|WAC Championships await|
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MOSCOW, Idaho - The University of Idaho track and field team departs for Hawai'i this week hoping to continue its string of top performances at the Western Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships, which runs Tuesday through Friday.
The Vandals might be hard-pressed to duplicate last outdoor season's haul of 13 individual titles and three individual postseason awards, but Idaho director of track and field Wayne Phipps says he anticipates plenty more strong performances from the young squad.
"I think we have a number of top individuals, and in terms of depth, we probably don't have enough to challenge for team titles, but we're looking to earn as many all-conference and get as many individual championships as we can," Phipps said. "I feel like we have an opportunity to win a lot of events at this meet."
Three Idaho juniors who claimed 2010 outdoor WAC titles return this week in Markus Geiger (men's 10,000m), Lauren Schaffer (women's 800m) and Gabby Midles (women's hammer throw), while five more Vandals who claimed gold in 2009 will also compete for Idaho.
To those season vets, add in a handful of upstarts who put their stamps on the indoor season and expect to challenge on the open-air track, as well.
Freshman Hannah Kiser and sophomore Liga Velvere helped lead Idaho's distance medley relay to gold at the 2011 WAC Indoor Championships, then Kiser cruised to an individual crown in the 3000m and Velvere grabbed the 800m title.
Kiser enters the meet with the WAC's top 5000m time and the second-best 1500m time this year, while Velvere is the only athlete in the conference to dip under one minute in the 400m hurdles and also has the third-fastest 800m entry time.
Sophomore Keli Hall and junior Anna Kalbrener also claimed indoor gold on the women's medley relay and both have shown significant improvement in their individual events throughout the season.
"I've been really impressed with our new and young people and we've had a so many outstanding individual performances that it's been really exciting," Phipps said.
On the men's side, the distance duo of Geiger and junior Barry Britt will be on display. After the two earned first-team all-WAC honors in cross country, Geiger went on to score 28 points and win the 5000m title while claiming Indoor Track Co-Performer of the Year honors. Britt redshirted indoors while he represented Canada's senior national men's cross country team at the NACAC and World Cross Country Championship meets.
Both runners enter the week ranked among the top of the WAC in the 5000m and should also challenge for the 10,000m crown.
Four-time WAC champion Lucas Pope highlights Idaho's field performers, as the senior looks to grab his third career outdoor title in the pole vault. Pope won the 2008 and 2009 titles before redshirting in 2010 and will look to extend Idaho's streak to four-consecutive men's pole vault champions.
Senior Eugenio Mannucci has two runner-up finishes and two WAC titles in the men's shot put, and he'll try to reclaim his crown in what should be one of the better individual events at the meet.
The WAC's three top shot putters, Mannucci, Utah State's Joe Canavan and Louisiana Tech's Larry Jones, rank 24th through 29th in the NCAA in the event and have just 5.5 inches separating their season bests.
Junior Andrew Blaser is making his first WAC outdoor appearance since 2009 and first overall WAC meet since the 2010 indoor season. He earned four all-WAC honors at the 2010 indoor meet, and Phipps said he thinks Blaser could be even better this time around.
"Last time Andrew compete for us, he had an amazing meet, and he's a lot better now than he was then," Phipps said. "It wouldn't surprise me for him to be our top scorer and be an all-WAC kid in three or four events."
The weather in Hawai'i is slated to be sunny and warm all week, and while his team has been training in colder-than-usual local conditions this season, Phipps said he doesn't expect the heat to be too much of a factor with the Vandal athletes.
"They just need to keep doing what they've been doing all year," Phipps said. "They've competed really well in all conditions and if they compete as they have all year, we'll be just fine. When we went to the Mt. SAC Relays it was 90 degrees, and that was the best meet we had all year long."
Blaser opens up the week for Idaho in the men's decathlon, which runs Tuesday and Wednesday. The full individual portion of the meet starts on Thursday and finishes up on Friday.