NORMAN - Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione and Jim VanHootegem, University of Oklahoma head track and field coach, have announced the 2017 Sooner track and field schedule. The indoor season opens for OU on Jan. 14 with the Sooner Opener and runs through the NCAA Championships March 10-11. The outdoor season opens March 17-18 in Tempe, Ariz., at the Baldy Castillo Invitational and continues through the NCAA Championships June 8-11. In total, the teams will compete for 22 weeks with five weekends off.
The Sooners return three NCAA Indoor first-team All-Americans in Daye Shon Roberson, Kenzie Shell and Jess Woodard. Woodard and Dylan Blankenbaker are OU’s returning outdoor first-team All-Americans.
OU opens the indoor season with an additional home meet and makes trips to Lincoln, Neb., New York City, and Fayetteville, Ark., before the Big 12 meet in Ames and the NCAA Championship at Texas A&M. The outdoor season opens in Tempe the weekend after the NCAA Indoor Championship and includes trips to Palo Alto and Los Angeles as well as to two classic Relays meets, the Texas Relays and the Penn Relays. The Big 12 Championship is in Lawrence, the West prelims are in Austin and the NCAA Outdoor meet is in Eugene, Ore.
“It’s an ambitious schedule and one that will challenge our student-athletes, helping prepare them for the championship portion of our schedule,” VanHootegem explained.
“It is really one continuum for us from the end of August until the middle of June. Each person on our team is trying to grow as an individual and we are trying to grow as a group. We are hoping that the growth is sufficient by May and June for us to feel good about our performances at the Outdoor Big 12 and NCAA Championships,” he added.
“Each athlete will have some different undulation patterns, but ultimately we all are trying to increase our performance level until we run out of track meets. Last year, we were really pleased with our performances at the Big 12 Championship. On the women's side, we were healthy enough for that to lead to a favorable result and, on the men's side, we felt our health limited us from that. We feel both programs need to grow to be stronger at the NCAA level. The next step is to qualify significantly more athletes from the regional meet to the finals in Eugene,” the fourth-year mentor continued.
In addition to the Sooner Opener, OU will host the J.D. Martin Invitational as part of the indoor schedule and VanHootegem explains it was an easy decision to make that addition.
“The biggest catalyst of the change back to two home meets was the New York Armory Invitational. After two years of not attending, we really missed it. It had been a bye week for us so we had to rearrange the schedule to accommodate it. The benefits (of a second home meet) are that it will give more of our developing athletes a chance to earn spots on the travel roster plus we welcome having another opportunity to compete in front of a home crowd. The first day of the J.D. Martin will feature combined event competition. We feel that we can get quality performance in the pentathlon and heptathlon right here at Mosier,” he continued.
The Sooners will travel north to Lincoln, Neb., for a meet hosted by former conference rival, Nebraska along with the trip to NYC.
“I think a big goal of building a great team is to compete against other great teams, especially those who share similar philosophies. Nebraska has a wonderful program and it is built upon teams which have a lot of depth and good balance. We seek these attributes as well. It will be our first chance to travel as a team and go up against a very respected rival. This will help us gage where we are as a program in the early season,” VanHootegem said.
“We really love the big stage of competing in New York. There is such a special quality to a great performance in The Empire City. If you want to establish yourself as a performer, there is no better place to do it than in New York City. Additionally, the Fort Washington Avenue Armory is the mecca for indoor track and field in the United States - from high school to college to professional. It is the home to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I get a thrill every time I walk up to the building.”
One weekend, Feb. 10-11, has the Sooner teams heading in different directions – the majority headed to the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville and the distance runners traveling to the Husky Classic in Seattle.
“Our team meet for the weekend is the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville. However, the nature of our sport dictates that our elite distance runners really need to run in Washington to give them the best chance for an NCAA qualifying performance. This has become standard operation procedure, especially on that weekend as people are securing good marks heading into conference weekends. That’s where athletes will extend their efforts with qualifying rounds and doubling and tripling entries to maximize team points.”
It’s an ambitious schedule and one that will challenge our student-athletes, helping prepare them for the championship portion of our schedule.
Jim VanHootegem, head coach
The Sooners will open the outdoor season in Tempe the weekend after the NCAA Indoor Championships and there is a definite goal for VanHootegem in planning the schedule that way.
“The trip to Arizona has been a constant for us since I came to OU. Our team has really done a great job with it and I hope they continue to do so. We get up early and train in the morning/early afternoon and then the athletes have the rest of the day to relax and catch up on school work during the spring break. We are always excited to get back outdoors and the palm trees surrounding the oval at Sun Angel Stadium don't hurt that at all. Most importantly, after six months of competing with only a portion of our team in cross country and indoors, we finally have our entire team and the full slate of events.”
During the outdoor season, the schedule has OU traveling to Los Angeles to compete in the Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner Kersee Invitational and to Philadelphia for the Penn Relays two weeks apart in April. Again, VanHootegem has a goal with that scheduling.
“We have a strong respect for UCLA's tradition and the namesakes of the meet, Rafer Johnson and Jackie Joyner Kersee are great representatives of that. Obviously, JJK is in discussion for greatest female athlete of all time. I'm sure all of our athletes look up to her. We also educate them a lot on who Rafer is. The 1960 Olympics is considered to have defined the modern world, so it is of great cultural significance. There was no bigger star in Rome than Rafer Johnson,” VanHootegem said.
“I have strong feelings for the Penn Relays. It is the "granddaddy" of track meets in the US and hosts the biggest crowds. Competing at Franklin Field in front of 50,000+ fans on the last weekend in April is one of the highlights in our sport. As thrilling as it is, it may be the most difficult meet we have. This makes it sort of a barometer of who is ready to be a ‘get it done’ person. There can be weather issues, crowd issues, warmup issues, but ultimately someone will lift a Championship of America trophy above their heads. Athletes who can deal with distractions and prevail there typically can deal with less-than-ideal conditions that may arise at Big 12 and NCAA Championship meets where they always give out places one-through-eight regardless of conditions.”
The month of April also includes the John Jacobs Invitational, named after the longtime Sooner head coach who was a legend himself. This year’s meet, set for April 21-22, will also serve as a reunion for OU’s conference championship teams from the 1960s.
The April schedule really is set up to prepare the Sooners for what VanHootegem calls the “championship season,” the trio of meets that end with the NCAA meet. The Big 12 Championship is scheduled for May 12-14 in Lawrence followed two weeks later by the NCAA West Prelims May 25-27 in Austin. Qualifiers from the West prelims will earn their tickets to the NCAA Championships in “Tracktown USA.” All sites have a familiar feel for the Sooners.
“Our team is composed of veterans of Mike A. Meyers Stadium. If you are at the NCAA first round, then you probably have competed at the Texas Relays. Plus, many of our athletes are from the Lone Star State and competed in the state championships there. If there is a most important meet on our schedule, this might be it. We will be prepared no matter where it is, but it is always great to compete at a Big 12 school,” he added.
Last year’s NCAA West prelims were in Lawrence, giving Sooners a chance to compete in that track atmosphere before traveling to the Big 12 meet there in 2017.
|Jan. 14||Sooner Opener||Norman, Okla.||10 a.m.|
|Jan. 21||Mark Colligan Memorial Inv.||Lincoln, Neb.||10 a.m.|
|Jan. 27-28||J.D. Martin Invitational||Norman, Okla.||1 p.m./10 a.m.|
|Feb. 3-4||Armory Collegiate Invitational||New York City.||11 a.m./9 a.m.|
|Feb. 10-11||Tyson Invitational||Fayetteville, Ark.||Noon/10 a.m.|
|Feb. 10-11||Husky Classic||Seattle, Wash.||4 p.m./9 a.m.|
|Feb. 18||Alex Wilson Inv.||South Bend, Ind.||11 a.m.|
|Feb. 24-25||Big 12 Championship||Ames, Iowa||10 a.m./11 a.m.|
|March 10-11||NCAA Indoor Championship||College Station, Texas||10 a.m./10:30 a.m.|
|March 17-18||Baldy Castillo Invitational||Tempe, Ariz.||1 p.m./10 a.m.|
|March 25||Bobby Lane Invitational||Arlington, Texas||9 a.m.|
|March 29-April 1||Texas Relays||Austin, Texas||10:30 a.m./10 a.m./9:30 a.m./10 a.m.|
|March 31-April 1||Stanford Invitational||Stanford, Calif.||10 a.m./1 p.m.|
|April 8||Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner Kersee Invitational||Los Angeles, Calif.||10 a.m.|
|April 21-22||John Jacobs Invitational||Norman, Okla.||5 p.m./10:30 a.m.|
|April 27-29||Penn Relays||Philadelphia, Pa.||9 a.m./9 a.m./9 a.m.|
|May 12-14||Big 12 Outdoor Championship||Lawrence, Kan.||11 a.m./10 a.m./Noon|
|May 25-27||NCAA West Prelims||Austin, Texas||Noon/Noon/Noon|
|June 8-11||NCAA Outdoor Championship||Eugene, Ore.||11 a.m./10 a.m./4 p.m./1:30 p.m.|