Championship expectations for incoming squads
The legacy of the Cougars track and field team is, in a word, historic.
With numerous Olympic gold medalists produced in past years, the men’s track and field team is now coming off a season where they swept the American Conference Championships, setting their sights even higher for 2017. With very few athletes lost, coupled with the presence of the world class freshmen from a year ago, they expect to compete on the national stage at season’s end.
“We feel like we have a really talented group of athletes,” said Head coach Leroy Burrell. “(There will be) a lot of opportunities to push our agenda forward and continue to seek championships. These past couple weeks coming back from the break have been to try a little more, try to prepare and compete for each other and get this thing started off pretty well.”
In their first two meets of the season, the Cougars have won 15 events and set numerous national times, heights and throws. Granted, the meets have been against easier competition. The Mark Colligan Memorial in Lincoln, Nebraska will give both teams a sense for how they match up against national competition.
But the team has picked up where they left off.
Senior sprinter Cameron Burrell has once again made headlines. Burrell won his first meets in the long jump and the 60m. His 6.66 run at the Leonard Hilton Memorial was the fastest in the country and fifth in the world.
Sophomore Mario Burke has also been in good form with top five finishes in both his meets.
Sophomore hurdler Amere Lattin, senior distance runner Brian Barraza and senior shot putter Cameron Cornelius have all won their respective events. All three are conference champions from previous seasons and score valuable points for the Cougars on a regular basis.
Barraza notably broke the school mile record that stood since 1971, set by Olympian Leonard Hilton. His time of 3:58.66 is currently No. 1 among college runners.
Though while the returning athletes from last year’s championship team is having similar success, there are still several hoping to make their impact on the team. Sprinters like sophomore Jacarias Martin, sophomore John Lewis III and senior transfer student Curtis Brown, are all talented athletes expected to take the next step in year two.
“I’ve really been grinding hard over the Christmas holidays,” Lewis III said. “(Last season) was a wakeup call to know I still had a lot of work to do. I feel a lot stronger than last year, and I feel like I’ll have a lot better season due to our practices.”
The men’s track and field team has had several successes over recent years, but the women’s team has not often shared in it. Coach Burrell and his staff now believe that the women’s team finally has a roster talented enough for a competitive performance.
Senior sprinters Bria Carter and Tori Williams are both national qualifiers, Carter in the 200m and Williams in the 100m. Carter won the 60m conference title in 2015, but both provide a model of leadership for the women to follow. The two know how tough it is to win championships for the Cougars.
The incoming freshmen class also has talent from top to bottom.
Sprinters Samiyah Samuels, Sierra Smith, Birexus Hawkins and pole vaulter Klara Mattson have all had immediate success in their first collegiate meets. Samuels won the long jump at the Reveille Invitational. Smith reached the finals of the 60m in both meets. Hawkins won the 200m at the Leonard Hilton Invitational. Mattson finished second in the pole vault at the same meet, losing a tiebreaker to sophomore Haley Houston.
The combination of youth and experience has the coaching staff excited for what they could accomplish.
“It all starts with winning our conference,” Burrell said. “We want to put ourselves where that’s a realistic goal. We think that we’ve got a group that’s talented enough to do that and we’re covering enough events to do that. If we get this done, it’s going to be a team effort.”