COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio State women’s track and field team begins its 2009 season this Saturday at nearby Capital University. The 2009 Rev. Mike Hout Inviational will take place at the Capital Center in Bexley, Ohio. Field events are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. followed by the running events at 5 p.m.  

Q&A with head coach Karen Dennis

Head coach Karen Dennis gives her thoughts on the strong finish to last season, her veterans, a talented group of newcomers and her overall expectations for 2009 and beyond.

Your team had a strong stretch run to the 2008 season, both at the Big Ten Championships and at the NCAA’s. How important was your team’s finish?  Does it give the team more to shoot for in 2009?
“We’re gratified with last year’s accomplishments but not at all satisfied. Our spring season achievements gives us confidence going into 2009. We were led by some really talented seniors who capped off their careers as Big Ten champions. Our younger team members benefited from their example and also excelled in our team effort.

“Tying for the most All-Americans at the national championships and establishing school records and first-time accomplishments’ is not only rewarding, but challenges us to continue to excel as a team.”

So after losing some key seniors, what veterans are you looking to this season for leadership and consistency?
“We will look to senior Ayrizanna Favours to keep our sprint area on the championship podium. Juniors that should continue to keep us strong in the sprint and hurdle areas are Big Ten champion Bever-Leigh Holloway and All-American Ashley Caldwell. Letecia Wright rapidly matured last year in both hurdles and sprints.

“We will look for improved performances from junior Sarah Foster in both cross country and track and expect Sarah to break into scoring position in the 10k. We also expect sophomore Alana Gray to continue to improve in the multi-event area and become a national qualifier.  We’re also looking to sophomore Chelsea James to step up in the jumps area.”

Letecia Wright had an outstanding freshman season. What are you looking for out of her in year two?
“To use year one as a stepping stone. Letecia was hurt during the outdoor season and unable to really sprint up to her potential. If she is healthy, she should be a factor in not only the short hurdles, but the 400m hurdles and 200m dash. As good as last year was I don’t think we have seen the best from Letecia.  She has tremendous up side.”

Now looking at this season, what other newcomers do you think can have an immediate impact in 2009?
“We have several women whom I think will provide an immediate impact.  Our entire jumps group could be a factor in the conference.  We have Alison Roquet from Belgium who is experienced in horizontal and vertical jumps. We brought in Maggie Mullen who is an accomplished javelin thrower from Canada.  We have with us the Ohio Division I state long jump champion in Bridget Jacobs and third-place finisher Kelsey McKinney. We also have the Division II state high jump champion Ashley Galbraith. Christina Manning rounds out our young group of field event personnel. And we have several other jumpers who have walked onto our program that could develop quickly as they train with other strong jumpers. All these young women I think will make an impact right away.

“Our sprint core will have impact from the Ohio Division I state 400m runner up Shaniqua McGinnis. Shaniqua is joined by junior college transfer Latoya Sanderson and together should keep our All-American 4x400m relay squad strong. Maryland state 100mh champion Christina Manning, Ohio 300mh runner up Kelsey Kuzmic and Jewelissa Thompson will all reinforce our hurdle crew.”

The Big Ten outdoor championships are now being held in Columbus. How excited is the team to be competing at home in that event?
“We were hoping to have another year or so to continue to build this young team before we hosted the Big Ten championships. With our accepting the meet from Iowa, it gives the year even more importance.  I think hosting the meet will give our young women something to both look forward to as well as a goal to share as a team. Everybody wants to look good at home in front of family and friends. A Big Ten at home opportunity is often missed by many student-athletes.  We’re excited and hopeful.”

Now entering your third season as head coach, are you pleased with the progress your team has made and what are your ultimate goals for the track program?
“I feel as if we are making progress toward our ultimate goal of winning a Big Ten championship. Our early struggles are beginning to change as we have provided depth and diversity to our roster in event areas where we’ve had no representation over the past few years. I’m realistic enough to know it takes time. Yet I am confident and hopeful that our talented young group will make us proud. 

“We need consistency and time to create a tradition of excellence in our program.  As we continue to improve we will attract additional talent to our team. We’re not there, but we are certainly on the right track.”