Jeffs Head Indoors After Busy Falls
Contact: Matthew Hart
AMHERST, Mass. – With temperatures dropping and the cross country season nearing completion, new head coach Cassie Funke-Harris and the Amherst College women’s indoor track and field team are preparing for an exciting switch of gears. While the Lord Jeff distance runners head to Indiana for the National Cross Country Championships on Saturday, Nov. 17, the sprinters and jumpers will be back on campus continuing a strong fall of training in preparation for Dec. 1’s season-opening meet at Smith College.
2011-12 SEASON RECAP
After a full slate of regular season meets, the Jeffs’ postseason included a ninth-place performance at D-III New Englands and a second-place showing at the ECAC Championships. Amherst then sent its Distance Medley Relay squad to the NCAA National Championships, where the group just missed scoring points for the team by placing ninth. This year’s squad will look to improve on that performance, with the result marking the first time since 2006 that the Jeffs failed to score as a team at Nationals.
While numerous individual competitors will have the chance to turn heads this winter, Funke-Harris may be most excited to see her relay squads test their teamwork, with multiple groups looking to build on strong 2011-12 seasons.
Poised for excellence is a 4x200 unit which returns three of its members after breaking a 15-year old school record at last season’s D-III New England Championships. After crossing the tape in 1:48.34 in the Feb. 18 event, Shyloe Jones ’14, Jade McKnight ’13 and Abbeh Anderson ’15 will look to reach even greater heights this winter with several newcomers contending to join the group.
With only one member departing, the Distance Medley Relay will also be a strength for Amherst from the outset. Returning from last year’s Nationals unit are Lauren Almeida ’13 (1200m), Naomi Bates ’14 (400m) and anchor Keri Lambert ’13 (1600m), while Funke-Harris will look to replace Melissa Sullivan ’12 in the race’s third leg (800m). Amy Dao ’14 will be a top candidate to fill the spot, after she ran the leg for Amherst at last year’s Open New England Championships, helping the Jeffs post the third-fastest time in school history at the event (11:52.71).
Amherst will also feature a strong 4x800 group as Dao and Lambert return to a unit which broke the site record at the Armory Track and Field Center’s 2012 ECAC Championships. Funke-Harris is also excited for the 4x400, with Bates, Almeida, and McKnight all likely to return to the event.
Leading the Jeffs’ distance unit once again will be Lambert, an All-American in cross country and the 2012 outdoor national champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Also earning All-America in the 5,000 meters last spring, the co-captain will be versatile force this winter. Posting the second-fastest mile in school history at ECACs last year (4:53.76), she also ranked among the top regional competitors in the 800 and 1000.
Fellow senior and co-captain Almeida will be a big contributor in the middle distance after winning the 1000 at ECACs last year and also starring in the 800 throughout the winter. She’ll be joined by Dao, an experienced 800 runner whom Funke-Harris is excited to see transition from cross country into her real forte on the track.
In the longer distances, Elodie Reed ’13 will captain a promising group of harriers. Reed, who won the 5k by nearly 40 seconds at last year’s Tartan Invitational at Smith, will be joined by All-New England cross country star Lizzy Briskin ’15. After a great outdoor season in 2012 which carried over to a strong fall, Funke-Harris is excited to see Briskin compete in the mile, 5k, and potentially more. First-years Betsy Black, Keelin Moehl, Caroline Rose, and Lexi Sinclair will also look to build off strong debut cross country seasons and promising track records from high school.
With McKnight leading the unit and joining Almeida, Lambert, and Reed in the captaincy, Funke-Harris is already thrilled by the hard work her sprinters have put in this fall. Many of last season’s top performers return, headlined by Bates. After a season of tremendous growth as a sophomore which saw her set school records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes during the spring, Funke-Harris believes that a more confident Bates will rise even higher during the upcoming indoor season.
Already strong contributors in the relays, Jones and Anderson will look to improve in individual events, while Funke-Harris is also excited for greater contributions from Itai Brand-Thomas ’15 -- who ran the 400 leg of the DMR several times last year -- as well as teammates Nia Harris ’14 and Jaya Tripathi ’14. Meanwhile, a strong group of first-year sprinters will be ready to turn heads after a productive season of preparation this fall.
Bates will also help Amherst score points in the field events after a strong 2011-12 season in the long jump. Returning from an injury-plagued season a year ago, Jessica Mueller ’13 will join Bates in the long jump while Funke-Harris is excited to see her take on the high jump and triple jump as well.
The Smith Invitational on Saturday, December 1 will mark Amherst’s only competition before the New Year, with six regular-season meets in January and February to follow before the New England, NEICAA, and ECAC Championships build up to the NCAA Championships on March 8-9 at North Central College (IL).