Carroll College indoor track (copy)

Carroll's Leah Esposito edges out Adri Sigafoose of Aquinas College for the win in the distance medley relay prelims at last year's NAIA National Indoor Championships. The two-time individual national champion is back and will open her indoor season with the Saints on Friday.

Nic Dawson, for the Independent Record

The Carroll College track and field team opens the indoor season Friday at the Montana State Invite at Brick Breeden Field house in Bozeman.

The Saints are returning eight of last year's 10 indoor All-Americans, including two-time individual national champion Leah Esposito.

Carroll also saw improvements across the board, which coach Harry Clark believes will manifest in the performances.

"I feel great about where we are at as a team," Clark said. "We have a lot of returners and we have high expectations. All of the returners are getting better and better. I expect a lot of athletes to make a big jump. We qualified 19 athletes for nationals last year, and I expect that number to go up significantly."

In track and field, more than any sport, team improvement comes from individual improvement -- and Clark has seen even his top performers make leaps in the offseason. Former volleyball All-American Crystal Schmidt is leading the way and will look to make a big impact in the pentathlon.

"The kids that qualified last year are looking good," Clark said. "The improvement is evident in practice and we can't wait to see them compete. A big difference will be Crystal; she is looking really good. We've had a whole year for her to focus on just track and field, and all around she has improved significantly."

The Saints also hope to see a strong showing from the incoming freshmen.

"Our freshman class is outstanding and we look to see them come in and make a big difference right away," Clark said. "Hurdler Brian Anderson should be a national qualifier early. I really think that he can be an All-American and sooner rather than later. Joe Mullener ran cross country this season but his strength is in the 1,000-meter range. I think he will be right there for us in that and the DMR.

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"The multi-event girls are doing a lot of good things early. Josie D'Agostino and Ember Drivdhal are showing a lot of promise in practice. We won't see what they can do until Jan. 27 in Pocatello, but right now they look fantastic. Brooke Endy in the sprints has been impressive in practice. I can't wait to see what she can do on the track."

Another noticeable improvement has been the attitude of the athletes. Carroll has built a championship-level program in just a few years. And as that development has progressed, the attitude has continued to change.

"You can see the program maturing across the board," Clark said. "We are excited about the commitment and the attitude that we have seen in practice. For this early in the season, they are practicing like a championship-level team and that is very exciting to see."

Friday's competition is one of just four regular-season meets of the year and the only one in Montana.

Carroll will travel Pocatello, Idaho, twice for meets at Idaho State and once to Pullman, Washington, for a meet at Washington State. Nationals will once again take place in Johnson City, Tennessee.

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