One of the most respected names in the track and field community, Karen Dennis is in her second season as director of track & field and cross country at Ohio State and entering her 14th season overall in Columbus. Dennis spent eight seasons (2006-2014) as the women's track and field/cross country head coach at Ohio State and was an assistant track coach for four seasons (2003-2006) prior to her appointment as program director.
Ohio State Director of Track & Field and Cross Country
The 2014-2015 season was a rousing success for the Buckeyes as the men’s and women’s track & field and cross country teams combined for the first time since 2006 to become “Stronger Together” under the leadership of Dennis. Women’s cross country highlighted the fall season, qualifying for the national championships for the second time in school history while placing fourth at the Big Ten championships, the best finish in school history. The team was also featured in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Top 25 for the first time, ranking as high as No. 19. That momentum would extend to the indoor season when the Buckeye women claimed their second Big Ten indoor title in school history and first since 2011. Dennis earned Big Ten and Great Lakes coach of the year honors in the process.
Ohio State was a standout during the outdoor season as well, as both the men and women finished fourth at the Big Ten championships. The men’s team cracked the USTFCCCA Top 25 for the first time since 2013, peaking at No. 16, their best ranking since at least 2008. Meanwhile, the women earned a high placement of 27th, their highest ranking since 2012. After several record-setting performances at the NCAA East Prelims, the Buckeyes sent an impressive 17 student-athletes to compete at the NCAA championships.
Individually, Buckeye athletes enjoyed unparalleled success during the 2014-15 school year both academically and athletically, collecting 55 Ohio State Scholar-Athlete awards, 30 All-America honors, 25 Big Ten medals and nine conference titles. First Team All-Americans included J.C. Murasky (shot put, outdoor) and the men’s 4x400-meter relay team (outdoor), along with Big Ten Medal of Honor winner Katie Borchers in cross country.
Ohio State Women's Head Coach
In her eight seasons at the helm of the Ohio State women's program, Dennis worked tirelessly on and off the track, building one of the Midwest's top all-around programs and winning the first Big Ten indoor and outdoor championships in program history. During those eight seasons, Dennis led Ohio State to 31 Big Ten individual event titles, 19 First Team All-America honors, three Big Ten team championships and two NCAA individual titles, all while garnering six coach of the year honors.
In 2014, the Buckeye women continued the tradition of success instilled by Dennis. The 4x100-meter relay team earned First Team All-America honors, while two individual Big Ten champions were crowned: Ashlee Abraham in the 60-meter and 100-meter dashes and Borchers in the outdoor 800-meter run. Borchers also became the first Buckeye to earn All-America honors in cross country and collected First Team All-America and All-Great Lakes honors along with Michelle Thomas. The cross country squad placed fifth at the Big Ten championships, its highest finish in 29 years.
The 2013 Buckeyes featured only six seniors but the squad remained one of the Big Ten's best, placing third at the Big Ten outdoor championships and fifth at the indoor meet. The Buckeyes won three event titles at the outdoor finals, with Alexis Thomas capturing her second conference title in the hammer throw and the 4x100-meter relay team claiming gold for the third year in a row. In addition, freshman Alexis Franklin won the 400-meter hurdles title on her way to Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. Six Buckeyes would compete in NCAA championship competition, with Thomas earning First Team All-America in the weight throw during the indoor season. The cross country team turned in a sixth-place conference finish, with Meredith Wagner taking home All-Big Ten honors. Wagner and Thomas also earned All-Regional recognition.
In 2012, Dennis led the Scarlet and Gray to its second-consecutive Big Ten outdoor title to go along with a runner-up finish at the conference indoor meet, a feat that earned her USTFCCCA Great Lakes and Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. Buckeye athletes claimed seven Big Ten titles under her watch and a total of nine athletes qualified for NCAA championship competition, where the team finished 18th at the indoor meet and 21st at the outdoor finals, the highest team finishes in several years. On the cross country course, a Buckeye squad featuring 10 freshmen overcame the injury of No. 1-runner Wagner to finish sixth at the Great Lakes regional final. Two athletes -- Tori Brink and Nicole Hilton -- represented OSU at the NCAA championship.
While Ohio State enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, one athlete in particular took the nation by storm. Under the tutelage of Dennis, Christina Manning won national titles in both the 60-meter and 100-meter hurdles on her way to Big Ten and Ohio State Female Athlete of the Year honors. Manning won a total of five conference titles on the year and was an eight-time Big Ten Track Athlete of Week. A semifinalist for the Bowerman Award, track and field's Heisman Trophy, Manning fell only two spots shy of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in the 100-meter hurdles at her first-ever U.S. Olympic Trials.
In 2011, Dennis led Ohio State to a sweep of the Big Ten indoor and outdoor titles -- firsts in program history -- on her way to winning a total of four coach of the year awards (USTFCCCA Great Lakes Indoor/Outdoor and Big Ten Indoor/Outdoor). Seven Buckeyes qualified for NCAA championship competition, with three earning First Team All-America honors. Manning was the highest finisher in 2011, earning national runner-up honors in the 100-meter hurdles at the outdoor championships. Teammate Letecia Wright placed fifth following a fifth-place finish in the 60-meter hurdles at the indoor championships. The duo's Top 5 finishes helped the Buckeyes to total of 12 points, the highest point total from an OSU squad at the championships in 11 years. In Big Ten championship competition, OSU won a total of eight individual titles (two indoor and six outdoor). The success on the track followed a cross country season that witnessed the Buckeyes post their highest finish at the Big Ten championships (sixth) in more than 20 years and place in the Top 4 at the NCAA regional meet for the second-consecutive year. In addition, two members of the team -- Wagner and Ellen Birmingham -- secured individual invitations to the NCAA championship meet.
The Buckeyes' current run of success was built on a four-year period that witnessed the team steadily improve each season. In 2010, the Buckeyes surprised many throughout the Big Ten and the Midwest with a second-place finish at the Big Ten indoor championships, their highest finish at a conference meet in nine years. Manning finished the indoor season with a bang, becoming a first-time All-American after a seventh-place finish in the finals of the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA indoor championships. The outdoor season was highlighted by a sixth-place team finish at the conference championships and Maggie Mullen's All-America finish in the javelin. In addition, the women's cross country team made its first NCAA appearance in school history in the fall of 2009, placing 29th overall following a runner-up finish at the Great Lakes regional championships.
Faced with breaking in a young roster in 2009, Ohio State hit its stride late in the outdoor season, qualifying five individuals for the NCAA outdoor championships. Under the direction of Dennis, Wright finished 16th in the 100-meter finals, while Latoya Sanderson, Ashley Caldwell, Ayrizanna Favours and Shaniqua McGinnis claimed 11th in the 4x400-meter relay. The year prior, Dennis led the Buckeyes through a record-breaking outdoor campaign and a fifth-place finish at the 2008 Big Ten Outdoor Championships, a five-place improvement from 2007. That improvement was due in large part to the return of All-American Jenna (Harris) Griffin, who claimed All-America honors in the 400 and 4x400 at the NCAA championships and qualified for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. The indoor season was dominated by Veronica Jatsek, an All-American in the weight throw.
In her first season as head coach, Dennis helped the 2007 Buckeyes to several national honors. Griffin (400 meter) and Jatsek (hammer and weight throw) earned the first All-America awards of their careers, while Favours earned a bid to the NCAA regional finals and anchored the 4x400-meter relay team to a program record during the indoor season.
Before taking over the OSU women's helm, Dennis spent four seasons as a sprints and hurdles assistant for both the Buckeye men's and women's programs, where she helped train Buckeye legends in Harris, Molly Logan, Anthony Cole and current Buckeye assistant coach Joel Brown, a three-time All-American and the 2003 Midwest regional champion in the 110-meter hurdles.
Dennis By the Numbers (2006-2015)
40 Big Ten event titles
21 First Team All-America awards
7 Coach of the Year awards
4 BIG TEN TEAM TITLES (2011 women’s indoor/outdoor, 2012 women’s outdoor, 2015 women’s indoor)
2 NCAA INDIVIDUAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (Christina Manning, 60-meter and 100-meter hurdles, 2012)
2 Big Ten Freshmen of the Year (Alexis Franklin, 2013; Zack Bazile, 2015)
International Coaching Career/U.S. Olympic Team
Dennis has been involved on the national and international track and field scene for quite some time, highlighted by an appointment as the head coach of the U.S. women's national team at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Prior to her Olympic coaching duties with Team USA, Dennis was an assistant coach of U.S. national teams at the 1995 World Championships in Gotteberg, Sweden; the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba; and the 1989 World University Championships in Duisburg, Germany.
In addition, Dennis is also a member of the USA Track & Field International Competition Committee and a past president of the Athletic Congress Women's Track Coaches Association. She has also served as a member of the NCAA Women's Track and Field Committee and the NCAA Track Coaches Association.
Dennis spent 10 years has the head coach of the UNLV women's track and field squad from 1992-2002. Only the second women's track and field coach in school history, Dennis guided 12 different student-athletes to All-American status while at UNLV, including 2002 NCAA Woman of the Year and national champion Katie Barto. That same season, Dennis helped Michelle Davis, a six-time All-American, to the 2002 UNLV Sportswoman of the Year award. Her 1993 squad, led by All-American Crystal Irving, was the MPSF Indoor Conference Championship, an accomplishment that produced conference coach of the year honors in just her first season.
Dennis was a member of the Michigan State coaching staff for 15 seasons, spending four years with the program as an assistant coach (1977-1981) and 11 as head coach (1981-1992). The Spartans thrived under her direction, producing a number of outstanding athletes including Judi Brown-King, silver medalist in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles; Cheryl Gilliam, a 12-time Big Ten champion; Odessa Smalls, a three-time All-American and 13-time Big Ten champion; and two-time All-American and Big Ten 10,000-meter champion Mary Shea. Her 1982 Spartans captured the Big Ten outdoor championship, earning Dennis District IV Coach of the Year honors.
Dennis enjoyed a successful collegiate career as a standout sprinter at Michigan State where she helped the 1975 Spartans to a fourth-place finish at the AIAW national championships with a victory in the 220-yard dash. She was part of a world record-setting 4x160-yard relay team for Michigan State and a fifth-place finisher in the 220-yard dash at the 1968 U.S. Olympic Trials.
A graduate of Michigan State University, Dennis earned a bachelor's degree in public affairs in 1977 and a master's degree in physical education in 1979. A native of Detroit, Mich., she has one daughter, Dr. Ebony Dennis Mundy, who is a practicing clinical psychologist working for the Department of Mental Health in Washington, D.C.
Dennis Coaching Career
2014-Present: Director of Track & Field and Cross Country, Ohio State
2006-13: Women's Track & Field/Cross Country Head Coach, Ohio State
2003-06: Assistant Coach, Ohio State
2000: Head Coach, U.S. Women's National Team, 2000 Sydney Olympic Games
1992-2002: Head Coach, UNLV
1981-1991: Head Coach, Michigan State
1977-1981: Assistant Coach, Michigan State