OXFORD, Ohio - After a month and a half off between meets, the Miami University women's track and field team returns to indoor action Friday and Saturday at the Gladstein Invitational, held at Indiana University's Gladstein Fieldhouse, for its second meet of the season.
The Gladstein Invitational gets underway Friday at noon with the pentathlon, which features redshirt junior Ashley Zaper (Whitehouse, Ohio), while the first field event is the shot put and pole vault at 4 p.m. Action on the track heats up at 4:45 p.m. with the 3000m run while day one concludes at 8:40 p.m. with the 5000m run. On Saturday, the meet resumes at 11 a.m. with the weight throw and long jump in field events while the first track event is the 200m dash, also at 11 a.m. The invitational concludes at 2:45 p.m. with the 4x400m relay.
Miami will face a large field at the meet, including Ohio State, Louisville, South Florida, Marshall, Butler and Tennessee State, in addition to the host Hoosiers, along with local rivals Cincinnati, Dayton and Xavier. Mid-American Conference foes Ball State and Toledo will also be represented at the meet.
The RedHawks got a preview of what's to come in their season-opening meet Dec. 1 at the Mastodon Opener in Fort Wayne, Ind. Miami won 10 of 16 events while competing against a much smaller field than it'll see this weekend at Indiana.
"I would say some of our throwers were ahead of where we thought they would be right now. Sam Gable looked really good in her events," head coach Kelly Phillips said. "Certainly, Erica Mudd and Ashley Zaper did well in the high jump. They have always had the talent, but we weren't expecting them to do as well as they did this early."
After a fifth-place finish at last year's MAC Indoor Championships, Miami is looking to improve on that finish this year, if not capture the RedHawks' first indoor MAC title in program history. Miami lost several key contributors from last year, including 400m dash school record-holder Rachael Clay and 200m dash record-holder Diona Graves (she will compete outdoors, however). Although the 'Hawks return many strong juniors and seniors, freshmen will be counted on heavily if Miami is to make a run at a MAC title.
"We have a lot of freshmen and are expecting a lot from them, but they are really good. The talent level has increased a lot," Phillips said. "The MAC has gotten a lot better, which is great for our conference, but we need to keep rising to the occasion and bringing good kids in. We are getting the right recruits so we are going in the right direction (toward winning a title)."
One area that the RedHawks are most improved in is in the distance events. After consisting of nearly all freshmen last year, the distance group has another year under their belt and is the deepest group on the team, according to Phillips. From a talent standpoint, Miami's strength is likely in the sprints, however it's not as deep as the distance events.
Leading the charge in the sprints and hurdles will be senior Layne Baggett (Pittsburgh, Pa.), who is a two-time Second-Team All-MAC performer indoors and a two-time MAC champion in the 100m hurdles outdoors. She ranks second in school history in the 60m hurdles indoors and won the event at the Mastodon Opener to start the year. Phillips said Baggett is in great shape and will be expected to do a lot.
Sophomores Charlotte Myers (Bexley, Ohio) and Gretchen Walter (Piqua, Ohio) have shown great improvement from last year and will also be leaders in the sprints. Freshman Kala Allen (East Amherst, N.Y.) is another addition to the sprints group that will make the team even better. She won the 600m run at the Mastodon Opener in her first collegiate competition.
"Kala is very focused and excited. She is probably the most talented person, right now, as a freshman," Phillips said. "Walter looks a lot better this year, she is coming into her own. She is coming around and becoming more of a presence while Myers has a load of talent and she is really, really aggressive."
The RedHawks will be without the services of senior sprinter Katie Scannell (Cortland, Ohio) during indoor season, however, after suffering an injury at the end of outdoor season last year.
Leading the distance group will be sophomore Jess Hoover (Hilliard, Ohio) and senior Monica Fischer (Cincinnati, Ohio). Fischer, who Phillips called a "beast," earned Second-Team All-MAC in cross country in the fall while Hoover missed the honor by one place at the MAC Championship. Fischer won the mile at the Mastodon Opener in December, as well. Another contributor will be sophomore Melissa Girgis (Worthington, Ohio), who's shown great improvement from last year and won the 3000m run at the Mastodon Opener with a personal-best time. Sophomore Taylor Wickware (Geneva, Ill.) won the 800m run at the season-opening meet, as well, and will be strong in the middle distance events.
In the field events, redshirt senior Samantha Gable (Greenfield, Ind.) had a strong showing in her first meet back after redshirting last year while completing an internship. She won the weight throw at the Mastodon Opener with a personal-best throw that ranks her third in school history while finishing third in the shot put, in which she also ranks in the school's all-time top five.
"I think Sam realizes now, after a year off, how important this is to her. She is way more motivated, vocal, and aggressive than she has ever been in the past, which is really fun to watch," Phillips said.
Fellow redshirt senior Alexandra Roberts (Hilliard, Ohio), a four-time Second-Team All-MAC performer in the shot put, won the event at the Mastodon Opener. She holds the school record both indoors and outdoors in the shot put.
Junior Kori Tatman (Amanda, Ohio) started her junior year strong after a breakout sophomore campaign, winning the pole vault at the Mastodon Opener, an event she already ranks second in school history in.
In the high jump, junior Erica Mudd (Cincinnati, Ohio), who won the indoor MAC title as a freshman, will lead the way, as she ranks second in school history in the event. Zaper will also compete well in the high jump but her main focus will be the pentathlon after earning Second-Team All-MAC in the heptathlon outdoors last year. Mudd, who will also be one of Miami's top long jumpers, will join Zaper as a multi-event front-runner.
"They are in a completely different place than they were in a year ago. They will be pretty good this year," Phillips added.
Freshman Jess Baker (Aurora, Ohio) will also contribute in her first year as a RedHawk, providing depth in the high jump.
At last year's Gladstein Invitational, Miami set the 4x400m school record, of which Myers was a part of. Myers also took second in the 400m dash. Baggett placed third in the 60m hurdles and Wickware was the runner-up in the 600m run. Roberts was third in the shot put, as well.
Following the Gladstein Invitational, the RedHawks will split up with some athletes going to the BGSU Team Challenge in Bowling Green, Ohio Friday, Jan. 25 while the rest of the squad will compete at the University of Kentucky's Rod McCravy Memorial in Lexington, Ky. Jan. 25-26.