Tide expecting huge improvement

Paige Niewerth

The Crimson Tide women’s track and field returned to Tuscaloosa last weekend with 14 new personal bests and two NCAA provisional marks after competing in the 2010 Kentucky Invitational season opener.

Sophomore Krystle Schade and Senior Kim Laing were immediate standouts, both earning NCAA provisional marks. Schade won the NCAA provisional mark, placing third in the high jump and currently ranking her first in the NCAA standings. Laing placed seventh in the 60meter hurdles with a time of 8.40.

“I am expecting to make an automatic mark to go straight to Nationals and become an All-American,” Schade said.

With a large number of early personal bests, not only has the Tide improved from last year, but the fact that they are a more mature team makes the sight of a SEC title this year very well attainable.

Freshman Wilamena Hopkins was one of many young runners to standout over the weekend. Hopkins placed ninth in the shot-put, earning her personal best, and sophomore Audra Frimpong placed 13th in the long jump and 15th in the 60 meter hurdles, also earning her personal-best with a time of 8.64, both just shy of provisional times.

Recruited strictly for the long jump, Frimpong has taken on the hurdles in the past year.

“I want to start off where I left off last year,” she said.

Kelsey Johnson and Leigh Gilmore, both sophomores, also set personal-bests this weekend. Johnson placed sixth in the mile with a time of 4:55.78, and Gilmore placed 15th with a time of 5:05.22.

In the weight throw event, sophomore Amethyst Holmes threw her personal best, earning 17th place.

Alabama has high expectations this year, and the Tide is ready to prove it. Even though the team is still considered young, the Tide still had a great recruiting year and has a roster littered with key sophomores who have a year of experience.

Head coach Sandy Fowler has been the women’s track and field coach for the past 13 seasons and is convinced this team is the best she has seen at Alabama in the past five years.

“They’re in control of their destiny,” Fowler said. “And they need to believe in everything they need to do.”

Even though the Tide’s biggest competitors are Southeastern Conference foes Louisiana State, Tennessee, Florida and Arkansas, Fowler would like to see a lot more national qualifiers from his team and a ranking within the top six. With results like last weekend, it seems as though the Tide is headed in the right direction.

Bonding outside of practice has made the team closer and able to encourage each other even more. The runners not only eat lunch and attend study hall together, but also have occasional movie nights.

“We support each other and are always cheering each other on,” Frimpong said. “We have become more of a family.”

The Crimson Tide’s next meet will be January 22 at the Niswonger Invitational in Johnson City, Tenn., where 1,700 athletes will be competing. The Tide’s home opener is scheduled for March 25.