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April 15, 2014

Hokies track down All-America honors

By: Jimmy Robertson

All seven Tech athletes who qualified for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships became All-Americans after their performances

Torben Laidig has only been on Tech’s campus a few months, but the Germany native claimed sixth place in the pole vault at the NCAA indoor meet to earn All-America honors.

Dave Cianelli has been coaching track and field since 1985, but he thinks what transpired at this year’s NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships marked a first.

Tech’s track and field teams combined to send seven athletes to the meet, which was held in Albuquerque, N.M., in mid-March, and all seven took home All-America honors, as the Hokies wrapped up the indoor season in fine fashion and got a nice jumpstart into the spring outdoor season.

“I was extremely happy,” Cianelli said of his group’s performance. “When you take a group where everyone scores and becomes a first-team All-American … that’s probably the first time that’s happened in my tenure. It wasn’t a huge group, but it was a young group. The only seniors were the Degfaes [Tihut and Lee] in the DMR [distance medley relay]. We’re pretty young overall. I feel good about the next year or two because we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores who are new to the program. I think it’s going to be a good outlook for the next couple of years with this group.

“But that group that went to Albuquerque really performed well. At that meet, the quality is so high that you have to be on. You really have to bring your ‘A’ game.”

For Tech, the national meet featured a mix of surprise performances and expected performances.

Martina Schultze, one of two women to qualify for Tech, continued her string of excellence in the pole vault. The ACC champion finished in seventh place in the event, posting a mark of 14 feet, 1.25 inches (4.30 meters). The junior from Uhingen, Germany earned All-America honors for the fifth time in her career, and she has yet to miss out on All-America honors since arriving at Tech.

“She had a little bit of a hip injury before Christmas, and it slowed down her development during the indoor season, so she wasn’t quite as far along,” Cianelli said. “I think that time off when she was healing put her behind a little during the indoor season. I feel like she’s not going to hit her best until later in this outdoor season. She jumped well, and considering the time she missed, I think she performed well. But it wasn’t her best.”

The other Tech female in the contingent was Amanda Smith, a junior from Chesapeake, Va., and she picked up where she left off from the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championship held in Clemson, S.C., on Feb. 27-March 1. Smith won the 800-meter run at the ACC meet with a time of 2:05.25, and at the NCAA meet, she finished fifth with a time of 2:06.53.

Smith earned All-America honors for the first time. Until this meet, she had never qualified for an NCAA meet.

“After what she did at ACCs, she was very confident coming off that win, and I was confident that not only would she get in the final, but that she also would have a chance,” Cianelli said. “Being in the top five at her first NCAA meet is really outstanding. She’s going to be right there in the outdoor season and continue to be a force in the 800 next year as well.

“Sometimes you’ll get someone there for the first time and there will be some spectating going on. You don’t get that kind of situation during the regular season. But I felt that everyone who was there for the first time performed at their best. For her [Smith] to run a smart race in the preliminaries and then put herself in position, I mean, I felt she was running to win that final, and that’s what I was looking for. I wanted her to be aggressive and not tentative.

“Getting fifth was a great performance, and now she knows she can run with anybody in the country and her confidence should grow. Until you do it, it’s hard to convince yourself of that sometimes.”

The Hokies’ other individual qualifier was Torben Laidig, a freshman from Schwaebisch Hall, Germany who just enrolled this past January. He finished sixth in the pole vault, tying his personal best of 17 feet, 10.5 inches (5.45 meters). The ACC champion in the event claimed his first All-America honor.

“He’s been a surprise because he just arrived in January,” Cianelli said. “We did not expect that he would jump this high this soon. I think he was the surprise of the season. He came in with a PR [personal record] of 17 feet, and once he started jumping, there was a lot more there. The fact that he was able to jump high enough to win the ACC and qualify for the national meet and jump 17 feet, 10.5 (inches), that’s pretty impressive.

“And he’s a young kid, too. He’s only 19. It’s not like he’s got all this experience. Coming in in January, he’s really adapted well to the training. He’s been very consistent. There is more there. There’s no question he’s going to get better. As long as he stays healthy, I think he could be the best we’ve had in that event – and we’ve had some good vaulters over the years.”

The other Tech athletes earned All-America honors as a part of a relay team. The distance medley relay team of Tihut Degfae, Lee Degfae, Martin Dally and Grant Pollock finished in sixth place with a time of 9:42.82. Tihut Degfae became an All-American for the second time, while the others earned All-America status for the first time.

The Tech men’s and women’s teams began the outdoor season on March 21 at the Hurricane Invitational in Miami. The ACC’s outdoor meet will be held April 17-19 in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Both teams finished in fifth at the ACC’s indoor meet, and Cianelli remains optimistic about both teams’ chances going forward, particularly the men’s squad because that group sees Darrell Wesh and Thomas Curtin return. Both took a redshirt during the indoor season because of injuries. Both are proven, as Curtin won the 5,000-meter run at last year’s ACC outdoor meet, and Wesh won the 200-meter dash and finished second in the 100.

An ability to win events has become of the utmost importance now that the league consists of 14 teams because the scoring has become more spread out among the teams. For instance, a year ago, the Tech men’s team won the indoor meet with 153 points. This year, Florida State won it with 96.

“The people who can finish in the top three are more of a premium because it doesn’t take 150 points to win it any more,” Cianelli said. “The 10-point guy [a first-place finisher accumulates 10 points for the team total] is huge. It kind of plays into the type of team we are. Most of our scoring is high-quality kids who tend to place pretty high, and I think that’s what it’s going to take. We just have to have enough of them.

“The kid who scores in eighth place is important. Don’t get me wrong. But you’re not going to be able to make a difference in the meet with just sixth, seventh and eighth placers. You’re going to need those first, second and third placers to be in the mix.

“I think we can be in the mix this year, but I think we can really make a run next year. I’m excited, both for the men and the women. Our women are young. We have some outstanding freshmen and a good recruiting class coming in, and we don’t lose a lot as far as graduation. The group that competed at the conference meet during the indoor season did a great job. We were just light in numbers. We need a few more than what we have, but we’re not that far away.”