Head coach Karen Dennis after her squad won its first ever Big Ten championship.
Nov. 7, 2011
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Though the start of track and field season is still a couple months away, we here at OhioStateBuckeyes.com decided to catch up with the reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year to discuss the upcoming season and how expectations have changed after sweeping the Big Ten indoor and outdoor championships last season.
After a historic season in 2011, what expectations do you have for this team as defending Big Ten indoor and outdoor champions?
"We have the same team we had last year with the exception of losing Letecia Wright and Alana Gray. Of course, we also have a different conference with the addition of Nebraska. Ultimately, we have to prepare ourselves to the best of our ability. Winning again isn't out of our realm, it's our goal."
What role will your seniors and other returnees have to play?
"We typically rely on our juniors and seniors, not only for good sportsmanship and leadership; they are our primary scorers. This year we have the most talented senior class I've been privileged to coach. After having experienced the success we had last year, repeating has to be upmost on their minds."
What has been the team's mantra this season since winning both championships?
"Bling, bling! Let's win another ring!"
Do you think that Christina Manning's performance/approach will change at all this season without her sidekick, Letecia Wright?
"That would be a good question to ask her. One of Christina's attributes is her competitiveness. She's going to compete no matter who is in the race. The motivation she and Letecia shared was to go 1-2 in every meet. They pretty much did so in every meet with the exception of the national championships where they went 2-5. Christina is good at motivating herself, she'll do well. I'm the one who will miss Letecia's contribution the most."
Where do you think Christina ranks with all the great athletes you've coached?
"I've been fortunate to have some really good athletes in my career and pound for pound Manning may be the best all-around athlete I've coached. I've had women make the U.S. Olympic team as well as Olympic teams for their respective countries. She hasn't reached that milestone yet. However, if she persists I believe she will be an Olympian. Right now I'm focusing on Christina along with the rest of our team having strong indoor and outdoor seasons that eventually end up at the NCAA Championships and the U.S. Olympic trials for a selected few."
What impact are you hoping your newest recruiting class will have this season?
"Our recruits are here to add depth in areas we haven't traditionally been strong as well as points in areas we have to rely on. Carly Pendleton will be on our all-time list before long. Alexandra Johnson is probably the best hurdle technician I've ever recruited. Her speed has to improve to be among our best hurdlers. She had an outstanding summer, placing second in the national championships. Aisha Cavin is one of the most gifted sprinters in the country and she'll strengthen all of our relays as well as factor in the 200 and 400m dashes. Abie Ehimwenman is going to give us more depth in the jumps as well as sprints. She's the Illinois state champion and an All-American. I expect one of our jumpers to erase Coach Rosalind Joseph off the record books. Our distance recruits, Nicole Hilton our front runner in cross country, will help us in the middle distance and steeplechase areas. Janel Olberding, Katie Borchers and Katie Betts will strengthen our distance medley relay as well as provide depth in the 800m area. Michelle Thomas is a diverse distance runner who will strengthen our efforts in any race from the mile through the 5k."
This year's graduating class consists of many top athletes like Manning, McKinney and Mullen, what are you looking to get out of them during their last season as a Buckeye?
"Our seniors are self motivated. They want to make their last year as a Buckeye memorable. They talk about giving the team all they have as seniors. I see that happening through their leadership and disciplined practices. I'm going to really struggle watching this fine group of women and athletes leave the program. We have some women such as Ashley Woodruff and Jewelisa Thompson who aren't as recognizable athletically as Christina Manning, Madison McNary, Maggie Mullen or Shaniqua McGinnis, but have contributed to the strength and success of our program. They are the women who carry some of the highest grade-point-averages and have been the diplomats of our team. Their leadership and contribution can't be ignored. With the help of the women previously mentioned "together" we have accomplished several historical "firsts" in our program. Jordan Jennewine and Sarah Lowe will leave the program having been among our inaugural team to make it to the cross country national championships. Ashley Galbraith, Kelcey McKinney and Norianna Brown will join this group of seniors who contributed to our winning back-to-back Big Ten titles. This is a special group of women who believed in my vision when our program was at the bottom in the conference standings. However, they took a chance with our coaching staff, worked hard, took pride in themselves and this great University and learned how to win."