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Ohio State track upperclassmen ‘lead by performance’

The Ohio State women’s track and field team won their second-consecutive Big Ten outdoor trophy on May 13, meaning OSU has won three of the last four championships, including both indoor and outdoor competitions.
Following their success, the Big Ten honored junior thrower Alexis Thomas, All-American Christina Manning and coach Karen Dennis May 15 for their individual achievements this season, as well as during the Big Ten Championship meet.
Dennis was selected by fellow Big Ten coaches as Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season. Her “work hard, work smart” strategy has proved effective for the Buckeyes, helping lead the team to their Big Ten title.
Dennis said the inspiration for one athlete comes from the success of a teammate.
Dennis spoke on how Thomas’ Big Ten record-breaking hammer throw during the first event of the championships was an example of one athlete kick-starting the team’s momentum.
“I think that you lead by performance. (Thomas has) qualified for the Olympic trials, and so others decide ‘Well you know what? If she can do that, I want to go to the Olympic trials also,'” Dennis said. “That’s what it takes. You have to lead by example.”
Thomas was named Big Ten Field Athlete of the Year and Field Athlete of the Championships, making her the first Buckeye in history to be named both. Thomas set a Big Ten meet record mark of 64.62 meter (212 feet) and took home the gold medal, breaking the OSU record in the process.
Thomas said that the friendly rivalry between herself and fellow teammate, senior thrower Maggie Mullen, began freshman year has helped Thomas to progress to the level she is competing at today.
“She’s on my heels. She’s a fierce competitor. Me and her have been rivals since I got here. My coach says, ‘If it’s just you two at the end, and you’re competing against each other, that’s what we want.’ That really keeps us going. We push each other. So I really appreciate her for that,” Thomas said.
Dennis said the style of leading by example among teammates has led to a cycle of athletes following in their predecessors footsteps, while continuing to build upon their abilities and blaze their own pathway to success.
“Through the years, we’ve tried to talk about ‘There are no stars on this team, we do this together.’ Truth be told, there is a star on this team. I think the star is Christina. Christina has done a great job,” Dennis said.
Manning was named Big Ten Athlete of the Year, following two Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week honors during the outdoor season, and the setting of a new school record in the 100-meter hurdles (12.68 seconds). Manning has already qualified for the Olympic Trials in June, and her performance there will determine whether or not Manning will compete in the London Olympics this summer.
Manning said her teammates and coach provide an extra incentive to succeed.
“My motivation comes from my team. I love my team to death, and my coach, and I just want to leave here with a big imprint on our program. My coach deserves it, and I think about that a lot,” Manning said.
As a senior, Manning said she hopes her career at OSU will continue to inspire and motivate her younger teammates, and shared the way she improved from her freshman season, to where she now stands as a senior.
“First of all, never give up. My freshman year, the worst. I didn’t think I would be anything that I am right now. Always keep their mind where their heart is, because this is where my heart was, my mind just wasn’t here. That’s the main thing – just don’t give up,” Manning said.
Dennis said her team builds their own individual performances through the drive they witness in the success and performances of their teammates.
“They look at each other for strength, and that’s where I think our strength comes from. It comes from each other. We just try to build on it, as well as improve on it,” Dennis said.
The Buckeyes will head to Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday through Saturday for the 2012 NCAA East Regional Preliminaries.

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