He may be retired, but Dave Walker’s track meet rolls on at East Tennessee State.
The Niswonger Invitational is set for its 35th running this weekend in the Dome. It’s now under the management of George Watts, Walker’s successor as director of ETSU track and field/cross country, though the founder of the meet hasn’t stepped away entirely.
“I’ve actually solicited coach Walker a little bit,” Watts said Wednesday. “I’ve gladly accepted his help.”
Walker retired in the spring after 50 years of coaching at the university. His meet has taken on various names and shapes through the years, but it always brings a wave of outstanding athletes to campus for a couple of days.
Watts, a longtime assistant coach at Tennessee, said he expects about 800 college athletes for the competition, and about the same number of high schoolers. In recent days, he’s been juggling all the logistics that go with coordinating such a large event.
“I’ve had experience putting on meets,” he said, “but when you’re the person that’s in charge, things kind of pop up, and you’re not sure what they’re going to be. You gotta roll with the punches.
“I’ve been getting a lot of great help from volunteers and staff. It’s been hectic and crazy, and I’ve got a good natural high going.”
The Invitational – officially the Niswonger Foundation Track and Field Invitational/KYA High School Invitational -- gets started Friday morning at 10. The final events, the men’s and women’s 4x400 relays, are set to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Tickets are $5 per day and can be purchased at the gate.
Richard Sander officially began his duties Wednesday as interim athletic director.
He was introduced a day earlier via teleconference by ETSU president Brian Noland and said he was eager to get to work. Sander will be part of some high-profile decisions here, most notably whether a football program will be restarted at the university.
The former Virginia Commonwealth AD, who is working on a six-month contract, will also be evaluating the individual programs to some extent.
“I’ll come in and evaluate the coaches; that’s all part of it,” Sander said Wednesday. “We’re going to create expectations, too. It’s not like it’s just play a few games.
“Clearly, we’re going to agree on expectations for each program and each coach, and hopefully the coaches will set expectations for the student-athletes, because I think that’s how you get things done and how you’re successful.”
The men’s basketball team’s improbable rally against Florida Gulf Coast last Saturday certainly had the attention of Noland.
The 85-75 victory in the Dome included a 19-point comeback in the second half against the team that was leading the A-Sun standings. The Bucs are still just 4-13 overall but have split their first four conference games.
“We want to take a moment to acknowledge the great work that coach (Murry) Bartow has done over the last couple of months,” Noland said at the Wednesday teleconference. “If any of you had a chance to be at the Florida Gulf Coast game on Saturday afternoon, it was a heckuva game. Not only does the Dome look a lot different than it did last year, I think our young men surprised some people.
“We’re midway through the season, and I hope the entire ETSU family is patient with our student-athletes. It gives them an opportunity to run through the remainder of the season, because if we play the way we did on Saturday we are really going to surprise some people.”
The Bucs will try to keep the momentum going tonight at Mercer. The teams are among six that currently have two losses in the A-Sun.
It’s been a frustrating season so far for the women’s basketball team.
The Lady Bucs have lost seven of their last eight games and find themselves in a three-way tie for seventh in the conference standings, at 1-4. All four of their losses have been by double figures, including a 97-60 pasting by Florida Gulf Coast in which the Lady Eagles tossed in an NCAA record 22 3-pointers in the Dome.
The Lady Bucs won three straight A-Sun championships from 2008-10 with teams that featured Siarre Evans and TaRonda Wiles. They lost in the semifinals the next season and have since gone 11-31 overall.
They currently stand at 3-9 heading into a Saturday game at Mercer. (Gulf Coast and Stetson have separated themselves from the pack with 6-0 starts.)
Making matters worse, players have quit mid-stream. First it was sophomore guard Brianna Bogard, who played a significant role last season, and then sophomore forward Amy Duke.
The two were seen sitting together in the stands Monday night to watch their old team lose 71-55 to Stetson.
Coach Karen Kemp said Bogard was looking for a more structured system to play in, and that Bond simply wanted more playing time.