SCU Track's Inaugural Season in the Books

May 24, 2005

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Only six months removed from its inception last December, the Santa Clara University track team in it's inaugural season exceeded initial expectations and provided a solid foundation of success from which to build upon for the future.

The track program was conceived on the heels of a string of successful cross country seasons. The new track team was formed for two primary purposes: to afford Bronco student-athletes opportunities to qualify and compete for NCAA championships in middle- to long-distance events and to serve as a means for runners to capitalize on valuable year-round training. The spring track season bridges the gap between the end of cross-country season in November and the start of a new season in September.

"The idea actually began with John Maloney, the previous cross country coach," said current head coach Tom Service. "The lack of a track program in the spring, or what some referred to as `Track-Lite' since we only had a few distance events to compete in, was causing us to lose quality runners. We organized a new plan for a track program to give our runners a broader range of events and also to enhance our distance program, and [new Athletic Director] Dan Coonan was all for it. Our original hope was to get the program up and running for 2006, but things worked themselves out much faster."

Made up of approximately 30 men and women, the Santa Clara track team began its inaugural campaign on March 10, 2005 at the Aggie Track and Field Classic in Davis, Calif. The Bronco thinclads made a worthy impression on the oval that first day, highlighted by the re-emergence of sophomore Shannon Bell, who was making her return to competition after missing the previous 15 months due to injury. Bell posted the Broncos' highest finish of the day, a second-place effort in the 5,000 meters, supplemented by additional top-10 finishes by sophomore Jessica Baldwin-Phillippi and junior Kiley Strong.

For the men, five Bronco runners finished in the top 11 in the 1,500 meters, led by freshman Chris Furnari's sixth-place effort. Sophomore Taylor Graham posted two top-10 finishes on the day with a tenth-place effort in the 1,500 and an eighth-place finish in the 800-meters. The strong performances by both the men's and women's teams, in addition to Bell's emphatic return made the day a successful debut for Santa Clara's newest program.

"Being out for 15 months made me appreciate running and competing more than I ever knew I could," Bell said. "It felt incredible to be back and running with my teammates again. I definitely had the advantage of 15 months of pent-up energy in me, so that helped fire me through the season."

As the season progressed the Broncos continued their upward progress and it showed in subsequent results, particularly at the Johnny Mathis Invitational in San Francisco. In arguably the brightest spot in a season full of radiant moments, Katie Hansen, in her first appearance of the season, finished second in the 3,000-meters to lead a contingent of Broncos into the top-10. Sophomore Lauren Swigart, senior Robin Bell and freshman Adriene Puetz finished in spots 5-7, respectively, to cap a dominant Santa Clara performance.

Not to be outdone on the men's side, freshman Christen Gumbs etched his name into the SCU athletic history book by securing the first individual race victory for the SCU track program. Gumbs' tape-breaking time of 9:20 was good enough for the top spot in the men's 3,000 meters.

These performances were followed by more strong showings in subsequent meets. At the Warrior Invitational at Cal State-Stanislaus, Santa Clara recorded 12 individual top-10 finishes, including a heat victory in the men's 800 by junior John Paul Thyken. At the Woody Wilson Invitational in Davis, Thyken, freshman Michael Hannon, and Graham all placed in the top-10 in the men's 1,500-meters.

At the Chico State Twilight Open, it was the women's turn to shine again, highlighted by Shannon Bell capturing the first women's track individual title with a victory in the women's 5,000-meters, besting the runner-up by 23 seconds. Hansen secured another second-place finish in the 3,000-meters, pacing a group of Broncos who occupied five of the top-10 places.

"It was great for Shannon to have a track season as a continuum for training," said Service. "The main objective was to keep her healthy and competing, she's a leader for us both on and off the track."

The opening season of Santa Clara track came to a successful close at the San Francisco Track and Field Invitational, where two new school records were set and a number of personal bests were recorded by Bronco runners. Furnari and fellow freshman Andrew Blumel established SCU records with individual times of 1:56.68 in the 800, and 33:34.0 in the 10,000, respectively.

On the women's side, Strong set a personal best in the 1,500-meter race, in addition to her split in the 800 meters as part of the women's distance medley relay. Along with Strong's split, Jeannette Cota's personal best 400 split of 1:03.38 helped pace the women's DMR team to a second-place finish to close out the season.

"The most positive things to come from this season, besides the individual performances, were that we got a full team and were able to compete in more than the minimum number of meets required by the NCAA," commented Service. "Now, we're getting inquiries from other student-athletes, both currently at Santa Clara and in high school, about competing in the sprinting and jumping events. So now we're hoping to add a pre-track program in the Fall for our track-only student-athletes, and get sprinters and jumpers into the mix as well."

The successful debut season of Santa Clara track established a solid precedent for future seasons to come. Riding the waves of momentum created by the success in recent seasons of the cross-country program, SCU track has paved the path towards continued success for Bronco distance runners. Not only do the results of the track season add to the optimism for another successful campaign in 2006, but it also lends credence to SCU's attractiveness to potential distance running recruits.

"Having an official track program at our school will help us recruit runners," Hansen said. "A lot of top-notch high school runners are also interested in running track officially, so now that we have an official track program, it can serve as an additional draw for future recruits."

Adds Service, referring to Santa Clara's new appeal to recruits: "It's tremendous. We were on the lists of potential schools of very acclaimed distance runners. Higher quality student-athletes are even more attracted to Santa Clara now. We've been contacted by the coaches of these runners, and even high school runners who are currently only freshmen or sophomores are beginning to inquire about our cross-country and track programs."

This new flood of interest in the Bronco cross country and track programs can only augment Santa Clara's chances for higher acclaim. Now that they are only the second WCC school to field an NCAA-sanctioned men's and women's track program (Portland is the other), the Broncos can gain a greater edge on the recruiting trail and, within a few years' time, become a program to be reckoned with on a higher level.