There are only five men’s and women’s track and field programs in the Power Five led by women. This weekend in Los Angeles all five of those programs, including director of track and field and cross country Karen Dennis-led Ohio State, will compete in the Power 5 Trailblazer Challenge.
Tennessee, Miami, USC, Ole Miss and Ohio State will compete in the meet.
This is the first time a meet that has a woman as the dual-program director for each team competing.
“It’s groundbreaking. But for me, I am hoping that it is an awaking so to speak for other programs to consider making women the primary coach,” Dennis said.
Dennis has been a coach since 1977 and has seen the difficulties of women becoming coaches first-hand for decades.
“I was insulted that men were expected to coach women, but I thought that women who knew the sport were equally or better than men,” Dennis said. “For me this has been a evolution of my career, where the sport has changed and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of that change.”
During the indoor season, Dennis became the first woman to win the Big Ten Men’s Coach of the Year.
The meet offers Ohio State a chance for redemption against high-profile national programs after a disappointing performance at the indoor NCAA indoor championship meet.
Ohio State’s 4×400-meter relay team will meet its toughest opponent on the track in USC. The Trojans broke the world record with a time of 3:00.77 during the NCAA indoor national championships.
Early in the season, teams will test their rosters and split up their relay teams, which Ohio State did at the Black and Gold Challenge. Dennis said that won’t be the case this weekend, due to the meet being higher profile.
“You don’t want to invite all of these people down here and have a watered-down meet,” Dennis said.
One of the other major matchups will involve Ohio State sophomore Alexander Lomong in the 800-meter run. Lomong, Mississippi’s Waleed Suliman and USC’s Robert Ford are all within a second of each other’s personal-best times.
Lomong said he has focused on running long distances in order to help his body endure the race pace for the length of 800 meters.
Field events might be an opportunity for Ohio State to separate itself from the competition.
Senior Cole Gorski is coming off a record-breaking pole vault performance last week and his strongest competition has a chance to be his teammate, junior Coty Cobb.
Senior Maggie Barrie will match up against All-American talent in the 400-meter dash. USC’s Kendall Ellis won the indoor national championship two weeks ago.
Freshman Aziza Ayoub, Miami’s Kayla Johnson and Ole Miss’s Maddie McHugh all have personal bests separated by fewer than two seconds.
Junior Sade Olatoye will face Ole Miss’s Janeah Stewart in shot put. Stewart and Olatoye faced off several times during the indoor season.