UA women begin track & field season with No. 14 ranking

It’s still early in January and it’s already time for the jocks in the baggy, knee-length basketball shorts to make room on the sports page for those athletes running around the oval in the short shorts.

Yep, it’s time for college track & field to begin its indoor program.

And in Tucson, the women Wildcats are ready to run and jump.  The University of Arizona’s women’s team will step out into the new season ranked No. 14 in the country.

The pre-season ranking, which is done by the United States Track & Field and Cross-country Coaches Association, is based on a computer program that uses mathematical formulae that mixes descending order lists and results from previous seasons.

This is just the third year the sport has used the ranking system and it is the highest pre-season ranking for the Cats’ women’s team during that time.  Arizona’s men’s team is unranked going into the season.

The women wrapped up last year with a 13th place overall finish at the NCAA Championships, their best national finish since 2001.

This year, they return an Indoor All-American and a pair of Outdoor All-Americans who also competed at the indoor national meet.

Brigetta Barrett, a sophomore from Texas, finished third in the high jump at last year’s indoor national championships and earned All-America honors with a jump of 6’0 1/2″.

Christina Rodgers is a local product, a redshirt senior from Central High School in Phoenix.  She had an All-America finish in the 800-meter event in the outdoors and also swept the 600- and 1000-meter races.  Julie LaBonte, a sophomore from Quebec, earned her All-America distinction in the shot put.

There are also a couple of other grads out of Arizona high schools who are expected to contribute this year.  Both are freshmen.

Tamara Pridgett, from Rincon HS in Tucson, will be competing in the high jump, 60-meter dash, and running a leg of the 4×300 meter medley.  Shapri Romero, from St. Mary’s HS in Phoenix, will provide some additional depth, running in the 150-meter and 300-meter events.

Both showed well in the intrasquad meet in mid-December.  Pridgett won the long jump and took third in the 60m, while Romero took a fourth in the 150m and second in the 300m.

Germe Poston, a freshman from Tacoma, Wash., finished as runner-up in both the 60m and 150m at the intrasquad meet.

On the men’s side, much of their success will be pinned to junior-college transfer, Stephen Sambu, who is the NJCAA national champion in two indoor events, the 3k and 5k races.

Sambu also won back-to-back NJCAA Division I cross-country titles while at Rend College in southern Illinois.  He is unbeaten in national competition.

James Eichberger, a sophomore middle distance runner from California, and Christopher McSwain, a sprinter from Nevada, also showed well in the intrasquad competition.  Eichberger swept the 600- and 100-meter events, and McSwain won the 150-meter.

The Wildcats kick off the season next weekend when they travel to Boise, Idaho, for the January 15 Bronco Invitational.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)