LEXINGTON, Va. — The Washington and Lee women's track and field team will be participating in its 30th year of competition during the 2017-18 season. The Generals can think of no better way to celebrate than by claiming an ODAC title or two.
"Honoring our history is really important to us," Head Coach Dana Freeman said. "We appreciate all the women and coaches that have made the program what it is today, because we wouldn't be in a position to challenge for the conference title every year, if it wasn't for the amazing women and coaches that guided the program to the direction that it is in now."
W&L's goal this year, like previous seasons, is to win an ODAC Championship. However, it won't be easy. In the last two years, the Generals have lost in the indoor championship by two points and four and a half points.
"We ended last season a little disappointed, because you are always going to be disappointed when you don't achieve your goal," Freeman stated. "But you learn from it and you move forward. I told the team I would rather be almost there than nowhere close. We are in the battle and we have to keep figuring out how to grow in order to accomplish what we want to accomplish."
The Generals plan this season will be to rely on a larger roster, while having a core group of upperclassmen lead by example. The Blue and White brings back 19 members from last year's team, while adding 20 newcomers. W&L only has three seniors this year in Lily Arnold, Kaleigh Hinton and Rachel Steffen, but each brings characteristics and talents that will boost the team's ability to achieve its goals.
"Hinton has dramatically improved over her career, and she puts in the work every day on the track," Freeman noted. "She's a great example for this team. She contributes in the hurdles and when you put a relay baton in her hand, she's a different person. She lays it all on the line for her teammates."
Hinton finished fourth in the 60m hurdles at the Indoor ODAC Championship. She claimed sixth in the 400m at the meet, and was part of the winning 4x400m relay. At the outdoor meet, she placed second in the 400m hurdles and was fourth in the 100m hurdles. She again ran a leg of the 4x400m relay that took third.
"Steffen and Arnold are two important seniors for us," Freeman explained. "Steffen has had some setbacks in her career, but this cross country season proved she is capable of contributing in multiple ways. We are excited to have Lily back after she studied abroad this fall. She had a great impact on the team last year from the mid-distance side."
Steffen dealt with injuries much of last season, but is just a few years removed from scoring in multiple events at the ODAC Championships. Arnold garnered Second Team All-ODAC accolades in the 1,500m last year at the outdoor league meet.
Steffen and Arnold are just a part of the distance group that is sure to be the backbone of the Generals this year. In the fall, the cross country team won its third straight conference championship and that group is looking to translate its success onto the track.
"In those longer distance events, you are going to see a lot of blue crossing the finish line," Freeman noted. "Junior Kirsten McMichael will obviously be a key player for the distance group, and sophomore Julia Moody had a great end of her cross country season, and will add a great amount of versatility like so many of our distance runners."
McMichael earned All-ODAC accolades at the indoor and outdoor championships, highlighted by a second-place finish in the 10,000m. Moody ended her track season last year with a fourth-place finish in the 1,500m at the ODAC outdoor meet.
The distance unit also has 10 first-years in the mix that could easily change the math in favor of the Generals at the conference championships. At this past fall's ODAC cross country meet, W&L had six runners in the Top 14, and three of those were rookies.
Noticeably absent on the sidelines this cross country season were juniors Maggie Seybold and Samantha Yates. Although injuries plagued their junior cross country seasons, they are working hard to return to the track this spring. Yates won three events last year over the indoor and outdoor ODAC Championships, and Seybold was a key member of the mid-distance squads over the last two years.
Like most of this team's position groups, the sprints and relays will be young, but led by junior captain Jessica Rosenwasser. She was a member of the 4x100m relay that took third at the outdoor league meet last year, and has two years of experience of competing against the ODAC.
"Jessica made a great showing at the conference meets last year, so I expect her to continue growing as an athlete," Freeman stated. "She understands what it takes to be successful at the conference level, and that will be extremely important to us moving forward."
Along with Hinton in the hurdles, the Blue and White bring sophomore Nikki Doherty back. Doherty dealt with injuries during much of last season, but still placed third in the 60m hurdles at the indoor ODAC meet with the fourth-fastest time in program history in the event.
The jumps lost a lot of talent from last year in Dana Lee '17 and Lizzy Stanton '17, but this will be a group that could be a force for years to come.
"We are going to have a younger group in the jumps, but each person has great developmental potential." "Both sophomores Sarah Leonard and Alexa Castellana made contributions in their first seasons, and I look for them to have a greater impact as we progress through the season."
Castellana garnered All-ODAC laurels by taking third in the high jump at the indoor ODAC meet, and Leonard scored in the high jump at the indoor meet.
Last year was the first year under coach Freeman that the team had a presence in the throwing events, and that trend will continue this year. W&L will have three newcomers in those events in junior Liz Todd, sophomore Erin McFall and first-year Emma Coleman.
"Two of the ladies (Todd and McFall) are coming from other athletic teams, so they already get what it means to be a student-athlete and how to compete," Freeman mentioned. "The goal for all three is to develop into conference scorers in their respective events."
The Generals open the 2017-18 season this Friday and Saturday at the Roanoke Bast-Cregger Invitational. In order to make the history they hope to achieve, it will be a process, and the first step in that journey starts this weekend.
"We will rely more on our depth this year and spread our points over a variety of events," Freeman explained. "These ladies are self-motivated to win ODAC Championships. They know they are close, and they are going to keep working hard and committing a little more each and every day."
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