As outdoor season begins, Bulldogs take aim at podium

Fresh off the Georgia women’s third-place finish at the NCAA indoor track and field championships last weekend, the Bulldogs begin the outdoor season today in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Tempe, Ariz.

And sophomore Freya Jones, who won the NCAA crown in the javelin a year ago but doesn’t compete during the indoor season, is champing at the bit to defend her title.

“It’s been a long time,” said the British-born All-America selection, who probably won’t begin competition until the Spec Towns National Team Invitational in early April. “I’m working really hard at the moment, conditioning really hard, and I’m just starting to really step up my javelin and get ready for the outdoor season. I’m really excited to get out and do some competition and see what I can do this year.”

Jones, who won the javelin last June in Des Moines, Iowa, with a personal-best throw of 180 feet, 3 inches, admitted that it hasn’t been easy to watch her teammates compete while she’s on the sidelines.

“It’s hard, but they give me a lot of team spirit,” she said. “I like to see what they do, and honestly, it gives me a bit of a boost to get out and get ready for the outdoor season. How the girls did this season indoors has inspired a lot of the people who can’t do indoors (events) to really get excited for the outdoors.”

Excitement seems to be the watchword around the Spec Towns track as most of the Bulldogs squad will head to the Alabama Relays (which began Thursday), with nine throwers traveling to the Castillo Invitational at Arizona State (which starts today), to kick off the outdoor season.

Georgia coach Wayne Norton, now in his 15th year at the helm of the Bulldogs’ track and field program, said the women’s excellent performance at the NCAA indoors should provide both momentum and motivation for the upcoming outdoor campaign.

“Mainly what it does is get people excited,” Norton said. “It’s really all about the energy and emotion when you’re talking about talent being equal and the resources and all those things, so it gets people excited about track. Hopefully, the athletes are getting excited.”

And with a pair of national championship performances last weekend in Albuquerque, it seems likely the Bulldogs will be more than a little amped up this weekend. The women were paced by true freshman Kendell Williams’ record-setting score of 4,635 points in the pentathlon and redshirt freshman Leontia Kallenou’s victory in the high jump with a mark of 6-1 ½.

“I think I’m on a roll, so I hope I can keep it going,” said Williams, whose brother Devon Williams is a multi-event competitor for the men’s team. “In my opinion, outdoors is more fun, so I’m ready to go. Finishing third really motivated us to want to be back on the podium. I know it motivated the guys to get more of them to the big meet. It’s going to be fun.”

When asked if he was surprised by his true freshman’s pentathlon results, Norton said, “Not at all. If you look at what she did in high school, everybody knew that if she puts it together with good structure in her training, special things would happen. She set an American junior record with a 4,302 earlier in the season. That was pretty good, but it doesn’t even compare to the 4,635. … However, if you look at that performance, she was not at her best, not like she’ll be in the long jump, hurdles and the shot. She’s got to build back up to the heptathlon. Javelin is not her strong suit, so it’s not like she’s going to be the world record holder in everything. She’s going to have to get her javelin level up to the level of her other events.”

On Wednesday, Williams was named the National Women’s Field Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Senior sprinter Jonathan Smith, who came in 20th in the 100 meters at last year’s outdoor NCAAs, agreed that the women’s superior finish at the NCAA indoors will provide plenty of incentives for the men’s squad this spring.

“That definitely motivates the guys,” he said. “We haven’t done that well in a while, and to see those girls get out there and take top three is pretty amazing. It really drives you while you’re at practice to strive for that greatness.”

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