SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 30, 2018) – The Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU) women's track and field team are expecting a repeat performance from last year's historic season. The women had an individual qualify for the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships and two for the NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships. Plus, the Saints were the runners up in the Red River Athletic Conference Championships (RRAC), as well.
Head Coach Stephen Sherman said, "Having never taken anyone individually to the national track meet, indoor or outdoor, and having multiple people do it last year was a phenomenal feat. Obviously, now we are looking on building on that. Our slogan has always been, 'let's make every year better than the last,' so obviously we are wanting to build upon that and take it to the next level."
Sherman said it's been a long off-season for the sprints/jump group, and Assistant Coach Terry Smith has been working closely with them. "Coach Smith has done a phenomenal job with them. It's tough coaching cross-country [in the fall] and making sure the track athletes are getting their needs taken care of as well. I'd like to thank him and also that group for being mature about it and going out there with their lunch pail every morning. They are getting up at 6 a.m. every morning for looking at January/February [for their season start] and they've been doing that since August. So for a group that has been putting in that kind of effort and time is pretty invaluable. I believe it's going to take us to the next level."
The Saints will begin their 2018 indoor season on Feb. 2-3 at the Missouri Southern Open in Joplin, Mo. On Feb. 9-10, they will travel to Pittsburgh, Kan., for the Pittsburgh State University Gorilla Classic. And on Feb. 16, the Saints will compete at the Texas Tech University – Matador Qualifier. March 1-3, the NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championship will take place in Pittsburgh, Kan.
On Feb. 24, the Saints will kick off their outdoor schedule at Trinity University in San Antonio. The University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) Spring Break Invite will take place March 15-16, also in San Antonio. Trinity will host the Tiger Open on March 31, and UIW will present the UIW Invitational April 13-14. The Saints will then get set for the RRAC Championship in Marshall, Texas. The teams will have two more meets before nationals. The Texas State University Bobcat Classic will take place April 27-28 in San Marcos, Texas, and the Texas Tech University Texas Tech Open will be held May 5 in Lubbock, Texas. The NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championships will take place May 24-26 in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Top Long-Distance Returners
Returning this year and running long distance are standouts Jazmine Garcia (SR/San Ygnacio, Texas), Gabriela Guerrero (SR/McAllen, Texas), Ione Rodriguez (SR/Port Isabel, Texas) and Sarah Taylor (JR/Austin, Texas). Garcia won her third individual title at the cross-country meet last season. In addition, Ione Rodriguez will be returning to the Saints team after taking a season off. At last year's track and field conference meet, Garcia came in fifth in the 1500m, second in the 3k, fourth in the 5k and second in the 10k; Guerrero finished in sixth place in the 800m, sixth in the 1500m, second in the 5k and second in the 4x800m relay; Taylor came in fourth in the 1500m, third in the 3k, third in the 5k and second in the 4x800m relay.
Sherman said, "Jazmine and Gabby have been contributing for years. This will be their swan song this spring, so we are looking forward to watching them do what they do.
"Ione has always been huge for us. In terms of leadership and stability, and in terms of everything she brings to the table – she's just a huge contributor on and off the track. When she left previously before graduate school, she left a lot on the table. I know there are things she wants to cross off her list with this being her last go at it.
"Sarah is coming off a rough track season last year with a lot of injuries, but at this point for her she is as healthy as she's been, and she is fit, so she should have a good spring."
Track and Field Returners
Returning sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers are Aundrea Culliver, Samantha Millan, Shenaya Thomas, Lena Wilson, Miki Romain and Emily Lee. Culliver placed fifth in the 400m dash, fifth in the 4x100m relay and third in the 4x400m relay; Millan came in fifth in the 4x100m relay and third in the 4x400m relay; Thomas placed third in the 400m hurdles, fifth in the 4x100m relay, third in the 4x400m relay and second in the 4x800m relay-she also came in third in the triple jump; Wilson placed fifth in the 100m hurdles and first in the high jump; Romain came in third in the 100m hurdles, fifth in the 400m hurdles and fifth in the 4x100m relay; Emily Lee came in fourth place in the high jump.
Sherman said, "This is a huge group. Prior to last year, we had not been able to compete at the conference level in any of the sprints. But not only were we able to do that, we also had some compete at the national level [Romain]. Emily and Shenaya have been here thick and thin, and the rest of them have been really nice contributors. We're looking at Miki and Aundrea being potential national qualifiers in indoor and outdoor."
Participating in their first track and field season, but coming off a successful cross-country season are Andrea Gandara (FR/Kaufman, Texas) and Alyssa Hebb (JR/Redlands, Calif.) – both long distance runners. Other newcomers include Jade Barber, Maricela Castro, Victoria De La Cruz, Amanda Esparza, Alexis Oaks and Annie Trejo.
"This team is as deep as it's been, and it's as talented as it's been, and they are across most of the event groupings. It's a group that really has a chance to be special, and I think, can take the conference. Amanda Esparza is going to be huge for us in short and mid sprints. Also, Alexis Oaks, who I co-recruited with Coach Christopher Minner (women's basketball). She is really fast, and she has the potential to make nationals. Mari and Victoria are going to be solid contributors across the board on sprints, even maybe mix in some jumps."
The Saints biggest opponent has always been Wiley College, which won the conference title last year. They are a national-caliber quality team. In the past few years, they have competed for national championships. "But going into the conference [meet] last year their women were ranked third in the NAIA, and the fact that we were able to bring them into the brink for a conference championship was pretty cool."
Other conference opponents are Huston-Tillotson University, Jarvis Christian College, Langston University, Texas College and the University of the Southwest.
This year, the conference meet will take place in Marshall, Texas, at the Marshall Independent School District Track and Field complex. "We've never competed there before. We've competed in that area, but never at that complex." The meet will be hosted by Wiley College.
Saints Fans invited to Local Track Meets
Sherman encourages Saints fans to come out and support the track teams. "Most of our outdoor meets are local, whether at the University of the Incarnate Word or Trinity University, just about 15 minutes from campus. I think watching our track teams can be exciting in that you can go to a track meet and sit there for the duration of the meet and you're pretty much going to see a Saint in every event. That hasn't always been the case. It was the case last year, but even more so this year. We are going to be able to fill spots that maybe we haven't been able to fill in the past. Beyond that, we are pretty good."