By Karen Rosen
Brenau University athletes were not only the fastest, the strongest and soared the highest at the inaugural Southern States Athletic Conference 2013 women’s track and field championship meet, they were also the most versatile.
The Golden Tigers exceeded all expectations for a first-year program by dominating the six-team meet April 26-27 with 352.5 points, easily outdistancing second-place William Carey University of Hattiesburg, Miss., with 113.
“I think we were all shocked, me included,” said Brenau coach Richard Ludwig, who figured his young team would finish third or fourth.
Ludwig said that while a lot of other schools recruit athletes who are exceptional in one event, “We asked our folks to be multi-eventers – do four, five or six things – not necessarily at national-caliber level, but to be proficient at it.
“That turned out well for us.”
Brenau University, based in Gainesville, Ga., fields 10 women’s teams primarily in the Southern States Athletics Conference the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Brenau launched the track and field team in the 2012-13 year.
Since there is no single “game” in track and field, teams score points based on performances of individuals in each event. The cumulative scores determine where a team places in a meet. Technically, it is possible for a team to win a meeting without winning an event, providing first-place finishers are widely scattered. And, the philosophy underlying Ludwig’s strategy is you can’t score points unless you compete in events.
However, with 21 competitors – mostly freshmen from the state of Georgia – Brenau won 10 of the 18 events in the SSAC meet at Rome, Ga. and also posted 12 second-place finishes and 10 thirds (including two ties between Golden Tigers).
“These young Brenau women proved to be fierce competitors,” said Ludwig. “They scare me a little bit. They hate to lose.”
Brenau Athletics Director Mike Lochstampfor said he was impressed by Ludwig’s ability to maximize points, especially in the sprints and throwing events.
“He knows not only how to recruit, but also how to develop, which is a significant piece of the puzzle,” Lochstampfor said.
Brenau freshman Olamide Sokunbi of Marietta, Ga., was the fastest woman at the meet, winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes. She also won the triple jump, one of the most technical events in track and field, after “a month’s worth of hard work,” Ludwig said. “She was an enthusiastic learner and said, ‘Coach I want to try it.’ It’s so thrilling and exciting for a coach to have athletes willing to do that.”
Sokunbi initially learned the hurdles, but hurt her knee and switched to the triple jump. She also placed eighth in the long jump.
Another Golden Tigers freshman was the high scorer in the throwing events. Alexa Osterloh of Cumming, Ga., won the javelin throw and hammer throw and placed fourth in the discus and sixth in the shot put. She also took on a new event for her, the pole vault, placing second.
“She had the upper body strength and body awareness and willingness to try new things,” Ludwig said. “That’s all it took to be successful.”
The Brenau coach called sophomore Dierdre Duncan of Powder Springs, Ga., “that rare combination of sprinter and thrower, which is wonderful for a track team.” Duncan won the shot put, placed third in the discus, finished fourth in the 200 and ran a fast fifth in the highly competitive 100.
Freshman Moenice Watson of Miami, Fla., competed in an astounding six individual events. She placed second in the long jump and 100-meter hurdles, third in the triple jump, sixth in the 100 and 200 and seventh in the high jump.
“Moenice is one of the most versatile athletes that I’ve ever seen in track and field and the quickest learner,” Ludwig said.
Deishane’ Honeycutt, a freshman from Stone Mountain, Ga., won the 400-meter dash and 400-meter hurdles. After trying the 100-meter hurdles a week before the conference meet, “Boom, she was fifth,” Ludwig said. “She’s a sprinter who actually ran cross country in the fall to get in better shape. That is unheard of.”
Brenau went 1-2-3-4 in the pole vault, led by freshman Megan Dixon of Jasper, Ga., who was also second in the hammer and third in the javelin.
The Golden Tigers fielded the only three competitors in the hammer throw.
“Most of the coaches in our conference come from a distance background,” Ludwig said, “and asking a cross country coach or a distance coach to teach the hammer or pole vault was somewhat foreign to them, but it was what we did well.”
Ludwig was assisted by Kira Niesielowski, a pole vault specialist, and throws coach Ray Lian, while Brenau cross country coach Susan McIntyre was in charge of conditioning.
Most of the cross country team joined the track team, and Ludwig also welcomed athletes from across the Golden Tigers’ athletic programs.
“We wanted to put four athletes in every event and we had a few holes,” Ludwig said, “so we found a volleyball player, Devony Hemingway, who was a great high jumper (fourth place). We found a long jumper, JaNay Hunt, off the soccer team (fourth place) and Kayla Madsen off the soccer team learned the pole vault and was also a wonderful 400-meter athlete (placing fourth in both events).”
Lochstampfor said that although Brenau, with about 850 students, has one of the smaller enrollments in the conference, “in terms of the size of our team and quality of our athletes, it was very evident to all that were there that Brenau has come to compete right away — not to build a program in three or four years.
“I love it for them, and for the team. Whatever success you get in that first year is really critical, not just for team spirit and morale but also from a recruiting perspective to bring in more for next year.”
The Golden Tigers’ only regret was not qualifying any athletes for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Outdoor Track and Field championships later this month. However, the SSAC had very few athletes advance. According to the NAIA, there are 159 participating schools in women’s outdoor track and field, making the qualification standards extremely high.
“I hope that we will move to that next level and qualify a number of athletes to nationals, and at the same time continue to do well at conference,” Ludwig said.
Next year will be soon enough for Athletics Director Lochstampfor.
“If you do everything the first year,” he said, “there’s nothing to shoot for.”
–Karen Rosen is a freelance sports writer in Atlanta.