Husker track and field again feeling pain of injuries at start of new season

LINCOLN — Nebraska track and field coach Gary Pepin pulls a 2018 media guide from his cabinet and opens it on his desk. Where athletes have been injured, Pepin has left notes in red marker.

As Pepin goes over the women’s roster, there are notes on nearly every page, a reminder of last year’s disappointing ninth-place finish in the Big Ten’s indoor championships. The women finished fifth in the league’s outdoor meet. The men finished second and third, respectively, with a smaller roster and 5½ fewer scholarships to split among athletes.

The Husker men may have more top athletes right now than the women’s team, Pepin said. But the men have also avoided getting hurt.

“We have really gotten hit with the injury thing again,” Pepin said. He later produced a list that showed 22 of 23 women who were hurt last year were scholarship athletes. “That’s been real tough. It’s been across the board in all kinds of events. And, in some cases, it didn’t even have to do with track and field. They got ran over on their bicycle and all kinds of stuff.”

And, as NU starts its 2019 track and field season this weekend with the Graduate Classic at the Devaney Center, some of the top women’s athletes still aren’t all the way back. High jumper Petra Luteran — whom Pepin said blew out her knee while finishing second in the Big Ten indoor championships — is still on the mend. Junior multi-event athlete Madison Yerigan — whom Pepin calls “a star” — may not be 100 percent, either.

So while Nebraska returns some talent — among others, Pepin mentioned long jumper Raynesha Lewis, thrower Jamesha Western, hurdler Jasmine Barge, triple jumper Angela Mercurio and, once outdoor season rolls around, javelin thrower Brittni Wolczyk — he won’t guarantee the women improve on a disappointing 2018 season. He’s not sure yet, even if a ninth-place conference meet finish, for a guy who’s won 72 conference titles, is “not acceptable.”

“That’s not what we’re working towards,” Pepin said.

The NU men, on the other hand, could be “pretty doggone good,” Pepin said.

All-America hurdler and Crete native Luke Siedhoff is back. The pole vaulters and throwers should be good, Pepin said, and that’s before NU gets, from the football team, Carlos and Khalil Davis for the outdoor season. Senior Jared Seay should be a factor in the heptathalon. Junior Isaiah Hutchinson and freshman Tony Nou could score points in the sprints. And Pepin singles out distance runner George Kusche, whom NU recruited out of South Africa, as perhaps the best male miler the school has ever recruited. Kusche was Big Ten freshman of the year in cross country and finished third in the league meet.

“He’ll be good in several distances,” Pepin said

Among the competitors at the Classic will be Minnesota — one of the Big Ten’s stronger teams, Pepin said — UNO, Drake, UNK and Northwest Missouri State. Pepin said it’s increasingly hard to draw teams to indoor meets because so many schools have built indoor track facilities. While Nebraska remains one of the best, Pepin said, there are now closer meets schools can attend, or they can host their own meets.

Friday’s events begin at 4 p.m. Saturday’s events begin at noon.