Head coach Robert Gary gives his thoughts on what the 2011 track and field season has in store for the Buckeyes.
Q: Last season the team finished in the top 3 at the Big Ten championships in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field for the second time in three years. What do you attribute that all-around success to?
A: I think it is a reflection of the whole program, and our commitment to having a balanced team – I don’t think one area has to suffer so we can try and ‘corner’ an area for points and production. The best programs in the country – in most sports – set that level of expectation regardless of injuries, graduation or other mishaps. We all try and hold ourselves accountable.
Q: You are losing a strong core of senior leaders from last season. What do you expect out of your relatively young squad in 2011?
A: Losing great leadership is a concern for any organization. However, we haven’t left the cupboard empty. When we talked through our projections for the conference championships earlier this month, I think we were all surprised to arrive at around the same point total that we expected last year at this time.
I always tell our guys that our top priority is development, not recruiting. The culture of the team and athletic goals in particular are predicated on improvement all the time.
Q: Thomas Murdaugh returns for his third season in Columbus. When all is said and done, do you see him being one of the all-time greats at Ohio State?
A: Thomas made such an incredible jump from his senior year of high school to his freshman year of college that last year [his sophomore season] was probably difficult because everything wasn’t so new for him and those around him. We have an unbelievable list of sprinters just in the last 20 years with Butch Reynolds, Chris Nelloms, Chris Sanders, Andrew Pierce, and so many more, but some of the relay legs that Thomas has run I think certainly make him deserving to be in the ballpark with these Buckeye greats.
Q:With the graduation of six-time All-American Jeff See, who do you foresee as the leader of the distance squad for the upcoming campaign?
A: The distance team this year has a lot of guys who have tasted success over the last couple of years and will grow when we only lose Chad Balyo to graduation after the season. Taylor Williams has been out No. 1/No. 2 in cross country since he started running for us as a freshman. He wasn’t close to being a superstar in high school, so he has that blue collar mentality that our distance program will need. I always like fifth year seniors and what they bring to the table, and Chad already displayed a renewed sense of urgency during the cross country season to end his Buckeye career on a high note.
Q: Matt DeChant made major strides last season, capturing a pair of All-American awards in the shot put. Do you see even bigger things out of him and the rest of the throws team this season?
A: The group of throwers we have right now as sophomores and juniors were a group was a group we redshirted together a couple of years ago. They have grown into themselves and it really culminated last year during the outdoor season. Bryan Bunnell is the only thrower we lose in the next couple of years and he has been as consistent in the javelin at Big Ten’s as any athlete in the program. Matt is certainly the anchor and we hope he can be a bit more vocal in his leading this season, while continuing to post big numbers for us.
Q: Give fans a sense of what some of your incoming freshmen bring to the table.
A: I think Demoye Bogle is going to be a sprinter to watch. He has some big shoes to fill with the loss of Stephen Robinson and Curtis Leuenberger, but watching how competitive he is, I think he will enjoy the challenge. Curt Smith redshirted all of 2010, so I am interested to see what he can contribute in the throws area long with true freshman Dylan Vogt. Jake Hiltner ended his prep career ranked No. 3 in the U.S. in the 800m, so it will be exciting to see how he stacks up in one of the toughest events in the Big Ten. Additionally, we tried to put together a strong pool of potential multi-event athletes – these guys all have a very solid background in the pole vault and we will look for them to really develop this first year.
Ohio State opens the 2011 season this Friday, January 7 at the Buckeye Classic. Events at French Field House begin at approximately 6:00 p.m. with the shot put.