indoor and outdoor meets last year and is high jumping at 4 p.m. while Porter, who won the 2013 SEC indoor long jump title as a freshman, was second at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships and is scheduled to high jump (4 p.m.), long jump (12 p.m.) and run in the 60 (1 p.m.). Leleux is in the hunt for her fourth First Team All-America certificate and her fourth SEC crown (second indoors) and will pole vault at 3:30 p.m.
Also for the men, senior Nick Vena missed out on scoring at last year’s NCAA Indoor Championships by one spot. He later surged into a third-place finish at the NCAA outdoor meet and he will be going in the shot put at 5:30 p.m.
Aiming For Two Straight At Auburn Invite
Two Georgia team members return to this meet as defending champions. Kallenou jumped 6 feet, 2 inches to open 2014 and grab the top collegiate finish (behind former Lady Bulldog Levern Spencer who cleared 6-3.25). Leleux held off a pair of Alabama competitors to win the pole vault outright after reaching 13-11.25. Also, Carly Hamilton approached her own school record with a 9:21.88 to take second in the 3000 with the Lady Bulldogs’ fastest time in the event all year.
Who will be joining the Bulldogs?
Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, Alabama, Samford, Tennessee, Mississippi, Ohio State, LSU, Georgia Tech and Southern Mississippi, among several other smaller teams, will be squaring off on Saturday.
Auburn is hosting this meet at the CrossPlex facility near downtown Birmingham. The CrossPlex provides a closer facility for Auburn, Georgia and other schools in the area who do not have an indoor competition track a place to compete during the winter months. There is a 200-meter hydraulically banked track that the Bulldogs have competed at to start their 2013 and 2014 seasons after it opened in 2011. The CrossPlex will also host the 2016 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Live and full results and a recap from the Auburn Invitational will be located at georgiadogs.com. Updates from this meet and throughout the season will be posted on Twitter at @UGA_XCTF.