Men aiming for third straight BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer BY TIM MORRISStaff Writer Monmouth University mens and womens indoor track and field teams start the 2006-07 as the preseason picks to repeat as Northeast Conference champions. Coach Joe Compagni’s squads, both rich in area talent, have been the conference’s marquee teams in recent years. The men are looking for their third straight title undercover, while the women are going for their third crown in the last four years. The Hawk men were a unanimous choice to repeat by the coaches. “We are flattered that the league’s coaches feel that strongly about our men’s team,” said Compagni. “Knowing the quality of the competition in the NEC is as strong as ever, we know that we will surely face serious challenges from several teams this winter.” The defending champions are led by junior Chris Keller (Matawan) and senior Fabrice St. Elme (Rahway), who were both First Team NEC selections in 2006. Keller competes in the shot put and weight throw for the Hawks while St. Elme is a sprinter. Keller was recently tabbed as the NEC’s Male Field Athlete of the Week after his performance at the Princeton Invitational. Keller placed third in the weight throw, surpassing 60 feet. He was first among collegiate throwers in this open competition that include Olympic Trials hopefuls. He was also fifth in the shot put (14.99 meters). Second Team All-NEC performers who are returning from last year are sprinter Chris Vuono (Christian Brothers Academy), middle distance runner David Gaines (Colts Neck) and thrower Nick Williams, all of whom are seniors, and juniors Jude Rene (Hamilton North), who is a sprinter/jumper, and Ed Skowronski (Raritan), a thrower. The conference got a peek at Monmouth’s depth at the season-opening Seton Hall Open when Compagni held many of his veterans out, sending a small squad to the meet. Ryan Connell (St. Peter’s Prep) won the weight throw, and Kyle Hirschklau (Morristown) won the shot put and was fourth in the weight throTop 5 in the high jump led by Rene taking first (6-2) and Kyle Adriance (Montrose, Pa.) and Mike Buccheri (Raritan), fourth and fifth. The Hawks should get a lift in the distance department by fifth-year senior Craig Segal, the Holmdel High School grad who transferred from Villanova. He had an outstanding cross country season earning All-NEC in the fall. Monmouth’s women, second in the NEC last year, will get a big boost from the return of Ashley Huffman (Ward Melville), the two-time Most Valuable Performer, who missed all of 2006 with an injury. Huffman made her return at the Seton Hall Open, where she was fourth in the high jump, fifth in the 60-meter hurdles and eighth in the shot put. Her versatility was sorely missed last year. The Hawks also have Second Team All-NEC pole vaulter Nikki Zwartjes (Burlington) who won the NEC title last winter with a school record 10-10. Sprinters Latasha Dickson (Matawan), Deanna Paulson (Washington Township) and Illiana Blackshear (West Orange) are outstanding individually and as a relay team. Dickson was named the NEC’s Female Track Athlete of the Week for her efforts in Princeton. She ran an ECAC qualifying time in the 500 meters (1:15.74) in finishing second, and she anchored the 4×400-relay team to a first place in 3:57.35. “We were disappointed to come up two points short of a women’s title last year,” said Compagni, who’s women have won five of the last conference titles. “LIU and several other programs will make our quest for a title in 2007 very challenging, but, that is certainly our goal.” Although the Hawks are the preseason choice of the coaches, it was close with Monmouth getting six first-place votes and Long Island University, five. This year’s NEC Championships are Feb. 10-11 at the Prince George County Sports and Learning Complex in Landover, Md. The Hawks travel to the New York Armory on Friday for the Fordham Collegiate Open.