Buffs to compete in ETSU track meet

By Matt Hill

   The annual track and field meet at East Tennessee State University is back after a one-year absence, but there definitely won't be an absence of Milligan College athletes in the event.
   Milligan's track and field team will be competing in the Niswonger Foundation Meet on Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Memorial Center/Dave Walker Track.
   The meet, now in its 25th year, didn't take place in 2002. Milligan track and field coach Chris Layne is thrilled with the opportunity for his team, and thinks this will be an event that
   "I'm excited not only for East Tennessee State University that the meet is back on the schedule, but I'm excited for our program to have the opportunity to have two chances to run at home in front of our hometown crowd, with the second being the national championships," he said.
   "For us, Coach Walker's meet at East Tennessee State University will be an opportunity to run against very good competition and for the majority of our group that have the chance to qualify for nationals, this will be the time to do it. And that will be the meet that will forward us the opportunity to run fast. We'll taper down to be ready for that competition, more so than others."
   Milligan's strength this indoor track season will be the distance events. Megan Lease, who was the Regional champion in cross country this past fall, will be counted on in the 3,000 and 5,000.
   "I think Megan has a great opportunity to qualify for nationals," Layne said. "We're looking for good things out of her again indoors."
   A prized recruit on the women's side that just joined the Milligan squad is Marta Zimon. Zimon is one of the top distance runners in Poland, and could totally dominate on this level.
   Zimon runs a 17.38 5K, which is by far faster than anybody on Milligan's team.
   "Marta is one of the top junior runners in Poland," Layne said. "She was third at their national cross country championships, and has a 5K personal best of 17.38, which is really going to put her in the hunt for a national title come March. Marta really not only adds to our chances on the women's side, but also looking to the fall in cross country for next year, she solidifies the No. 1 spot. I think Marta and Megan having the opportunity to train together will only make both of them better."
   On the men's side, Milligan's distance running is led by Chris Wright, who won the regional cross country meet this year as a freshman.
   "He came to us out of high school with better credentials on the track than he did in cross country," Layne said. "Chris has got a little bit of tendonitis right now in his knee. Though I think he has a good base underneath him, we'll have to wait and see how the injury improves. I think Chris would be a strong possibility to qualify in either the mile or the 3,000."
   Ryan Starr and Trevor Donovan have both qualified for nationals in distance events before, and will be a threat to do so again.
   Layne also plans to put together a distance relay team that he hopes will qualify for nationals for the second year in a row.
   Terrence Gatson will be the only sprinter during the indoor season for Milligan, but Layne still has high hopes for him.
   "Terrence gets lost in the shuffle, because he runs cross country, then does a quick shift into the 400," Layne said. "Terrence actually ran the time that would qualify for nationals at an indoor meet in December, but it's an oversized track, so they penalize you if the track is bigger than 200 meters. The conversion would put him just outside of the mark. I expect Terrence to have an opportunity to qualify indoors in the 400."
   The young man that Layne might excited about the most is Milligan basketball player and former Science Hill standout JaKeith Hairston.
   Hairston was the state champion in the long jump and triple jump last spring as a senior at Science Hill.
   "Historically, athletes who are basketball players and are jump oriented type athletes come off of basketball and do pretty well," Layne said. "Coach (Tony) Wallingford does a great job of putting together their fitness and their program. I think JaKeith will come out of basketball ready to jump. We just have to make sure we have enough time together to get his steps down. But there's no doubt he will come off of basketball ready to compete.
   Despite playing basketball, Hairston will be in the Niswonger meet.
   The Niswonger meet will give Milligan fans an opportunity to support the track and field team without having to leave the area. For tickets, call East Tennessee State University at 439-5371.