LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The collection of coveted hardware has never been more impressive than it was last season for the Bellarmine University women's track team and field team.
The Knights earned All-America status with a relay team in both the indoor (4x400) and outdoor (4x100) seasons. Meghan Jones, the most accomplished performer in program history, added another indoor All-American acknowledgement in the 400 meters. Distance maestro Emily Frith, the most decorated cross country student-athlete in Knights history, added second-team outdoor All-America notice in the 5000 and 10000.
"On a national level," said Jim Vargo, Bellarmine's director of cross country and track and field, "it's the most successful season we've had."
Vargo prefaced his statement with "national level" because the Knights captured the Great Lakes Valley Conference Indoor Championships in 2012 and 2013 and placed second at the outdoor conference meet in each of those two seasons. Last year, the Knights placed third at both GLVC competitions.
There's no denying the excitement and sense of accomplishment that comes with a program earning All-America accolades, but that's not the primary element of the Knights' mission.
"Our goal each and every year is to challenge for and hopefully win the GLVC title," Vargo said. "We feel good about being in that mix, but we definitely will have to continue getting the talent and depth that can allow us to compete against those programs (notably Lewis and Indianapolis) that finish in the top of the conference and are some of the better teams nationally."
One of the most intriguing questions surrounding Bellarmine will be if the relay teams can maintain their All-America outputs without the graduated Jones, who earned four All-America awards in her distinguished career and was the GLVC Track Athlete of the Year as a senior in the indoor season and co-honoree for outdoor.
Senior Tori Goodwin and sophomores Meghan Roby and Amanda Schnabel are back from the 4x400 team that placed runner-up at the NCAA Indoor Championships, as is senior Cidnei Johnson, who was a member along with Roby of the 4x100 team that placed seventh at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Sophomore Chandler Cain was the alternate on both squads, and Vargo said freshman Keirra Porter has the ability to make an impact on the relay units.
"Getting back to nationals for those relay teams is certainly something we're striving for and believe is in our grasp," Vargo said. "I think the difference is we won't have one 'star' leader that kind of helps pull the whole team. This year, it's going to be more about each individual that makes up the relay stepping up to that next level and then collectively as a group the four of them can achieve comparable success."
In addition to relays, another primary strength of Bellarmine is the pole vault. Sophomore Bridgette Mangold secured All-GLVC honors in the event in both seasons, and junior Abigail Harris was among the top five both times.
"They certainly give us two of the top pole vaulters in the GLVC and the region," Vargo said. "Both of them narrowly missed making an NCAA provisional last year. We expect both will this year. We anticipate both have a solid chance of making nationals."
In middle/long distance, the Knights graduated Frith and fellow All-GLVC performer Flannery Musk. However, a good sign is that Bellarmine's cross country team was nationally ranked throughout the fall season and shares some top runners in senior Rachel Clemons, sophomores Caitlin Carroll, Erin Crone and Sarah Schuster and freshman Karly Gawarecki.
"It's probably going to be more by committee than having one or two superstars," Vargo said of the middle/long distance contingent. "We've got a good corps that showed great improvement in cross country."
Vargo said the hurdles "looks like another area we should get good points from." Schnabel is an All-GLVC hurdler and Goodwin, Porter and Mangold are all anticipated to vie for points at the conference meet.
As far as throws, senior Courtney McIntyre missed last season's indoor campaign due to injury but returned with a vengeance in outdoor by winning the shot put at the GLVC Championships. The All-GLVC performer is the program's record holder in the shot put and weight throw. Another GLVC title and a potential trip to the NCAA Championships will definitely be on her radar, Vargo said.
Bellarmine has a young but promising crew in the jumps. Porter, who is proving to have a versatile skill set, could also make waves in this area and fellow freshman Yashira Rhymer-Stuart has made a vivid impression on BU's coaching staff, with Vargo saying "we fully expect that she can contend to win the conference this year and make it to the national meet as well."
The middle/long distance group is strengthened by: seniors Ally Conrad, Cindy Kiefer, Olivia Reibel and Melanie Strothman; juniors Erin Denis, Abigail Pongracz, Emily Terry, Taylor Webb and Mariah Young; sophomores Shelbi Dishman, Kyndel Guyton, Lauren Hayden, Laura Neumayer, Chelsey Slayton and Samantha Zuber; and freshmen Megan Line, Daria Ochenkowski and Audrey Sweetland.
Junior Maryashly Betz bolsters Bellarmine's group of hurdlers while junior Leah Wolf does the same in the throws. Freshman Jordyn Milheiser performs multis while juniors Shandrana Burnett (sprints, jumps, multis), Dominique Hunter (mid-distance, hurdles) and Sydney Race (sprints, jumps) compete in a few different events.
Bellarmine's season starts in earnest this weekend at the Kentucky Invitational in Lexington.
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