Jim Click Shootout draws Big-10 track teams to UofA

Although we’re several weeks into the college outdoor track & field season, Arizona is looking at this weekend’s “shoot out” as the first true meet on its 2011 outdoor schedule.

The University of Arizona women’s track team is set to defend its Jim Click Shootout title Saturday, when Pac-10 foe, Washington State, rolls into Drachman Stadium and joins Minnesota and Ohio State from the Big-10 to form the four-team field.

This is the first time in the outdoor season when a majority of Arizona’s men’s and women’s teams will actually be competing in their primary events.  Team members did compete in the Willie Williams Classic a couple of weeks ago, but they were competing in alternate events, making it more like a training meet.

And last week, the Cats sent a small group of distance runners to compete at the Stanford Invite in Palo Alto, Calif.

The women’s team, which is No. 11 in the pre-season computer rankings, returns three All-Americans from last year’s squad that finished 13th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

And the program is coming off one of its best indoor seasons in years.  The women captured a seventh place at the Indoor Championships, its best finish in nearly a decade, and the men’s 11th-place finish was their highest since 2007.

Julie Labonte, a sophomore, brought home a national title in the shot put after winning every event she entered during the indoor season.  Another sophomore, Brigetta Barrett, added a national title in the high jump, the first of her college career.

Labonte broke a 27-year-old school record during the indoor season and currently owns the best mark in the nation, with a throw of 57’11”.

Christina Rogers, a redshirt senior from Central High School in Phoenix, joined Labonte and Barrett as the third Wildcat named to the NCAA All-America first team.  She finished fifth overall in the 800-meter event at the nationals.

Seven from the men’s team made the first team, including the distance medley relay team of Abdi Hassan, Sean Delfani, James Eichberger, and Lawi Lalang.  The others were Edgar Rivera-Morales and Nick Ross, who both qualified for All-America honors with top-eight finishes in the high jump, and distance runner Stephen Sambu.

Sambu, a JUCO transfer, shattered a six-year-old UofA record in the 5,000-meter event with a time of 13:28.48.

Arizona State, which came into the outdoor portion of the season with a women’s squad ranked No. 16, will send five members of the track & field squad to participate in the Jim Click combined events on Thursday and Friday.  They will compete with other top collegiate competitors, as well as post-collegiate/professional athletes.  Two women will compete in the heptathlon and three men in the decathlon.

Those who began today’s competition are the same five that represented ASU last year in the multi’s.  Last year, Keia Pinnick finished fourth in her first collegiate heptathlon, and Samantha Henderson came in right behind her in fifth.

On the men’s side, Jamie Sandys led the Sun Devils with a seventh-place finish last year, followed by Austin Prince in eighth and Jeremy Marcinko in 11th.

The Sun Devils are coming off a strong performance in last week’s ASU Invitational, where they tallied three victories and had 11 top-three finishes.  That event, held on the Joe Selleh Track, included athletes from 14 different teams and a contingent of competitors on the international circuit.

Jasmine Chaney won the 400m hurdles, Anna Jelmini had the best throw in the discus to win her first discus competition at ASU, and Nick Happe broke the meet record in the 5,000-meter run (14:10.56) to round out the three wins.

This weekend’s Jim Click Shootout will be scored like a typical championship meet, with trophies for the men’s and women’s teams. The decathlon and heptathlon events, which kicked off this morning, will continue into tomorrow.   Saturday will open the team competition, with field events beginning at 9 a.m.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)