Courtesy: Larry Johnson (GoVandals.net)
|Idaho WXC hunts for No. 3|
MOSCOW, Idaho – Vandal women’s cross country enters the 2012 season with high expectations and the talent and mentality to match it.
The Vandal core group of juniors Hannah Kiser, Alycia Butterworth, Emily Paradis and Holly Stanton – the team has no seniors – knows nothing but winning. The quartet helped lead Idaho to a 2010 Western Athletic Conference title as freshmen and all four finished in the top 19 last year as sophomores for the 2011 title.
Entering 2012, the mission is clear and the path is known. This team expects to win its third in a row, and the upperclassmen have already emphasized that point to the newcomers.
“We just straight up told them that we’ve already won two titles and that we expect to keep winning,” Butterworth said. “They’ve definitely already shown with their dedication to this team during training how they are also committed to that.”
Idaho director of track and field/cross country Wayne Phipps, who enters his 17th year at Idaho and 13th in charge of the program, said he likes where the team is mentally, but he’s even more impressed at how the group is preparing physically.
“The women come in with a little bit of a swagger and maybe a little cockiness – but in a good way,” Phipps said. “The great thing about this group is that they know what it takes and they know nothing is going to be handed to them. They’re taking that confidence into training and working harder knowing that other teams are going to be gunning for them.”
The expectations surrounding the team have been felt outside of Moscow, too. The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association slotted Idaho’s women 14th in the West Region among Pac-12, Big West and WAC programs in its preseason regional rankings.
“Any time you can be in the top 15 in this region, it’s a great accomplishment,” Phipps said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done to maintain that spot or finish higher, but it’s nice to be recognized for our previous work and it’s a nice prediction of where we could finish later in the year.”
To achieve the trifecta of team titles, Idaho’s women will accomplish a feat only repeated six times in Vandal athletic history. Men’s cross country was the first Idaho team to win at least three consecutive conference titles when that group won five in a row in the Pacific Coast Conference from 1937-41, while the most recent three-peat was men’s outdoor track and field from 1995-97 in the Big Sky Conference.
Leading the charge will be Kiser, an individual NCAA qualifier last season and one of just two women in Idaho athletics history to qualify for the NCAA Championships in cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field. She was a USTFCCCA Second-Team All-American in the 3000m indoors and holds the WAC record at that distance. She’ll try to improve upon her individual runner-up finish from last season’s conference championship meet.
Butterworth was the 2012 WAC outdoor champion in the 3000m steeplechase and had a breakout 2011 cross country campaign during which she finished in Idaho’s top three at every meet and took fifth at the WAC Championships for First-Team All-WAC honors.
Paradis was Idaho’s second finisher and fourth overall at the 2011 WAC Championships for her first career First-Team All-WAC honor. After her standout cross country season, she suffered a bout of illness during the track and field season and redshirted both indoors and outdoors. She returns in 2012 healthy and eager for a repeat performance.
Stanton was the WAC runner-up in the steeplechase behind Butterworth last season and barely missed NCAA qualification in the event. She finished 19th at the WAC Championships and was one of the team’s most improved runners outdoors.
In just two seasons at Idaho, the group has already pulled in an impressive haul of a combined one All-America honor, five NCAA individual bids, seven individual WAC titles, 16 First-Team All-WAC honors and two Second-Team All-WAC honors.
Phipps said that level of success and experience has helped mold the group into a strong core of leaders for the team’s incoming young talent.
“They came in and made an immediate impact as freshmen and they had some great role models to whom they could look up,” Phipps said of the returners. “They’ve been able to do a great job of gradually taking over the leadership roles, on and off the field.”
The 2012 Vandal newcomers come in with some impressive accolades of their own. Freshmen Stephanie Rexus and Marquita Palmer headline the group, which also includes walk-ons who are showing ability early on.
While at Kamiakin High School (Kennewick, Wash.), Rexus was a two-time Washington 3A All-State runner and led KHS to consecutive state fourth-place finishes – a first in program history. She was among the state’s top distance runners both as a junior and senior.
Palmer, who represents Weiser High School (Weiser, Idaho), is the fastest 800m runner in Idaho high school history at all divisions. As a senior in 2012, she won the Idaho 3A state titles in the 800m, 1600m, 3200m and triple jump to lead WHS to a state runner-up finish. She was the 2009 Idaho 3A state cross country champion and the 2008 and 2011 state runner-up.
The freshman class also includes two in-state walk-ons, Halie Raudenbush of Timberline High School (Boise, Idaho) and Kayla Eriksen of Caldwell High School (Caldwell, Idaho), as well as Alexandra Sciocchetti of Fort Bragg High School (Fort Bragg, Calif.). Junior Jeannie Castell of Boise, Idaho, joins the team after transferring from Humboldt State University.
“I see a very similar pattern to what happened two years ago,” Phipps said. “We brought in a strong group of freshmen who made an immediate impact within the first few weeks, and that’s exactly what these newcomers are doing, which is very impressive.”
In Idaho’s first action this weekend, Phipps said he expects to send mostly a young group to the Clash of the Inland Northwest at Spokane, Wash., which will feature runners from Washington State, Gonzaga, Eastern Washington and Whitworth, in addition to the Vandals.
“You don’t want their first collegiate race to be somewhere like the Sundodger Invitational where they’re surrounded by nationally-ranked teams,” Phipps said. “This race will allow them to get their first race in and build some confidence. I think they’re very prepared for it physically, and it’s just a matter of getting prepared mentally.
“I think this will be a nice stepping stone toward the more important races down the road.”