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George Mason coach surprised over role as defending champion

March 7, 1997

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ George Mason coach John Cook never expected to be the defending champion in the men’s NCAA indoor track and field championships, and he doesn’t anticipate a repeat this weekend.

Arkansas, which had its streak of 12 consecutive championships snapped by Cook’s team last year, is his favorite in the meet that begins Friday at the RCA Dome.

``I never thought we would be in that role as an NCAA champion,″ said Cook, selected the NCAA national coach of the year after his Patriots won here and finished second in the outdoor championships. ``We are what we are at George Mason, a small private college. It costs a lot to come here, we have high academics and we can’t get the number of athletes that other schools can recruit.″

Cook said he hopes to contend for second behind the Razorbacks.

``This year, I think the real Arkansas is back. Last year was a year of parity in our sport because many athletes concentrated on preparing for the Olympics,″ Cook said. ``Three or four teams could have won it last year. This year I think you can take it to the bank that Arkansas is going to the top. I look for them to score in the 50s.″

George Mason won last year’s meet with 33, followed by Nebraska with 31.5 and Arkansas third with 30 points.

George Mason has one of the defending individual champions in Julius Achon of Uganda, who is the favorite in the mile, The Patriots also hope to score well in the 800, where Sammy Biwott of Kenya ranks as the favorite and three of his teammates have among the eight leading times in the event this year.

The Razorbacks have two defending champions: Ryan Wilson in the 3,000 and Robert Howard in the triple jump. Howard, the indoor and outdoor champion in the event last year, could also win in the long jump.

Another challenger for a double is Obadele Thompson of Texas-El Paso. An Olympian from Barbados, Thompson set a world best of 5.99 seconds in winning the Western Athletic Conference championship two weeks ago in the 55 and is back as the defending champion in the 200. His winning performance of 20.36 topped a meet record set by Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson for Baylor in 1989.

The only other returnee from last year’s men’s champion is Michael Robertson in the high jump.

Louisiana State, the defending Division I women’s champion, is seeking its fifth straight indoor crown and its eighth in 10 years. Coach Pat Henry’s squad should be challenged by Texas, Florida, Southern Methodist and Georgetown.

The Gators finished ahead of LSU 131-110 in the Southeastern Conference meet. Becki Wells, who won the mile and 3,000 in the SEC meet, isn’t going to double here. She will concentrate on the mile, an event in which she has the best time of 4:35.00 this year.

Florida’s LaKisha Jett seeks to double in the 55 and 200. She’ll be challenged in both events. Jett was beaten in the 200 by LSU’s Astia Walker in the SEC meet and barely edged out LSU’s Kwajalein Butler in the 55 when both were timed in 6.83.

The defending champions in the women’s Division I meet are North Carolina’s Monique Hennagann, 400; Nebraska’s Angee Henry, long jump; and South Carolina’s Dawn Ellerbe, 20-pound weight throw.

The Division II championships will also be held Friday and Saturday in the RCA Dome. Abilene Christian is seeking its fifth consecutive women’s title and is also the defending champion in the men’s competition.

Defending individual women’s champions in Division II are Lorraine Graham of Lincoln, 400; Malgorzata Biela, Lewis, 800; DeLoreen Ennis, Abilene Christian, 55 hurdles; Andrea Jeseritz, North Dakota State, high jump; Ermalinda Shehu of Western State, triple jump; Petra Juraskova, Cal State-Los Angeles, shot put; and Beck Ball, Ashland, weight throw.

Seeking repeat crowns in Division II men’s competition are Manual Joseph, Lewis, 800; Alexander Alexin, Central Missouri, mile; Thomas Korir, Abilene Christian, 5,000; and Tambi Wenj, Cal State-Los Angeles, shot put.