New outlook for women’s track and field team

When thinking of powerhouse women’s track and field programs, the UW-Whitewater coaches and players know not many think of them as one.

Poppe

Part of the reason is that in the last three years they haven’t contended for a conference championship and have finished in the bottom-half at the year-end WIAC indoor meet.

But with the new season underway, new coach Josh Ireland wants to change the perception and attitude surrounding the program.

“We’ve changed a lot,” said Ireland, who is on an interim coaching basis after Dave Wiederrecht resigned last August. “We have a more cohesive team, and I want to make this program just like all the others at UW-Whitewater.”

This positive energy seems to be contagious with his players and there suddenly seems to be a new aura around the team.

“I’m definitely hoping to get top three at conference,” said sophomore Kelsey Jones, who is new to the team after transferring from UW-Oshkosh in the fall. “Other teams think Whitewater is an underdog. I think we can surprise some teams. I can already see the improvement.”

Ireland agreed with Jones and feels like his team is on the rise.

“People on our team who don’t usually make the headlines will surprise some people,” Ireland said. “We have to get better each day, each week and each month.”

The team looks to apply this message when it hosts the Rocky Rococo Invitational at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Kachel Fieldhouse.

And Ireland’s squad will look to build upon its success they had at last weekend’s opening meet when two individuals already provisionally qualified for the NCAA meet that takes place on March 11.

Senior Sara Poppe, one of four co-captains on the team, qualified in both the long jump and the triple jump, while sophomore Shelby Demos qualified in the high jump.

This comes a year after Poppe and Demos earned All-American status at the 2010 NCAA meet.

Poppe, the school record holder in the indoor triple jump, qualified in both events last year and finished seventh in the triple jump.

Demos, who is the school record holder in the high jump, finished sixth in the event.

Seniors Jessa Luebke and Brooke Bell (no longer with the team) also advanced to the national meet last year.

Bell, Poppe and then-senior Danielle Anton even captured three indoor titles at the conference meet prior to NCAA competition.

But Ireland wants his program to be now known for more than having a few strong individuals.

“When people look back on seasons, they necessarily don’t remember who won each individual event,” Ireland said. “They remember how teams did within the conference and at nationals. Winning as a team is a lot more important.”

They’ll try to incorporate this attitude with a young team consisting of only seven seniors on a 52-member team.

While he doesn’t see the youth as a disadvantage, he didn’t know how his team would fare last week.

“Coming in, I wasn’t expecting great things,” said Ireland, who was an assistant coach for the Warhawk men’s team last year. “They had four weeks of practice by themselves during the break, so I’m happy with how they responded.”

If they continue to respond, they might soon be mentioned in the category of elite programs.

“I don’t want to set expectations too high, but I came into it very optimistic,” Ireland said. “If everyone does what they’re capable of doing, we’ll surprise some people, and this team is going to be good.”

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