This year's goal for UNC: to leave its conference competitors in the dust and make its mark nationally. The Tar Heels will begin their shot at national prominence at Virginia Tech today.
"Throughout the 1990s we were always first or second in the ACCs," said UNC track and field coach Dennis Craddock. "I want us to get back there. I think we also have a good chance to place in the top 10 (nationally) if everyone does what they're supposed to do."
But a conference championship won't come easily for UNC with both Clemson and Florida State expected to challenge the Tar Heels.
"It's kind of an enviable situation," Craddock said. "Everyone shoots for us. I think the secret for our women is not to become complacent and not think that just because they line up they're going to win."
North Carolina boasts senior sprinters Crystal Cox and Lutisha Shittu, who competed in the Olympic trials last summer.
While Shittu placed third in the
60-meter hurdles at last year's ACC Championships, Cox took a medical redshirt.
"Everybody's going to have to stay healthy," Shittu said. "It's possible that we can win the ACCs, but it's going to take a team effort."
Senior Trish Nervo will help lead a formidable distance squad for the Tar Heels. Nervo returns to the track after using up her eligibility in the 1999 cross country season. She was the ACC indoor champion in the 3,000 meters and placed second in the 5,000 last year.
Seniors Kim Timberlake and Beth George will also fuel North Carolina's firepower in the distance and middle distance events.
But on the heels of the upperclassmen is a strong group of freshmen expected to keep up with the pack.
"We got some freshmen that we think can help us certainly with the relays if not as individuals," Craddock said.
Freshman Alice Schmidt steps onto the track for the Tar Heels as a four-time high school Nebraska state champion and state record holder in the 800. Schmidt practiced with the cross country team this fall and said her goal was to qualify for nationals.
"I expect good things from our distance team this year," Schmidt said. "We should be stacked in every event."
But unlike the women's team, North Carolina's men's squad is not deep. The Tar Heels will rely on the strength of throwers Ian Douglas, Kestutis Celiesius, Sal Gigante and John Ridgway.
Craddock said he will talk to UNC football coach John Bunting about the possibility of Bosley Allen, Alge Crumpler and Kevin Knight competing for the team and adding depth.
"For our men, we have some weak areas," Craddock said. "It's not that Clemson has more top-flight athletes. Really, for the men our throws will be the biggest asset."
UNC has finished second in the ACC the last four years. But the Tar Heels' attempt to knock off rival Clemson will be even more difficult with the absence of the Victor twins, Zach and Dash, top distance runners who will miss the season with leg injuries.
Nevertheless, the team's goal is a league championship and a top-20 finish.
"We've been lucky enough to get athletes here with a great work ethic," Craddock said. "I believe it's more of a mental thing than anything. The men have to believe they're good enough to win."
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