The University of Indianapolis Women’s Track and Field team has wasted no time in asserting itself as one of the nation’s premiere teams. They are currently ranked 8th in the nation, as of Reflector print time after jumping over 40 spots.
Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Scott Fangman said that this came as a surprise because he was not expecting such an emergence of talent on the women’s side.
According to Fangman, there are a number of reasons for the jump in ranking. One primary factor is the physical shape of the athletes when they returned after the summer.
“The physical fitness that they came in [with] this year is probably the best we’ve ever had,” Fangman said. “I think it might just be a lifestyle for them now.”
Fangman said he is pleased with the widespread dedication to fitness, as well as the number of women who stepped up in their individual events, ultimately leading to great success for the whole team. While emphasizing that the success is due to the depth and contributions from women across the board, he said there are a few who have done particularly well this year.
Fangman said that junior distance runner Lauren Bailey has exceeded expectations. She is second in the nation for the 3000 meters after running a time of 9:28:24 at the Meyo Invitational on Feb. 9.
She is also second in the nation for the 5000 meters after running a time of 16:17:70 in the 5000 meters at the Grand Valley State University Holiday Open on Dec. 6.
Fangman said that high jumpers junior Taylor Strnad and senior Deju Miller also have performed well, in addition to hurdler Keri Ertel, a rising conference leader, and pole vaulter sophomore Brittney Clark, who is ranked 14th in the nation.
Although there have been many returning contributors to this year’s women’s track team,
sophomore sprinter Sheniya Brown from University of Southern Indiana and sophomore distance runner Berenice Cleyet-Merle from California Baptist University are two who are providing benefit to the team, according to Fangman. He said they have been a pleasant surprise.
Brown broke a 17 year school record in the 60-meter on Jan. 1, posting a time of 7.72 seconds, shaving .12 seconds off the record set by Tiffany Turner in 2003, according to UIndy Athletics.
She said she did not think she would break the record this early in the year.
She said that prior to this race, she was feeling great physically and was confident she could break the record during that meet. She also said that she likes to keep a clear mind, prior to and during her races to help her perform to her best ability.
According to Fangman, Cleyet-Merle’s contributions have proven to be helpful because she currently holds the fastest mile time in the nation.
Her top spot in the country was earned on Jan. 25 when she ran a 4:46.06 mile at the Tom Hathaway Distance Classic. Since then she has shaved off another 6 seconds, running a 4:40:49 mile just 2 weeks later on Feb. 9 at the Meyo Invitational.
Cleyet-Merle credits her success in part to her unique training background, in comparison to the training regimen of her competitors.
She said that while living in Europe, she made sprint training on a regular basis a priority, as opposed to long-distance runners in the U.S., who train almost exclusively in long distances. In addition to long-distance training, she said her sprint training has given her extra speed.
Although the women’s team is off to a hot start, they have their eyes focused on the big picture. Cleyet-Merle said that if the entire team performs well it has the ability to win the national championship. According to Fangman, the expectations for this team are clear.
“Our expectations have never changed. We expect the expectations to be what they have been historically,” Fangman said. “My goal is always to finish nationally in the top 10%, I really prefer top 5% and then for the conference, we have to be first or second.”
They will compete at the GLVC championships Feb. 29 at the UIndy Arc.