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Published 2006-03-01T00:00:00Z”/>

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Zuri Berry

In her last season, Jennifer James wants to empty the vault on her competition, she said.

James has invested a lot of energy running for the women’s track and field team, as well as cross-country. As a four-time All-American, twice for cross-country and twice for track and field, she’s ready to unload everything she has left on her competition.

“We got all this money in the bank,” James said. “Now its time to spend it all.”

She credits the analogy to her male teammates, but she said she’s taking it to heart with the help of a stacked women’s team for 2006.

She’s leading a returning class of prolific distant runners, while the team is rounded out with some solid new talent.

Darci Burton and Laura Cohen are returning California Collegiate Athletic Association conference champions.

Burton will be defending her crown in the javelin. As a senior, she will be leading a young group of throwers this year, including Nicole Barbour from Paradise High School.

Cohen will be running the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter races. She had a disappointing finish last year in the NCAA championship race when she didn’t finish because she was sick. Women’s head coach Oliver Hanf said he expects a lot from Cohen.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Hanf said of Cohen not finishing the 10,000-meter race. “She’s bouncing back, getting ready for a big year.”

Newcomers Ricki Sullivan, Elle Cruikshank, Lindsey Brown and Ashley Atkinson provide depth over the competition.

Sullivan, a first-year student from Harbor High School in Santa Cruz, comes in as the top triple-jumper for the team after clearing 38-3 in high school – a NCAA Division II qualifying mark. By comparison, the longest distance cleared last year for Chico State was 34-11. Sullivan will also run in the 4×100-meter relay.

Cruikshank and Brown will compete in the heptathlon and 800-meter.

To get ready for Thursday’s upcoming invitational, the Wildcats hosted their own inter-squad meet with a 1970s and ’80s theme on Friday and Saturday.

Players were warming up to tunes from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” while sporting wigs and polka-dot tights with tie-dye T-shirts.

“The atmosphere out here was real fun, but you definitely had that intensity level increase as we brought out the tape measurers and the stop watches,” Hanf said, while wearing thigh-high shorts, space shades and a headband. “We definitely saw people put on their game faces – with a smile.”

The meet was a chance to tune-up and prepare for the season, Hanf said.

James knows her teammates are ready, what her goals are and is not shying away from another trip to the national championships, held this year in Emporia, Kan., she said.

“This is my last chance try to do some big things and take away all the memories that I can on a college team,” James said, after running the 1,500-meter in 4:59:95, her personal record.

Hanf prides himself on the fact that the Wildcats are so well rounded. He has a potential NCAA qualifier in 16 out of 20 events, he said.

“A lot of schools just emphasize certain events,” Hanf said. “We have a big team and that’s our M.O.”

The team has developed a healthy rivalry with UC San Diego after UC Davis moved up to Division I two years ago. The Wildcats lost the conference championship to UC San Diego last season by 1.5 points, 199.5 to 198.

This year the Wildcats will travel to San Diego for the conference championships to determine who goes to nationals in Kansas.

Hanf said, “We’re determined to make it to the Land of Oz.”

Zuri Berry can be reached at

<a href= “mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected]</a>

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