Commentary: Men’s track and field poised for success
Members of the track & field team are coming off one of their most successful seasons in recent memory. Claiming the American Conference title in both the indoor and outdoor seasons, the Cougars rode their success into the summer where they sent numerous athletes to both the U.S. Olympic Trials and the Junior World Championships.
After a season where the experienced veterans and talented youth gelled, head coach Leroy Burrell’s team will have high expectations for both individual and team success coming into the season. But if last season said anything of Burrell’s and Coach Carl Lewis’ system, it is that they will have their athletes ready to compete no matter what the stage.
One obvious task for the team will be replacing the senior talent that has since left the program.
Sprinter LeShon Collins and hurdler Issac Williams were hardened veterans in their events during their senior years. Both had enjoyed success during their Cougar careers, including participating in multiple national championships, and were influential in the program’s triumphs over the last four seasons. Both Collins and Williams traveled to the Olympic Trials this summer, closing the book on their final chapter with the Cougars.
With both runners gone, it is up to the underclassmen to pick up the slack.
Sprinter Cameron Burrell and distance runner Brian Barraza will be the most experienced team members this year when they enter their senior year.
Burrell started his season by clocking the fastest time in the country for the 60 meter dash during the indoor season and was able to ride that success to a silver medal at the NCAA Championships. Were it not for Collins being arguably the best athlete during the outdoor season, Burrell would have continued his success as he and Collins were neck-in-neck through nearly every meet.
Regardless, sophomore sprinters Gerald Mills, John Lewis III and Barbados-native Mario Burke, who also claimed bronze at the U20 World Championships, will benefit greatly by getting to train daily, not only against each other, but with an athlete as talented and experienced as Burrell.
Williams benefited last season from seeing now-sophomore hurdlers Amere Lattin and Marcus McWilliams have success in the hurdles during his senior year. Both gained valuable experience both in conference meets and on the national stage. They will be tasked with helping the incoming hurdlers adjust to Coach Lewis’ system and bring the same impact to the team they had their freshman year.
Barraza, on the other hand, has stood out in the distance events ever since he stepped foot on campus.
A multi-conference champion, Barraza has already gained a distinction as the leader of the distance runners after succeeding in both track and cross country. He will begin his season leading the cross country team, and then will look to help himself and his teammates successfully transition to track events once their time on the dirt is done.
The throwing events will also be a must-see in the fall because of the unexpected results that came last year.
Senior Cameron Cornelius entered his junior year as the two time defending conference champion in the indoor shot put. Cornelius and those around him had expected him to do big things last season, but for an unknown reason, competed unattached and did not perform as well as expected.
However, junior thrower Felipe Valencia did.
Valencia won the Indoor conference title in the shot put and finished as the runner up in the outdoor event before traveling to the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) U23 Championships to represent Mexico. Valencia added to his achievements by finishing fifth at the championships.
The dynamic between these two throwers, both of whom have shown they are night shy on the big stage, will be interesting to follow as the season progresses and they try to out throw one another.