May 8, 2012
BOCA RATON, FL – The Florida Atlantic women’s track team will send two reigning individual conference champions, and the majority of a winning relay team, to defend their titles at the 2012 Sun Belt Conference Championships this weekend in Lafayette, Louisiana.
In the 400 meter hurdles, Danielle Aromashodu brought home the SBC title last year in a time of 1:00.09. The sophomore holds the FAU all-time record in the event, at 59.15.
“After having won conference as a freshman, Danielle is coming back more mature, and while her times haven’t been as fast this year, she is still leading the conference going into the meet,” said head coach Alex Smolka. “We feel very confident she can put it all together this weekend.”
Aromashodu, Valerie Dixon and Annakay Dennis were also part of last year’s 4x400 meter relay team (along with departed senior Charlene Luxama) that earned another conference title. At the recent Penn Relays, they combined with Anna-Lisa Myers to run the school’s fastest time in the event this season, coming in at 3:47.62 despite poor weather conditions. That time is nearly three seconds better than last year’s conference-winning mark of 3:50.50.
“We haven’t had a lot of time to put together the four top legs on that relay squad,” said Smolka. “The result at Penn was very exciting, so we’re hoping for faster times at conference.”
The 4x400 is the last event scheduled on Sunday night, and almost literally becomes a matter of will.
“It really comes down to who’s standing, who has the desire to do it,” said assistant John Guarino. “I think it’s like a three- or four-second differential between first and sixth, and although we have different legs than last year, I think we can definitely compete at the top.”
Part of the reason the squad could never come together was an injury during the season to Dixon. The coaches hope to have her compete this weekend as both part of the relay squad and in the 800 meters, an event in which she finished sixth at last year’s championships.
“(The Penn Relays were) the first time we ran that group all year long,” said Guarino, “and Valerie will definitely run better this weekend. She was only going off of two weeks of training on the track. She’s hasn’t run the 800 all outdoor season, but she’s looking good there also.”
Dennis and Myers will also compete in the 400 meters. Dennis holds the FAU indoor record in the event, set at this year's conference championships, while Myers set a new outdoor PR in a meet at Gainesville.
“Annakay and Anna-Lisa are ranked in the top eight in conference, and are looking good in practice,” said Guarino. “It’ll be the first time they’ve run the 400 at the conference meet outdoors, which is big.”
Rebecca Hallam leads the FAU distance runners. She has three school records to her credit, and is the defending SBC champion in the 10,000 meters, at 36:21.98. Her fastest time, and school record mark, in that event is 35:53.01. She also set the new FAU record this season in the 5,000 meters, at 16:55.83, and will look to improve on her fourth-place finish in that race at the championships a year ago.
“Rebecca is the defending 10K champion and is certainly stronger this year,” said Smolka. “Her 5K personal record is lower, so she’s coming in with a lot of confidence and is excited to defend her title.”
Two other distance-running newcomers have been successful for the Owls this season. Freshman Michelle Jax has the fourth fastest time in FAU history in the 5,000 meters, at 17:08.49. She also ranks among the top 10 times in the 3,000 meter steeplechase, including a personal best of 10:51.37.
“We have had a lot of history in the steeplechase in the Sun Belt Championships, and Michelle has come in a freshman and has done extremely well,” said Smolka. “She’s right now ranked second (in the steeplechase) and she’s also going to compete in the 1,500 meters, which she set a new personal record in this season (4:37.57).”
Another newcomer, senior transfer Stacy Paton, after many top indoor finishes, just set a new PR in the 5,000 meters at the recent Penn Relays, crossing the line at 18:31.62.
Last, but certainly not least, the best triple jumper in FAU history, Ashani Roberts, looks to add a conference title to her impressive résumé. The senior already holds all 10 outdoor marks in the school’s all-time top 10 in the event (and for that matter, eight of the top 10 indoor marks as well), and her longest leap of 12.70 meters came at last year’s SBC Championships, earning her a runner-up finish.
“Ashani has been extremely consistent for us as our one dominant jumper,” said Smolka. “Obviously, she has excelled from year to year, and at the conference championships, she has kept progressing and moving up (in the standings). She finished second last year in the outdoors and fourth this year in indoors, and we’re hoping for her to have a great performance this weekend.”
The coaches will also send freshman Tatiana David into somewhat unchartered territory, at least in recent school history.
“Traditionally, we haven’t been very deep in the field events because of our squad size, but this year Tatiana is going to give it her best and compete in the heptathlon,” said Smolka. “It’s a grueling two-day event with four events the first day and three events the next. During practice, she’s been improving in all seven events and it’s going to be exciting to see how far she can get and if she can get to the school record from a few years ago (Amber McGillicutty in 2008).”
“Tatiana doing her first ‘hep’ is really neat,” said Guarino. “She can hopefully squeeze up there in the standings, after all the time and effort she’s put in. It’s a very difficult event and definitely a new challenge, but she’s excited and ready to go.”
The 2012 Championships begin Friday night in Lafayette with those first four events of the Heptathlon and the 10,000 meters. The schedule continues with preliminaries on Saturday and most finals on Sunday.