UA track teams start outdoor season with Top 10 rankings

Evidently, the track coaches around the country are not expecting much fall-off from a University of Arizona track & field program that last year finished with both men’s and women’s teams ranked in the nation’s Top 10.

Pre-season rankings released yesterday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches’ Association have both squads again ranked to finish among the top 10 programs.

The men were picked to finish in the No. 9 spot and the women at No. 10.

Last season, the program wrapped up one of its best in history as the women finished in fifth place nationally, with national championships going to Brigetta Barrett in the high jump and Julie Labonte in the shot put.  It was the second national title for both women and both are returning this season.

This year, the Cats are coming off a cross country season that saw the women finish fifth in the Pac-12 and the men wrap up in the No. 8 spot.

As the track team gets ready to open the outdoor season, Barrett and Labonte will lead a group of strong competitors that includes Georganne Moline, a member of the 4×400 relay team that set a school record, and Jen Bergman, a junior who was an All-American last year in the 10,000-meter run.

Moline is a local product, who had a stand-out career as a hurdler at Thunderbird High School in Phoenix.  She was the 4A-I state champion in the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles and set the second-fastest time (43.15) in Arizona high school history in the 300 hurdles.

For the men, it was the distance events that propelled them into a seventh-place national finish in 2011, which was the program’s best in five years.

Sophomore Lawi Lalang stepped off to what will surely be a record-setting career at Arizona, going undefeated throughout his freshman cross country season and then adding a runner-up finish in the 5,000 meters during the outdoor track season.

Stephen Sambu, who will be wrapping up his Arizona career this year, finished third last year in the 5K at the NCAA Indoor Championships and third in the 10,000-meter race in the outdoor competition.

The pair from Kenya will have help via the field events, as the Cats return sophomore All-American Bozidar Antunovic in the shot put and Nick Ross, the Pac-10 high jump champion.  And Chris McSwain, a champion sprinter at the MPSF Indoor Championships, also returns for his senior year.

The 2011 season produced the highest overall finish for both teams from the same school in one season, which set a state record.  And it was the only time that both Wildcat teams finished in the top 10 in the same season.

This season will officially open for the Cats with a trip to Flagstaff, where they will compete Saturday in the annual Lumberjack Invitational at Northern Arizona University.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)