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Monday, November 30, 2020

Sports

Despite ‘heartbreaking’ end to season, Houston track is ‘proud’ of accomplishments, staying focused on the future


Junior Naomi Taylor's 8.03 finish in The American Indoor Track and Field Championships was the conference-best time for the entire season. | Photo courtesy of UH Athletics

Junior Naomi Taylor’s 8.03 finish in The American Indoor Track and Field Championships was the conference-best time for the entire season. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

This season, Houston looking to build on the success from a year ago when they won the 2019 American Athletic Conference Track and Field Indoor Championship, and they not only matched that benchmark, but they were thrilled about what was yet to come.

Before the abrupt end to the season, Houston was on the fast-track to triumph with several record-breaking performances, a second straight AAC title and nationals on the horizon.

‘It was a heartbreaking scenario’

Like many athletic programs, the Houston track and field athletes and coaches were shocked and devastated to learn about the early end to the season.

“It was a heartbreaking scenario, but I knew it was for the best,” senior Travis Collins said.

Collins exhibited an impressive season leading up to the 2020 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, where he was one of six Cougars who qualified for the meet.

Coming off of six first-place finishes during the indoor season, which included two from the AAC Indoor Track and Field Championships, Collins was eager to compete at the national level.

“I was proud of my performance at the conference championships and was excited about qualifying for nationals,” Collins said.

Season’s best moments

The Cougars showcased strong performances throughout the year, which was highlighted in the dominating performances from both the men’s and women’s teams that led to the AAC championships.

“We had a solid season,” head coach Leroy Burrell said. “Both the men and women defended their indoor championships, and we qualified three men and three women for the NCAA Indoor Championships.”

When the team entered the meet to defend their title from a year ago, it united them.

“We came together at the conference championships,” junior Naomi Taylor said. “I think everyone was supporting each other, and the experience was really positive.”

Taylor, who also tallied six first-place titles throughout the 2019-20 season, was a Houston qualifier for the NCAA Indoor Championships and was also looking forward to the entire outdoor season.

“I’m proud that I was able to come up and make another indoor national (championship meet),” Taylor said. “Before (the) conference, the season was a little up and down for me.”

Despite starting strong, Taylor had not secured a first-place victory in the finals during the four meets prior to the conference championships.

“I learned how to train harder, train to get better and to reach my full potential,” Taylor said

By supporting each other through individual highs and lows, the team has created a close bond that stands out from other programs.

“We’re very family-oriented,” Collins said. “Everyone’s a big family, it’s not like any other school that I’ve seen.”

Taylor agreed with Collins about what makes the team special.

“We’re different in that we all do so many things,” she said. “We all watch and support each other at meets, and we spend time together even though we don’t train together.”

Lessons learned

After a season unlike any other, the Cougars have walked away with important lessons.

“I’ve learned to have patience,” Collins said. “Just make sure you’re not rushing anything.”

The Cougars were plucked out of their daily routines, which may have been viewed as monotonous before, but when it returns there will be a newfound appreciation for the everyday grind.

“Nothing is promised and sometimes things happen for the best, even if you don’t understand it,” Taylor said. “Nothing is ever guaranteed, in any given moment things can change.”

Moving on

The spread of COVID-19 has altered priorities for the athletes and coaches.

With the indoor and outdoor seasons canceled, there is more time to focus on school.

“I want to stay ready and focus on my academics,” Collins said.

The cancellation has also opened up more time to focus on individual growth for the upcoming season.

“I’m trying to stay in shape,” Taylor said. “I’ve been doing workouts at home and focusing on what’s coming up for me for senior year.”

Overall, however, the program’s prime concern is staying safe.

“We’ve expected our athletes to focus their efforts on taking care of their families, and taking care of themselves,” Burrell said.

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