Five Owls take first place at SFA Alumni Invitational
Three meets into the season, and the women's track team is beginning to hit its stride and fall back into the rhythm of competition. With team members who had started the season injured slowly coming back into action (seniors Alex Gibbs and Nicole Mericle), the Owls are finding their way back to full force.
The team is not only gaining members back but also is posting top performances. At last weekend's Stephen F. Austin Alumni Invitational held at SFA in Nacogdoches, Texas, five Owls won their events, including Mericle, competing in her first meet back of the spring. Mericle placed first in the 5,000-meter run, finishing in 18:04.15, just a mere hundredth of a second ahead of freshman Farah Madanay, who placed second at 18:04.16, a personal best for her.
Mericle said she was ready to be competing again, although she had had limited practice time before the meet.
"It was really exciting because I had only done one real workout before this meet," Mericle said. "So I wasn't sure I was gong to be able to do. … It's great to be traveling with the team again."
While Mericle felt at home in the 5K, she knew that she needs to do some adjusting in the 1,500-meter run, the other event she ran at SFA.
"It was a very strange experience; before I haven't really done very much speed work but I kind of took it as a chance to pace with some of the other girls," Mericle said. "It's going to be a process to get back into racing."
Sophomore Heather Olson took first overall in the 1,500, posting a season-best time of 4:39.39. Rice dominated the top of the leaderboard in the 1,500, going 1-2-3 with Mericle coming in second (4:41.56) and freshman Aaren Pastor placing third (4:46.43).
Another underclassman found herself at the top of the podium over the weekend in thrower Sharae Robinson, who placed first overall in the discus, throwing 159' 8", a mark which may be strong enough to qualify for nationals, according to Bevan.
With the recent successes of the younger team members, including Pastor, Madanay, Robinson and freshman Lindsay Miller (who won the steeplechase at the Victor Lopez Classic two weeks ago in her first attempt at the event), the youth of the track and field team has begun to assert themselves as key members of the squad. Mericle has taken notice.
"They've all been really stepping up these past few weeks," Mericle said. "It's great to see because indoor was pretty rough for a lot of people. They've set PRs early on.
"And also Lindsay, she did her first steeplechase so I know she's really pumped up doing that again. It's really exciting to see her doing well."
Besides Mericle, Olson and Sharae Robinson, senior Tina Robinson (Sharae's sister) and junior Keltie John also won their events. Tina Robinson placed first in the hammer throw at 160' 9", ahead of Sharae's 159' 7", good enough for second place. John won the 800-meter run in 2:16.63, just ahead of classmate Sophie Peeters' second place 2:18.58.
In the pole vault, senior Ari Ince came in second with a height of 12' 7.5" and junior Cleona Oliver placed just behind Ince to finish third with a lifetime best mark of 12' 7.5" as well.
Returning from injury, senior Alex Gibbs finished fourth in the 100 meters hurdles (14.53) just behind Kimberly Stanford's third-place mark of 14.45. Also on the track, the women's 4-by- 400 relay of sophomore Lillian Nwora, senior Sarah Agara, junior Maya Kirk and senior Sarah Lyons finished second in 3:48.93.
To round out Rice's top finishers, senior Sarah Agara placed second in the triple jump after leading the event all the way into the final round, with a mark of 39' 8".
On the whole, Bevan seemed impressed with his team's progress.
"We're getting some people back, seeing good things happen," Bevan said. "We're not quite all back yet but we're making progress. Throwers are doing great, vaulters, and all field event people. We should have [junior] Kiri Kendall back pretty soon. … That was exactly the kind of meet we needed – something low key and it didn't take too long."
This upcoming weekend the team will take 15 competitors to the historic Texas Relays in Austin. Bevan said he thinks it will be a positive experience for the newcomers.
"It's a good experience for those who have never been there," Bevan said. "It's the best meet in the country this weekend and it's one of the three largest meets in the country along with the Penn relays, Drake relays and Mount SAC relays. It's a great opportunity and people from all over the country come to compete."
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