Women’s track: Worst to first

Mar 22 2011 in Athletics, emYOU! by Tim Adkins (admin)

by Jason Idalski

In 2007, Eastern Michigan’s women’s track team finished last in the 12-team Mid-American Conference indoor championships, tallying seven points in an event where the winner had 136. It was coach Sue Parks’ first year, and she knew she had a five-year rebuilding job on her hands.

Her efforts were right on schedule, as in late February the Eagles scored 118 points to win the MAC indoor title, the team’s first indoor crown in 11 years.

“Overall it was just a really good team effort. We pretty much scored really well across the board in all the events,” Parks said. “Everybody really came ready to go. That’s what you need to do to win. You have to have the talent, but you have to have the will, and the girls really had the desire and they really wanted it and ended up coming through for us.”

While track is inherently an individual sport, it is also more of a team sport than say, basketball, where one player can take over a game. To win in track, just about everybody needs to perform well. EMU benefitted from contributions from many athletes, including Southfield sophomore, Ashlee Abraham, who broke a conference record in the 60 and also won the 200. Lauren Quaintance and Beverly Elcock were 1-2 in the 800 and Courtney Calka set a school record in the 5,000. Eastern capped the meet by winning the 4×400 relay, an event Western Michigan had owned for the past few years.

For Parks, the win capped a gradual resurgence. The daughter of legendary EMU track coach Bob Parks (who won more than 40 MAC championships in cross-country, indoor and outdoor track in his career), Sue Parks has been around Bowen almost her whole life. She has memories of tagging along to practice and trying to run with the guys.

An EMU alumna, Sue Parks was an assistant at Michigan, Michigan State and Arizona before taking the head coaching job at Ball State, where she won eight conference championships and picked up a few seconds. Leaving a MAC school with a good program to take over a MAC school with a struggling program might have raised eyebrows, but, for Parks, it was time to come home.

“You can always do more, but I sort of felt like I’d taken [Ball State’s] program to where I’d wanted to, and I wanted a new challenge,” Parks said.

While it’s impossible to replicate her father’s run of dominance (especially considering that there are more women’s teams than men’s teams), Parks looks to continue the family run of success, starting with the outdoor season currently going on.

Parks said the head-to-head format benefits Eastern, but potential negatives are that the Eagles have a target on their back as the indoor champs, and that outdoors emphasizes field events a little more, an area that isn’t EMU’s strong point.

On the bright side, it will be slightly easier for Eastern to qualify runners for the NCAA Championships. Despite its MAC crown, no Eagle qualified for the indoor championships, mostly because the NCAA takes fewer qualifiers indoors.

“Sometimes some of the larger schools have bigger budgets to get to more big meets, so they’re able to post the marks they need to get indoors,” Parks said. “But outdoors it’s a little more of an even playing field.”

The outdoor MAC championships are May 12-14 at Northern Illinois. Olds/Marshall Track hosts the EMU Twilight meet on April 22 and 23.

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