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Thursday, June 1, 2023


From high school to college: Teammates stick together

After bringing Cypress Springs to numerous championships, three freshman teammates hope to do the same at Houston. | Ajani Stewart/The Cougar

Individual talent is enough to be a good athlete, but chemistry among teammates makes champions.

On the track & field team, freshmen sprinters Samiyah Samuels, Sierra Smith and Nikesha Keith were all letterwinner’s for Cypress Springs High School and continued their careers with the Cougars. The three brought their own championship experiences and have proved instrumental in the women’s first top 3 finish at conference in three years.

“I was excited because we already had the chemistry from high school so we could carry it over into college,” Smith said. “I feel like my indoor season went really well because I (set a personal record) in both my events. It’s been really nice having a family type atmosphere at UH.”

All three sprinters came to UH having competed at the state championships multiple times. Samuels left high school a state champion in the long jump, and Smith made the 200m finals all four years.

A combination of knowing the facilities and coaching staff made the highly touted athletes decide to come to UH. Keith said it was the constant well wishes she received from Head coach Leroy Burrell and assistant coach Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie while still in high school that made her want to attend.

“The recruiting process, I think for every athlete, is stressful,” Samuels said. You have to manage traveling and talking to different coaches and also managing practices and schoolwork. But when I signed and realized my teammates signed, I felt happy because we’re building up a bond and we’re going to be stronger as a group and a family.”

Making an impact

The indoor season proved fruitful as the team had numerous event wins and top-five placements. But the goal was to win a championship. Since day one, their coaches had preached that they were good enough to do it. They just had to perform at their best.

They might not have won a ring, but their 99 points is a 64-point increase from last year. On top of that, almost all the athletes set personal records in their respective events — the trio from Cypress Springs included.

While Keith failed to qualify for the 400m finals, she still set a personal record of 57.78s. Smith and Samuels accounted for 18 of the team’s 99 points. Smith ran 7.44s and 23.79s in the 60m and 200m, respectively, and came in second place in both. Samuels had a long jump of 6.08m to finish second in the event.

“We were actually really happy,” Keith said. “Whether we helped score or not score, we were just really excited because that’s a long way. To come from ninth place last year to third place this year is a big accomplishment. We can see that we’re going very far and that we have the potential to win outdoor because there’s more relays and more events outdoors. We can do it.”

Taking it to the next level

The Cougars failed to qualify any women for the NCAA Indoor Championships. With the team’s focus completely on the outdoor season, they are committed to getting as many athletes qualified this time around.

The women have four athletes in the NCAA Top 24. Samuels found her way onto the charts following her third-place long jump at the Texas Relays. Her 6.25m long jump is currently the No. 8 best mark in the country and capped off a weekend in which the Cougar women rose in the charts.

In addition to Samuels, the women’s 4x100m relay team ran the No. 11 best time in the country. The team of Smith, senior Tori Williams and freshmen Justice Henderson and Brianne Bethel ran 44.29s to finish fourth at the relays behind Texas A&M, LSU and University of Texas. The Cougar women now hold the No. 10 and No. 11 best relay times in the NCAA.

The women are on their way to competing for a conference title and eventually a national one. The three teammates from Cypress Springs have helped instill a winning culture, regardless of grade level.

“I kinda already knew that the freshman team was going to really bloom and get our women’s team going,” Samuels said. “The men’s team was already developed, (but I think) we’ve got some great athletes that are going to bring the women’s team back to the same level as the men.”

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