Dennis Named Director of Track & Field, Cross Country
June 17, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Karen Dennis, who recently completed her eighth season as head coach of the Ohio State women’s track and field and cross country teams, has been promoted to director of track and field and cross country for both the men’s and women’s programs, T.J. Shelton, associate athletics director for sport administration, announced Tuesday.
“We are very excited to announce Karen as the director of our newly-combined programs,” Shelton said. “The men’s and women’s programs have outstanding tradition and combining the programs will not only bring stability, but provide opportunity to grow and strengthen both programs under Karen’s leadership. Coach Dennis has an exemplary track record in recruiting, training and graduating high-level student-athletes, having coached several conference and national champions in her career. The future is bright for both programs.”
In her eight seasons at the helm of the Ohio State women’s program, Dennis has worked tirelessly on and off the track, developing a winning culture while building one of the Midwest’s top all-around programs – including the first Big Ten indoor and outdoor championships in program history. During her tenure, Dennis has led Ohio State to 31 Big Ten individual event titles, 19 first team All-America honors, three Big Ten team championships, two NCAA individual titles, one Big Ten freshman of the year and one academic All-American while garnering six coach of the year honors.
“Ten years ago I came to The Ohio State University as an assistant in a combined program,” Dennis said. “Since that time I continue to appreciate the support and confidence afforded me by administrators Gene Smith, Miechelle Willis and T.J. Shelton. I’d like to thank them all for this wonderful opportunity.
“I’m anxious to assemble a staff and get busy preparing the amazing men and women in our programs to aspire for a more prominent presence both regionally and nationally within our track and field and cross country programs. Our goal is to have our programs live up to the greatness in the brand representative of The Ohio State University. Our student-athletes deserve to enjoy successful athletic experiences and I’m looking forward to our shared future together.”
This past season under Dennis, the women’s team found success in several events including earning first team All-America honors in the 4x100-meter relay, gaining three individual Big Ten championships with Ashlee Abraham taking gold indoors in the 60-meters and outdoors in the 100-meters, and Katie Borchers winning the 800-meter run outdoors. The Buckeyes also produced top-five times in school history in multiple events throughout the season.
In 2013, Dennis led the Buckeyes to a third-place finish at the Big Ten outdoor championships and fifth at the indoor meet on a team that featured only six seniors. The Buckeyes won three event titles that year 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 honors in the weight throw.
In 2012, Dennis led the Buckeyes 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, two Buckeyes represented Ohio State at the NCAA championships.
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. 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 secured individual invitations to the NCAA championship meet.
Before taking over the OSU women's helm in July 2006, 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 Jenna Harris-Griffin, Molly Logan, Anthony Cole and Joel Brown, a 2003 All-American and Midwest regional champion in the 110-meter hurdles.
Dennis also has been involved on the national and international track and field scenes for quite some time, highlighted by the 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.
Prior to Ohio State, Dennis spent 10 years as the head coach of the UNLV women's track and field squad from 1992-2002, guiding 12 different student-athletes to All-American status, 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.
Prior to UNLV, Dennis coached for 15 seasons at her alma mater, Michigan State, 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.
As a student-athlete, Dennis enjoyed a successful 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 native of Detroit, Mich., Dennis earned a bachelor's degree in public affairs from Michigan State in 1977 and a master's degree in physical education in 1979.