'Bows hope to get jump on WAC competition
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
Success for Hawai'i at this week's Western Athletic Conference Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships will come from within. Within the high jump and triple jump pits mostly, with multi-events and pole vault distinct possibilities and a few other events with potential.
The Rainbow Wahine have no illusions about preventing Louisiana Tech from winning its fifth straight title when the meet begins today in Idaho with the pentathlon. But coach Carmyn James also isn't bashful about predicting another top-3 sweep in the high jump, led by All-American Amber Kaufman, and a gold medal for Latvian transfer Madara Apine in triple jump.
This team is more diverse than last year's, which heavily featured four-time All-American Annett Wichmann and Emily Sheppard, along with Kaufman. It is also much less experienced than that fifth-place squad.
There are 24 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. Most are just coming into their own. Some can't even pick an event. Hawai'i has four participants in pentathlon. None is near the level of Wichmann, who won the last seven WAC multi-event titles, or Mallory Gilbert, who scored 28 points two years ago. But all could finish top eight and earn points, including freshman Cecelia Durocher.
Pole vault has been her specialty since she picked it up in middle school, but she also qualified for the state championship in long jump and hurdles her last two years at Castle High School.
"Pole vault looked really unusual and I like weird things so I tried it," said the 5-foot-4, 122-pound Durocher. "I picked up the pole and loved it. By eighth grade I was doing really well."
If all goes according to ranking James sees her team with 44 points by Saturday afternoon. It is about what Wichmann and Sheppard combined for last year and a far cry from the 121 that was a point short of stunning LaTech two years ago.
Beyond high jump, the Rainbows' best hope for gold is Apine, a sophomore transfer from Florida. Her father, Arturs, was the fourth-best triple jumper in the former Soviet Union back in the '80s. It was not quite enough to get him into the Olympics, but his mark still stands and he met wife Margarita — a sprinter — at a track meet.
Apine's genes, and patience in waiting until her body was prepared to deal with the triple jump's "traumatic" elements, helped make her Latvia's junior national record holder. She has gone as far as 43 feet and finished top four in the SEC last season. She ranks first in the WAC now by about six inches over two LaTech jumpers.
When Florida changed jump coaches mid-season, she started looking at other options. A coach recommended James and Hawai'i.
"It seemed small," Apine said, "but they had some really good athletes. I thought why shouldn't I be one of those good athletes?"
She is, in an event Durocher kindly describes as "just flailing you look like you're in a car that's out of control. It feels fast too. It feels just as weird as it looks."
Apine has streamlined it. "When people do it well it looks easy and light. It has to," she said. "Triple jump has to look really easy and bouncy and light. It's not easy."
Kaufman's UH-record jump of 6 feet, 3.25 inches last month qualified her for the NCAA Championship. It came six weeks after her All-America volleyball career ended. It is ranked second nationally — by one centimeter (.39 inches) — to Arizona's Elizabeth Patterson.
The WAC record is 6-4 3/4. UH sophomore Sarah Saddleton, second to Kaufman indoors last year, is ranked 24th nationally.
UH junior Ashley Aitken, the team's top 800-meter runner, is not traveling because of an injury.
The Rainbow Wahine have won one gold medal in track (Thalia Amanakis, 800 meters in 2008) and seven gold medals in field events at WAC Indoors since fielding a full team in 2003. That includes the last three high jump golds (Sheppard in 2007 and '08, and Kaufman last year) and Wichmann in the last three pentathlons. Novelle Murray won the 2008 weight throw. Amanakis has no more Indoor eligibility but will compete in the Outdoor season.
Hawai'i is the top-rated WAC team in the USTFCCCA Indoor Women's Rankings, at No. 36.