With a group of 37 competitors, the Washington and Lee men's track and field team is ready to hit the ground running when it opens the season this weekend at the Liberty Kick Off.
Led by second-year head coach Brandon Uhl, the Generals are coming off a season in which they had two Top 3 finishes at the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Championships, and advanced at least one athlete to both the Indoor and Outdoor NCAA National Championships.
The team will continue to rely on youth this year with only three seniors on the roster in Wayde Marsh, Brian Palmer and Dylan Mills. With a lack of seniors on the rosters, the three junior captains, Kevin Sullivan, Zander Tallman and Kane Thomas, fill the leadership void for the Generals.
"We did captains a little bit different this year than how we've done it in the past," Uhl said. "We have a captain for each event area: one for the sprints with Zander, one for the throws in Kevin and then Kane on the distance side. They all lead by example, and are not afraid to do what it takes to be successful and help others do what is necessary to be successful. We are very fortunate to have those three guys leading us."
The team started practices a little over a month ago, and has been working hard to be ready for when the season opens this weekend.
"I'm really pleased based on the testing we've done in comparison to recent years," Uhl remarked. "We have tested out probably the best that we have in quite some time. If we can translate that to our first competition, we'll be right where we need to be."
In competitions last season, Tallman and junior Dillon Myers led the Generals. Tallman qualified for both the Indoor and Outdoor NCAA Championships, while setting school records in the 200m (21.53) and 400m (47.66), earning four individual ODAC titles and being named the 2012 ODAC Indoor Athlete of the Meet. He was the first W&L competitor to qualify for the Indoor National Championship in 22 years.
Myers advanced to the NCAA Championship meet during the outdoor season in the decathlon. He set a school record with 6,515 points in taking 11th at NCAA's. The all-around competitor also scored in five events at both the Indoor and Outdoor ODAC Championships.
"Dillon and Zander are rocks for us," Uhl said. "They are key pieces and are strong competitors, but they don't let past success define them. They are working just as hard this season to keep getting better."
W&L lost only three athletes to graduation and brings in 13 newcomers. Coach Uhl is looking for the rookies to come in and work hard, while adjusting to competition at the collegiate level.
"This fall, I've seen a lot a great things out of them," Uhl noted. "Some of them have made the transition relatively easily, while others have dealt with some early injuries. With all that said, our expectations for first-years is to have a good experience and stay healthy, and then come back next year stronger."
The Generals will be deep in the sprints and hurdles as they were last season. Along with Myers and Tallman, juniors Parker Howard, Agustin Kim and Mac Keers return for their third seasons. Kim, Howard and Tallman were part of the second-place finishing 4x100m relay at outdoor ODAC's, and Howard was the team's most improved athlete last year.
"We are going to be solid in the sprinting and hurdling events," Uhl said. "We have gotten a lot stronger in both those areas the last few years. In the hurdles, we are going to have four or so guys in the high hurdles when in the past we've only had one."
Washington and Lee is not as deep in the distance events, but Thomas was an ODAC Champion in the 800m his first year.
"In the distance events, we will have key people in certain events led by Kane, but will be looking for some of the first years to step up and contribute for us," Uhl said.
Along with Sullivan, juniors Jordan Yost and Mills and sophomore Eddie Barnes lead the throwers for W&L. Sullivan finished third at ODAC's in the javelin last season, while Mills won the event in 2011. Yost scored in the weight throw at indoor ODAC's and in the hammer throw at outdoor ODAC's. Barnes took six at ODAC's in the discus and seventh in the shot put.
"We are going to have a strong guy in each throwing event," Uhl remarked. "We need a little more depth in each of the events, but what we have right now is quality."
In the jumps, the Generals will rely on Myers along with juniors David Fishman and Jonathan Sells and sophomore Christian Croft. Fishman finished fourth at indoor and outdoor ODAC's in the pole vault, and Sells took fifth in the long jump at indoor ODAC's. Croft placed fourth in the long jump and triple jump at outdoor ODAC's.
"We feel pretty good about the depth that we have in the jumps -- more so than we ever have," Uhl said. "A couple of first-year guys have come on strong this fall, and we have a stout group of returners."
After the Liberty Kick Off this weekend, the Generals will take the rest of December off. The team returns with two competitions in January and three in February, culminating with the indoor ODAC Championship on February 22.
"Leading out of break, we are going every other weekend with each meet building upon itself," Uhl said. "We kind of put people in the events that are going to help us at the ODAC meet, but also put them in other events that will help sharpen them for the events they will ultimately compete in."
In the outdoor season, the Generals host two events with the W&L-VMI Carnival on March 22 and 23, along with the ODAC Championship on April 19 and 20.
"Our guys really respond well to being at home," Uhl said. "There is the comfort in sleeping in your own bed, as well as knowing the confines. You travel to almost every meet in our sport, so when you finally get a home event and some of your friends and family can show up, it gives the athletes a little extra in that competition."
With the indoor ODAC's and the outdoor season still months away, coach Uhl and the team are just ready for the season to start.
"Overall, I'm excited," Uhl said. "On paper, we have probably one of the best teams we've ever had, but there is no such thing as paper champions. So starting this weekend we are going to try and go out at every meet and live up to those expectations."
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