The outdoor season gave the USF men?s and women?s track and field teamsa chance to do something they had not done all year ? compete at home.
The Bulls? only home meet was the Conference USA Outdoor ChampionshipsMay 10-12, where they capped their season in bittersweet fashion. Whilethere were outstanding individual performances by the Bulls in front oftheir home crowd, the favored women?s team finished third in thestandings, while the men?s team was outnumbered by most other squads andplaced sixth.
?I was fairly disappointed with our performance at Conference,? saidjunior distance runner Jen Walczuk. ?I think we (the women?s team)should have won Conference.?
However, USF coach Kelly Phillips saw the championship as the high pointof the men?s outdoor season. Phillips said the focus on moving up theteam standings was unlike past meets.
?Probably, the high point for the men would be Conference because theybonded as a team,? Phillips said. ?And for the first time in a longtime, they ran as a team.?
Two of the men, Jan Erik Salo (3,000-meter steeplechase) and JimmyBaxter (high jump), won gold medals. But they, and everyone else, wereupstaged by senior Kerine Black, who became the first athlete to winfour individual events at a C-USA meet (100 meters, 200 meters, longjump, and triple jump).
Salo, Baxter and Black, along with 10,000-meter runner Tara Quinn, latertraveled to Eugene, Ore., for the NCAA Championships. Salo and Baxterbecame only the second and third male All-Americans in USF history,joining former 5,000-meter national champion Jon Dennis. Salo finishedfifth and Baxter placed sixth.
Quinn placed 14th in the 10,000-meters, while five-time All-AmericanBlack had a sub-par meet, finishing 10th in the triple jump, 14th in thelong jump and failing to advance to the 100-meter final.
Phillips said Black?s performance at the NCAAs did not hurt the formerwalk-on?s standing as the best female track and field athlete ever atUSF.
?She is, by far, the best athlete we?ve ever had,? Phillips said. ?She?snot great at one event ? she?s great in four events.?
Phillips said she was relieved that Salo ended his collegiate career ona good note, after injury problems in the past.
?He?s unfortunately very, very injury-prone,? she said. ?So it was ahuge step to take him through the season healthy.?
Though Black and Salo had numerous highlights throughout the year,Phillips was most impressed by an athlete who did not qualify for theNCAAs ? Amber Delpino. The sophomore broke her right elbow duringtraining for the 400-meter hurdles but still managed to reach the finalof the 400-meters at the C-USA meet.
According to Walczuk, Delpino?s performance was an inspiration to herteammates.
?I remember when Amber Delpino broke her arm and tried competing atConference,? Walczuk said. ?That was an emotional time for the team.?
The Bulls began the season at the Jacksonville Invitational March 3,where five women, including Quinn in the 5,000-meters, won individualevents and Salo took top position in the men?s 5,000-meters. Senior RoryMarsh took second place in the discus, but his throw of 51.10 meters seta school record.
Other important meets that followed were the Raleigh Relays, where Quinnfirst qualified for the 10,000-meters, the Gator Twi-Light inGainesville where Baxter booked his spot in Eugene and the prestigiousPenn Relays, where Quinn bettered her qualifying time by two seconds andSalo qualified for the steeplechase.
Also at the Penn Relays, Jolene Williams won the 5,000-meters, and RitaArndt posted a provisional qualifying time in the steeplechase, thoughnone of her times throughout the season was eventually enough to giveher a place at the NCAAs.
Phillips said camaraderie was a major factor in the team?s goodperformances.
?They?ve just bonded really well,? she said. ?This year, we saw throwerscheering for distance runners. In the past, throwers wouldn?t even knowwhat a distance event was.?
Walczuk said the coaching staff did well to keep the squad motivated,and she commended Phillips for setting high standards for the team.?She sets them high because she knows we can achieve those goals,?Walczuk said.
Phillips said the biggest challenge for her was keeping the team?fresh-minded? throughout the season. But she said the team?s sometimesarduous road trips were made easier by the fact that the Bulls competedvery well.
?For the most part, it?s been easy to travel because they?vebeen successful,? Phillips said. ?It?s easy to travel with a team that?sdoing well.?
Phillips, who vacates her position as head coach June 29, deemed the2001 season a success on balance.
?Overall it went very well,? she said. ?We had a lot of greatperformances and we had the most national qualifiers that we?ve everhad.?