2005-2006 Track and Field Season Review
Georgia Completes 'One Of The Best Years Ever' In Track And Field
Since the inception of its track and field program in 1933, the Bulldogs have experienced numerous memorable highlights. The men's first Southeastern Conference outdoor championship in 1937 and the women's second-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships in 1996 are a pair of finales which have helped develop Georgia's program into what it is today.
In 2006, Georgia created another batch of bragging rights during both the indoor and outdoor seasons. The Lady Bulldogs had particularly impressing campaigns, not only claiming the school's first SEC indoor title, but also winning Georgia's first outdoor championship since 1995. In addition, junior Jennifer Dahlgren broke the collegiate record in the hammer throw during her team's outdoor campaign.
For the men, expectations soared for the 2007 seasons after a host of underclassmen excelled both indoors and outdoors. Junior David Dickens, sophomores Martin Maric and Adam Sarafian and freshman Justin Gaymon were four of the Bulldogs who showed promise during the combined seasons from January to June. But the Lady Bulldogs were the ones who created a true foundation for greatness in 2006.
Following the final meet of the year, Georgia head coach Wayne Norton, who was voted the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's South District Women's Coach of the Year, expressed his thoughts on the women Lady Bulldogs' latest campaign.
"The 2006 season has to be remembered as one of the best years ever for women's track and field at Georgia because it was decorated with individual championships, team championships and numerous awards," Norton said. "The year has been very exciting and especially rewarding because our coaching staff knew that it was possible."
Georgia began the year by participating in four indoor meets before arriving in Gainesville, Fla., for the SEC Indoor Championships. Highlighted by junior Jennifer Dahlgren's conference title in the weight throw on the meet's final day, the Lady Bulldogs outlasted Auburn 101.50 to 96 to win the team championship. In addition to Dahlgren, freshman Levern Spencer (high jump), senior Kierney Jackson (pole vault) and sophomore Natalie Picchetti (mile) also brought back individual SEC crowns to Athens.
Judging by the list Norton singled out as who the Lady Bulldog leaders are, the success during the indoor and outdoor seasons was truly a team effort.
"Spencer, (Patricia) Sylvester, Dahlgren, (Shenae) Dawkins, Jackson, (Lauren) Burks, (Kristin) Heffelfinger, (Jill) Steffens, Picchetti, (Sarah) Madebach, (Shaka) Dennison, (Krista) Woodward and (Sigrun) Fjeldsted, among others, were simply fabulous in 2006," he said. "These women made up a power team whose place in history is set."
Once the starting pistol sounded for the first event at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., the Georgia women appeared destined for a top-five finish. Dahlgren was again her team's leader by launching a throw of 78 feet, 10.50 inches, which was the second-longest throw in collegiate history, to win an individual national title on the meet's first day of competition. When the meet concluded on Saturday, March 11, another trio of Georgia women - Spencer, Jackson and Sylvester - had also picked up All-American certificates and given their team a tie for fifth place.
Following the school's first indoor conference title and solid showing at the national meet, more awards began to pour in for the Georgia women. Norton was named the SEC Women's Indoor Coach of the Year, Dahlgren was voted the SEC Women's Indoor Field Athlete of the Year and Spencer was honored with the SEC Women's Freshman Field Athlete of the Year award as preparations for the outdoor season continued.
With the beginning of the outdoor season coming on March 24 at the Clemson Relays, both of Georgia's teams grew even stronger in the field portion of events. For the women, Woodward and Fjeldsted began competing in the javelin and freshman Josipa Jelicic made her debut in the discus for the Lady Bulldogs. On the men's side, sophomore Martin Maric added the javelin and the discus to his shot put and hammer throw duties and would qualify for the NCAA Outdoor Championships in both of the first two events.
Georgia's teams competed in seven outdoor meets, including the Mt. SAC Relays (Walnut, Calif.) and the Drake Relays (Des Moines, Iowa), before the SEC Outdoor Championships in Fayetteville began. When May 11-14 arrived, the Lady Bulldogs would need every single point they scored, including Lauren Burks' eighth-place finish (1 point) in the 5000 meters on the meet's final day, to again edge Auburn 136-135.
Scoring the bulk of the points for the Georgia women at the SEC Outdoor Championships were the team's five conference individual champions. Sylvester, a native of River Sallee, Grenada, continued her stellar senior season by registering wins in both the long jump (21-7.50) and the triple jump (43-9.75) and battling for a second-place finish in the high jump (5-10.50) to score 28 points and win the meet's coveted Commissioner's Trophy.
In addition, Spencer, Jackson and Dahlgren repeated their indoor results with SEC titles and Woodward won her third conference crown in four years in the javelin. The Lady Bulldog distance runners, who finished with 34 points between them, also tallied points essential to claiming the SEC championship.
Between the SEC Championships and the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Dahlgren joined teammates junior David Dickens, Maric, freshman Justin Gaymon, Sylvester, Jackson, Woodward, Fjeldsted and junior Sarah Gretzmacher as they qualified for a trip to the national meet in Sacramento, Calif., at the NCAA East Regional in Greensboro, N.C. Dahlgren's results at the Regional will be marks that live in Georgia track and field history forever.
On her second throw at the Regional, Dahlgren had an effort of 236-3, which bettered the former collegiate record by more than 6 feet. Dahlgren finished the meet with a win (by an amazing 34 feet), a new record for the SEC, NCAA and South America, one of the top-10 throws in the world at that time in 2006 and a firm hold in the school record books.
With a group of 11 team members, Norton and his coaching staff flew across the country to Sacramento for the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Solidifying her spot as one of the top field athletes in Georgia history, Dahlgren won her second national title of the season after claiming the hammer throw championship. In addition, Sylvester came through with a second-place finish in the long jump while Jackson and Spencer joined them in earning outdoor All-American honors. When the final 4x400 relay was complete, the Lady Bulldogs took ninth overall, giving the women's team its third top-10 finish in a row.
Capping their run to a pair of titles was another round of postseason awards. While cross country and assistant track coach Dave Hartman was named the USTFCCCA's East Region Women's Distance Coach of the Year, Norton and Dahlgren were again singled out by the SEC for annual outdoor awards and Dahlgren also was named the USTFCCCA's South District Women's Field Athlete of the Year.
The men also had some exciting moments during in 2006. Sarafian and Dickens, who combined to score 12 points in the pole vault and 200, respectively, at the SEC Indoor Championships, picked up indoor All-American certificates after their performances in Fayetteville, Ark. Also, Maric, who neared the top of Georgia's all-time list in the javelin and discus, finished sixth in the javelin at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, which gave him his first All-American honor and got the Bulldogs on the scoreboard.
A group of freshmen sprinters/hurdlers also encouraged both sprints and assistant track coach Jon Stuart as well as Norton for the future. Gaymon, who advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 400 hurdles, Jarrell Stewart, who scored at the SEC meet, Trey Fletcher, Jarrod Brown, Kevin Dickson, Sean Cuevo, Keelan Knox and Michael Proctor all showed signs of being dominant forces in the seasons to come.
"Our men's team actually had a good year although they were overshadowed by how spectacular our women are," Norton said. "After four record-breaking seasons by the men's team from 2002-2005, we had to find new scorers and leaders in 2006 - and that happened within the group of freshmen and sophomores. Maric established himself as one of the nation's best in the javelin and discus. Gaymon developed into a good hurdler and relay runner to give Dickens some help in the sprint events. And (sophomore) Kyle Helf scored at the SEC in three events."
After both his teams had returned from the NCAA Outdoor Championships and the offseason had begun, Norton again gave his analysis regarding the men and women's performance during the 2006 seasons.
"The women's team is outstanding now, but the men's team is developing for the future," he said.