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Women’s track team soaks up success at Kansas Relays

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Saturday, April 20, 2013, at 8:59 p.m.

— About midway through the afternoon session of the Kansas Relays, the video board at Memorial Stadium offered a reminder about the strength of the Jayhawks’ women’s track program.

A clip of the team unveiling the Big 12 championship banner for the indoor track title captured in February brought cheers from Kansas fans.

“Winning the Big 12, it showed us ladies made history,” said Kansas senior sprinter Diamond Dixon.

And hope to make more. The NCAA Outdoor Championships are June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore. The Jayhawks finished fourth at the outdoor meet last year in Des Moines, Iowa, and took second at the NCAA Indoor meet in March.

“This year, a little more known within our team we have the necessary tools to win a national championship,” said senior jumper Andrea Guebelle.

Those tools were on display over the weekend, especially Saturday in the relays. The Jayhawks 1600-meter relay team, anchored by Paris Daniels, turned in second fastest time in meet history at 3 minutes, 32.94 seconds.

Daniels also won the 100 in 11.55.

Kansas’ 400 team of Daniels, Sydney Conley, Tianna Valentine and Dixon won in 45.02, holding off Michigan.

The Jayhawks entered the Kansas Relays ranked first in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country coaches’ poll for the fourth straight week. The men’s basketball team only got one week on top last season, and Dixon, for one, is adjusting to the attention.

“People I don’t know say, ‘Hi, Diamond,’ ” she said. “I never seen that in my life. That’s cool.”

It comes with titles. The Big 12 indoor championship was the first for a Kansas’ women’s track program. The program started in 1973, coached in that inaugural season by basketball coach Marian Washington.

“It wasn’t taken lightly,” Kansas track coach Stanley Redwine said. “Our athletes were excited about making history.”

It was only the fourth Big 12 title for a women’s team, and the conference and national success of the program over the past two years has rekindled interest in a sport that once stood with basketball as Kansas’ calling cards on the sporting scene.

The men’s track program won six NCAA championships between 1959 and 1970, three outdoors and three indoors. Toss in a pair NCAA men’s cross country titles in the same time frame and for more than a decade, the Jayhawks were a preeminent track school.

The men remained strong on a conference level for the next two decades or so, but the success of the women over the past two years is as close as the Jayhawks have come to recapturing their glory days.

The strength is across the board. Daniels and Dixon lead the sprinters. Guebelle won NCAA indoor titles in the triple and long jumps, and junior college transfer Natalia Bartnovskaya won the NCAA indoor pole vault.

Among throwers at the Relays, Heather Bergmann won the javelin and finishing first among college competitors were Alena Krechyk in the hammer throw and Jessica Maroszek in the discus.

In all, Kansas has nine athletes and a relay team ranked among the top 10 nationally in outdoors events.

One meet remains in the regular season before the Big 12 Outdoor at Waco, Texas, and with a taste of a conference championship, the Jayhawks are shooting for more.

“If we can put it all together,” Guebelle said. “we’re pretty tough to beat.”

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