Trio of recruits ready to advance careers at UH
Recruiting, one of the most important aspect of college athletics, is an endeavor with which the track and field team has no trouble.
With former Olympic gold medalists Leroy Burrell, Carl Lewis and an experienced staff overseeing the program, coaches have an easy pitch to get the fastest runners to Third Ward.
“We wanted to make sure we went after sprinters,” said Will Blackburn, associate head coach. “That was one of our biggest needs, jumpers as well. So about a year ago, we decided that those were the two areas we had to get the most.”
The 2016 women’s track recruiting class is expected to be one of the most dominant in UH’s history and rival the men’s from last season. The men’s team, with Amere Lattin, Brian Bell, Marcus McWilliams and Mario Burke, won both indoor and outdoor championships last season and broke multiple records.
Although they will have big spikes to fill, this season’s freshmen women could enjoy even more success than last year’s men.
Last year, Blackburn and the rest of the coaching staff recognized that several of the women’s athletes would be graduating. They needed a strong recruiting class to replenish the team.
The staff went to work and set a goal of having one of the best women’s recruiting classes in the nation, one that would help attain more recruits in the following years. That’s exactly what they accomplished.
The class has been spearheaded by the signing of Cypress Springs High School alumna Samiyah Samuels.
Samuels has shown that she is ready for the big stage. She recently competed at the Junior World Championships and won gold in the long jump at the 2015 Pan American Junior Athletics Championships.
Samuels’ most remarkable accomplishment, however, was competing in Eugene, Oregon, at the U.S. Olympic Trials last July despite being just weeks out of high school. While Samuels missed the chance to represent her country in the Rio Olympics, the experience has reshaped her focus for the better.
“Going to the Olympic Trials as a high-school athlete was a real eye-opener,” Samuels said. “What I thought were my dreams are now becoming my goals and my accomplishments. I used to say I dreamed of going to the Olympic Trials or I dreamed of becoming an Olympian, but now it’s actually a (feasible) goal.”
Besides Samuels, other bright spots in the women’s recruiting class include Brianne and Brittney Bethel, identical twin sprinters from the Bahamas.
The sisters said that the recruiting process is long and stressful, and that several top schools were looking at them. However, it was a meeting with assistant coach Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie — herself a five-time Olympian from the Bahamas — that convinced them to come to Houston.
“She actually showed us that she really cared and wanted us to be the best,” Brianne Bethel said. “Other coaches wanted us just so we could compete. No other coaches seemed like they wanted us to get better and make us a better person as both an athlete and a student.”
The desire for long-term success is a common theme among all the new recruits, and something that nearly all UH track and field coaches have experienced.
Both Samuels and the Bethel twins are being looked at to continue competing after their time at the Cougars.
All three share hopes of winning a conference title and earn trips to both the indoor and outdoor nationals for their individual events.
“I feel really good (about this squad),” Samuels said. “We have some top people from other countries who are going to be coming in and they’re going to be a part of something special.”