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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sports

Freshmen athletes to propel track team to future successes


Finishing second in both the 60m and 200m, freshman Sierra Smith was a key component in helping the Cougars get back to the podium at the American Indoor Championships for the first time since 2014. | Courtesy of Hal Yeager

 

 

A year ago, the men’s track & field team received one of the largest boosts of freshmen talent in recent history. That class proved to be¬†immediate contributors to a team that won two conference titles. This year, the women’s team was expected to receive that same boost of talent from their own freshman class.

Those expectations were validated when they reached the podium at the Indoor Conference Championships for the first time since 2014.

Three freshmen, sprinter Sierra Smith, jumper Samiyah Samuels and mid-distance runner Birexus Hawkins all reached the podium for their respective events. Smith finished second in the 60m and 200m, Samuels second in the long jump and Hawkins third in the 400m.

The three accounted for 30 of the team’s 99 total points. They were three of the 26 athletes from both teams who set personal bests,¬†answering Head Coach Leroy Burrell’s call to perform their best.

“We’re very pleased,” assistant coach Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie said. “Even though at the end of the day we’re lacking depth, it’s quality. The goal is to work from conference into nationally being ranked. They’ve bought into it and I think as a staff we have to be proud. All in all win.”

Winning the conference meet was a goal for the women’s team, an attitude that grew from their coaching staff of Olympians and seeing the men’s success during the past few seasons. And though they were off by 23 points, the fact that they improved from ninth to third is something they will look to build off of.

They are excited about what they achieved and how close they were to something greater. The only thing they can do now is train and improve their techniques as much as possible. Now their focus is on the outdoor season; the day indoor ended, they started training for outdoor.

Momentum is on their side and they have not let up. It all comes from the support of their teammates and coaches who see that a championship is still well within their grasp.

“They feel they can win it,” assistant coach Carl Lewis said. “The young ladies came in with an attitude. They were all champions coming out of high school. They all meshed with a lot of the upperclassmen and they stepped up their game. This team now is going to be a powerhouse.”

Senior sprinter Tori Williams ran 23.34 in the 200m finals to earn her first overall conference championship. She did so by setting a new personal record and the meet record. Because of that run, she has the best chance of any of the women to go to the national championships in College Station.

While the national qualifiers have already been announced, there is always the possibility that someone drops out due to injury or unforeseen circumstances. With Williams at No. 17 in the NCAA 200m, she is only one spot outside the mark to qualify.

Though no one on the track team wishes ill will towards those in the top 16, both Williams and her coaches know she could accomplish great things were she to qualify.

“At this point, no stress to her, but I want her to go after the school record,” Ferguson-McKenzie said. “The school record is 23.32 and she’s knocking on the door. That would be an amazing feat for her, considering where she came from.”

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