Titan runners are rearing to go
In the 10 years Head Coach Grady O'Conner has been at LCC, his track and field program has proven to be one of the true powerhouses in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.
Both the men's and women's teams are the reigning Southern region champions and besides the women's second-place finish in 2007, the Titans have won the Southern region title each of the past six years. This year, however, the Titans have their sights on not just a Southern region championship, but an NWAACC title as well.
To do that, the Titans will have to beat defending champion Spokane Community College. "Spokane Community College is our main challenge. They're the defending champs and they've been dominant. They are the juggernaut, but we are on their heels and I think we've got a good shot to take them down," O'Conner said. Spokane has won the past four NWAACC championships and swept the Cross Country Championships earlier this year.
Although track and field is known as an individual sport, at this level the team concept is stressed.
"Track and field is unique because it's an individual sport and a team sport, but we try to push the team aspect of the sport. The athletes know we are preparing them to do whatever the team needs them to do for the championship meet," O'Conner said.
In collegiate track meets, athletes earn points for their schools depending on how well they place; 10 points are awarded for first place nine points for second place and so on.
With that in mind, LCC looks to be in good shape on the men's side with sophomore Bruce Burbank returning. Burbank earned 28 points for the Titans in last year's NWAACC meet, 12 more points than standout Cyrus Hostetler earned for the team. Hostetler is now with the University of Oregon track team. Seth Lindquist, who earned 23 points in last year's championship meet, is also returning for the Titans.
Despite a lack of depth on the women's side, with 20 less athletes than the men have, the women will benefit from the services of distance runner Leah Twombley. Twombley earned 14 points at last year's NWAACC championship and earned All-America honors in cross country earlier this year. O'Conner said that incoming freshman Amy Nelson and red-shirt freshman Annie Hayward are also athletes to look out for.
For the coaches as well as the athletes the goal is clear. "We've got a very competitive schedule ahead of us. What we are trying to do is get the athletes in their peak performance shape for the NWAACC meet," which is May 21-22, O'Conner said.
Because of that, the team will use the meets leading up the Regional and NWAACC meets to train and sharpen their skills, but most importantly trying to qualify for NWAACC.
There are some notable races besides the championship meets. O'Conner described the Oregon vs. Washington meet on April 11 as, "Kind of a clash of some of the better programs in the northwest."
By that time, an already talented Titan team could be even better.
"After spring break is when we will really see who we have. Because [UO] has such a high standard in track and field, many quality athletes are unable to latch on to that team, either because of their performance or because of their grades. And oftentimes we may pick up a transfer or two from the university."
Eugene's reputation as Track Town USA also works in LCC's favor.
"The buzz that surrounds this town brings a lot of kids to our program who want to be a part of it ... whether they are from the state of Oregon or the east coast," O'Conner said.
Those factors have helped O'Conner establish LCC as one of powers of the NWAACC conference. They have also made expectations consistently high.
"The NWAACC title is our ultimate goal and I think both squads have a chance," O'Conner said. "I don't think we have quite the depth on the women's side, but they are certainly talented. The guy's side, it's one of the deepest teams I've had. Every event we have a solid contender."
In addition to Hostetler, LCC alumni: Travis Thompson, Jordan McNamara, Tamara Starodubtseva, A.J. Casteel and Alex Schley are all currently members of the UO track team. In total, LCC has 16 former athletes currently on four-year university rosters.
The Titans kick off the 2009 season at Willamette University on Saturday, Feb. 28.