Underclassmen lead women’s team looking to end title drought
The women’s track & field athletes has been living in the shadow of their male teammates for over a decade. The men have won nine indoor conference titles, while the women won their last in 2006.
However, the spirit of the team has changed in the last year. Consecutive talented freshmen classes have propelled the women back into the group of teams vying for a title in the American Athletic Conference. Last year, they finished third at the indoor conference meet, their first time since 2014, and the women are looking to build off that performance.
“I feel like we have a lot more confidence,” said sophomore jumper Samiyah Samuels about the difference between the 2017 team and the 2018 team. “I feel like we’ve all built up the confidence to know that we have the potential to win conference this year.”
Samuels was one of the top recruits of the 2017 freshmen class. In her debut season, she took silver in the indoor long jump at the conference meet, and in year two, she has continued to improve.
At this time she owns the top long jump mark in the conference at 6.15m. Samuels is one of three athletes with top times and marks in their respective events. The women as a whole have top five marks in 10 events.
Sophomore sprinter Brianne Bethel was another top recruit from Samuels’ class. Bethel has led the team all season in the sprints, owning top times in both the 60m and 200m. Her 7.36s in the 60m and 23.78s in the 200m are No. 3 and No. 8 in school history.
“I worked hard all offseason for this, so I’m just glad I’m ready for conference this year,” Bethel said. “Everyone just needs to give their best efforts. Just don’t give up. We’ve just got to go to war and not stop fighting till it’s over.”
Other returning athletes, like sophomore sprinter Sierra Smith and senior distance runner Maddie Brown, will also continue their history of scoring for the Cougars. Brown owns the second fastest 5000m time in school history, the No. 3 conference time of 16 minutes, 53.99s.
But freshmen like sprinter Ariele Adams and hurdler Naomi Taylor have arrived to help round out the squad. Taylor in particular has already ran the third-fastest 60m hurdles time in school history, a conference-leading 8.26s.
The women will miss the contributions of senior jumper Tonye’cia Burks, the defending champion and school record holder in the triple jump. Burks had top two marks in both the triple jump and long jump, including a conference leading 12.92m triple jump mark.
So while it is a positive that the women have a youthful core of talent, that lack of upperclassmen leadership might be the one thing holding them back from greater accomplishments, according to head coach Leroy Burrell. Even with his doubts he is confident of his team ahead of the team’s trip to the championships in Birmingham Friday.
“I think we can perform at a very high level this year,” Burrell said. “I think we’ll have the meet that we’re capable of having. I think we can put our self in position (to win), and then it’s going to be about who wants it more. Who on our team really wants to do something that hasn’t been done before, and I think we have to see what happens.”