CANYON, Texas – The West Texas A&M women’s track & field team just recently capped off another excellent season in 2014. In only its fifth year of competition since head coach Darren Flowers reinstated the program in 2010, the Lady Buffs started off with a strong indoor campaign by winning its first ever Lone Star Conference Championship and achieving its highest national finish in program history. Along with the team success came many worth individual accomplishments on the part of the athletes and the coaching staff. From a large pool of individual LSC Champions and five All-American trophies to the team’s first-ever NCAA Elite 89 Award winner, here is an in-depth look back on what will surely be a season to remember.
2014 INDOOR SEASON
The Lady Buffs embarked on what would be their finest indoor season in school history in January as their first four meets of the regular season took place at the indoor facilities of Texas Tech University and the University of New Mexico with two being held at each location. During the second week, sophomore Libby Strickland and junior Malika Ouedraogo began what would become a near complete school record rewriting campaign with a couple of new jumps records. Ouedraogo (field), along with junior Sharon Kwarula (track), were rewarded for their efforts that week with the first two of WT’s LSC weekly awards.
WT really hit its stride during the weekend of Feb. 7-8, as it sent ladies to three meets, one at UNM, along with showings at Boston University and Central Missouri. Sophomore Mireia Guarner threw down a big school mile record while Strickland hit provisional marks in two events, earning both athletes another Lady Buff sweep in the LSC weekly awards.
Adams State University was the location of the final indoor meet before the LSC Championship. There, Kwarula raced to her first of many eventual school hurdle records while Strickland stole the show again, breaking her own school and LSC mark in the high jump competition by clearing 1.77m. She would again be named LSC Field Athlete of the Week for her performance.
Before the conference meet, sophomore Bri Leeper, junior Emma Love and Strickland were each named to the LSC Academic All-Conference team for their success in the classroom and on the track.
Lone Star Conference Championship (Lubbock, Texas)
The Lady Buffs cruised to their first LSC title on March 2nd as they racked up 176 points to secure the definitive title. They were led by five individual champions who rewrote eight school records along with two LSC records. WT earned a decisive victory in the point total as it scored 51 points higher than second-place No. 12 Angelo State (125). Texas A&M-Kingsville would come in third with 91 points followed by Tarleton State (72), Texas A&M-Commerce (50), Eastern New Mexico (44), Midwestern State (41), Harding (35) and McMurry (29).
"Winning this championship was something we set out to do from the beginning so it was pretty exciting to see it happen," said Flowers. "We knew we had the depth and firepower to do it. We had to overcome a lot during the indoor season with sickness and health issues, as most teams do, but I told them we had to care about each other, lift each other up and give 100% and they did that."
In the championship, Kwarula ran an 8.01 in the 55m hurdles to start things off as she set a new school and LSC Championship record. Freshman Jasmine Walker then raced home to a top finish in the 55m dash with a time of 7.20. After breaking the school record in the 200m dash prelims with a 24.70, junior Bianca Farrington ran a 24.78 in the finals to secure her position atop the podium. Strickland then cleared 1.72m to win the high jump competition.
The Lady Buffs did not let off the gas once the title was theirs. The 4x400m relay team, consisting of Kwarula, Farrington and juniors Rhemecka Graham and Jessie Thomas, stole first-place honors in dramatic fashion in the last event of the weekend. After trailing going into the third leg, Thomas gained some much need ground in her 400m sprint for the team setting up for a spectacular finish. A near-perfect exchange propelled Farrington, the anchor leg, to the front of the pack behind the northwest bleachers and out of sight from the finish-line crowd as the team raced to another school record with a time of 3:47.59.
In the week following its LSC title, WT moved into the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Team Computer Rankings at 20th before going up to 19th the week after. Coach Flowers also earned himself the title of LSC Coach of the Year. The Lady Buffs also racked up some regional awards from the USTFCCCA. Seven athletes made the All-South Central Region team, including Farrington, Graham, Kwarula, Ouedraogo, Strickland, Thomas and senior Rachel King, while Matt Stewart was named the region’s assistant Coach of the Year.
NCAA National Championship (Winston-Salem, N.C.)
Seven Lady Buffs made the trip as qualifiers for the NCAA Indoor Track & Field National Championship which was held in Winston-Salem, N.C. and was co-hosted by Winston-Salem State University and Visit Winston-Salem on March 14-15. As individuals, Kwarula, Ouedraogo and Strickland competed in individual events while Farrington, Graham, Kwarula and Thomas made the trip as the 4x400m relay team with Leeper serving as the alternate.
WT did not fold under the pressure of the national spotlight as it finished the weekend off with three All-America awards and a best national team finish in program history (16th – 12 points). Strickland grabbed her third and fourth All-America trophies of her career with seventh place finishes in the high jump and pentathlon.
"We knew coming in that it was going to be a tough competition," said assistant coach Matt Stewart about the pentathlon. "She came in ready and did an outstanding job. We couldn't be more proud of her as a staff and as a team."
In the pentathlon, Strickland set PRs in four of her five events, including breaking her own school record in the long jump portion, which was the best mark of all competitors.
"I came in and started really slow but was able to pull it together throughout the event," said Strickland. "I improved on some key events by setting some new PRs so that's what really helped. Overall, it was a really exciting experience and I'm just so grateful for it."
Ouedraogo achieved the highest individual national finish in WT track & field history at JDL Fast Track as she became an All-American in the women's triple jump with a second-place, National Runner-Up finish. Coming into the event as the nation's third-seed, the junior from Antony, France broke her own school record for the fifth time this season as she leaped to a 12.76m (41'-10.5") mark in her second jump of the first heat. Ouedraogo's distance was more than strong enough to hold her in the second spot throughout the finals as she came very close to surpassing it again in the second jump of the final round. Her finish would score her eight points, a team-high for the competition.
Kwarula would end up placing 13th in the 60m hurdles while the 4x400m relay team placed 10th with a time of 3:51.79.
New Indoor School Records
55m: Jasmine Walker (7.17)
60m: Jasmine Walker (7.75)#
200m: Bianca Farrington (24.70)
Mile: Mireia Guarner (5:00.18)
3000m: Haley Sparks (10:07.32)@
DMR: Mireia Guarner, Marisa Holiwell, Jessie Thomas & Bianca Farrington (12:07)@
4x400m Relay: Sharon Kwarula, Rhemecka Graham, Jessie Thomas & Bianca Farrington (3:47.59)
55mH: Sharon Kwarula (8.01)
60mH: Sharon Kwarula (8.64)#
High Jump: Libby Strickland (1.77m)
Long Jump: Libby Strickland (5.68m)
Triple Jump: Malika Ouedraogo (12.76m)
Weight Throw: Casey Nelson (15.40m)
Pentathlon: Libby Strickland (3,708 pts.)
@ - Altitude adjustment
# - Track size adjustment
* - LSC Record
% - LSC Championship Record
2014 OUTDOOR SEASON
Without any break, the Lady Buffs kicked off the outdoor season the following weekend on March 22nd with a trip to McMurry, a new member of the LSC for the 2014 track & field season. There the women had a great start in some field events and hurdles as King and senior Casey Nelson hit early provisional marks. The team then combined competition between the Bobcat Invitational at Texas State and the 87th running of the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays in Austin, Texas the following week. Kwarula had a breakout week there as she broke the 100m hurdles record on back-to-back days and was named LSC Track Athlete of the Week.
On April 5th, the Lady Buffs made a day trip to Angelo State to compete in the David Noble Relays. Strickland proceeded to set new school marks in both the high jump and long jump while WT advanced to a season-high 12th in the USTFCCCA Team Computer Rankings after the meet.
WT hosted the first of its two home meets on April 12th, the West Texas A&M Open. Strickland continued her record-tear at the WTAMU Track & Field Complex with new school records and provisional marks in the 100m and 200m dashes. She also led the 4x400m relay team (with Graham, Kwarula and Thomas) to a school record with a time of 3:45.26 and the 4x100m relay team (with Leeper, King and senior Marisa Holiwell) to a strong provisional mark at 46.08. Strickland was named LSC Track Athlete of the Week three days later for her performance.
The following weekend, the team embarked on trips to the Kansas Relays along with two West Coast meets, the Mt. SAC Relays and Beach Invitational. In California, Guarner and senior Haley Sparks hit provisional marks and set new school records in the 1500m and 5000m events, respectively. Love then broke her own school record in the 10000m run in Lawrence (KU Relays).
The Buffs then returned home for its final regular season meet, the West Texas A&M Classic, on April 25-26. Graham, Kwarula, Ouedraogo and freshman Carley Glass send the Lady Buffs into the postseason with momentum off of four new school records and four provisional marks in front of their home crowd.
The day before the LSC meet, Kwarula and Ouedraogo earned LSC Athlete of the Week honors while Leeper, Love and Strickland repeated as selections on the LSC Academic All-Conference team.
Lone Star Conference Championship (Kingsville, Texas)
The Lady Buffs finished second overall in the team standings at the LSC Championship in Kingsville, Texas with 161 total points, trailing only ASU who finished first with 182 points. Following WT was TSU (third, 122.5), host TAMUK (fourth, 92), McMurry (fifth, 67), Harding (sixth, 52.5), ENMU (seventh, 50), TAMUC (eighth, 43) and MSU (ninth, 41).
WT had five individual or team event titles at the meet. They were led by Strickland who won two individual titles in the long jump (5.90m) and high jump (1.70m). She also led the 4x100m and 4x400m relay teams to LSC championships. Junior Sharon Kwarula added an individual title in the 100m hurdles where she ran a 13.84.
Strickland highlighted the LSC All-Conference team as she earned both individual awards: Wes Kittley Award (Most Outstanding Track Athlete) and David Noble Award (Most Outstanding Field Athlete). She scored 41 total points, most of any athlete, male or female. All individual and team event champions made list which included Graham, Holiwell, King, Kwarula, Leeper, Strickland and Thomas. Nelson was also honored as she totaled 17 individual points at the meet by scoring in all four of her throwing events.
"I'm really proud of how our girls competed," commented Flowers on the LSC meet. "They gave great effort. We just came up short in a few events. Libby had one of the all-time great performances I have ever seen at an LSC meet and she deserves every accolade that she received because she works so hard."
Following the LSC Championship, eight Lady Buffs were selected for the USTFCCCA All-South Central Region team. They were Graham, Guarner, King, Kwarula, Leeper, Ouedraogo and Strickland.
NCAA National Championship (Allendale, Mich.)
WT concluded its season on May 24th by putting two athletes on the All-America podium during the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field National Championship. The meet was held in Allendale, Mich. and was co-hosted by Grand Valley State University and the West Michigan Sports Commission. The Lady Buffs had seven qualifiers for the meet once again. Strickland picked up her fifth career All-America trophy while Kwarula grabbed their first-ever top-eight finish on the national stage.
"I'm extremely proud of the way these athletes came out and competed at nationals," said Flowers. "Sharon ran a really gutsy race and it was a lifetime best time for her so that was great. Libby was all over the place during the meet with all of her events. It was really special for her to finish off the season as an All-American again."
Strickland finished the high jump event in a three-way tie for seventh place after clearing 1.70m. She received top-eight finishes in high jump each of the past two indoor seasons while finishing seventh also in the 4x100m relay (2013 outdoor) and pentathlon (2014 indoor). The Randall HS graduate competed on the track as well in the 100m and 200m dashes where she placed 21st and 18th, respectively, and the 4x100m relay with Holiwell, King and Leeper. The team would place ninth, one position short of All-America honors. Strickland had one more field event in the competition in which she competed in, the long jump, placing 15th in the country.
"Getting in the top-eight is always good at nationals," commented Strickland. "I was really hoping for something a little bit better in Michigan but I am still honored to be in this position and it's a great feeling."
In what was not even Kwarula's strongest event at nationals, she made it to the stand and scored for the Lady Buffs by breaking her own school record with a time of 59.77 in the 400m hurdles. She came into the event seeded 15th in the country.
"I was very excited for this race and it turned out even better than I expected," added Kwarula. "Running that time is a big deal to me so I am really excited about the result. Setting a personal record and getting fifth place is all I could ask for so it is great to cap off the season this way."
Kwarula also competed in the 100m hurdles along with King where they finished 14th and 21st, respectively. Ouedraogo made her return to nationals in the triple jump but would finish 13th for outdoor. Guarner, making her second-straight outdoor nationals appearance in the 1500m, finished 16th.
Leeper, a sophomore for the Lady Buffs, was the recipient of the prestigious NCAA Elite 89 award on May 21st for the 2014 NCAA Division II Women's Outdoor Track & Field National Championship.
Majoring in Mass Communications-Broadcasting with a minor in Spanish, Leeper currently carries a perfect 4.00 GPA with 86 total credit hours as only a sophomore. Leeper was presented with the award during the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Social on the evening before the start of the National Championship at the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich.
With Leeper's award, the WT Women's Track & Field and Cross Country program has taken two out the three national awards for the 2013-14 season. Junior Emma Love was the female recipient during the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships last fall in Spokane, Wash.
The Elite 89, an award founded by the NCAA, recognizes the true essence of the student-athlete by honoring the individual who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers. The Elite 89 is presented to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA's championships.
Eligible student-athletes are sophomores or above who have participated in their sport for at least two years with their school. They must be an active member of the team, traveling and a designated member of the squad size at the championship. All ties are broken by the number of credits completed.
For more information on the Elite 89 award winners, log on to NCAA.com/elite89.
New Outdoor School Records
100m: Libby Strickland (11.66)
200m: Libby Strickland (23.71)
800m: Rhemecka Graham (2:11.95)
1000m: Mireia Guarner (3:03.49)
1500m: Mireia Guarner (4:31.29)
3000m: Carley Glass (10:20.42)@^
5000m: Haley Sparks (17:04.99)
10000m: Emma Love (37:30.01)
100mH: Sharon Kwarula (13.56)^
400mH: Sharon Kwarula (59.77)
4x400m Relay: Sharon Kwarula, Rhemecka Graham, Jessie Thomas & Libby Strickland (3:45.26)
High Jump: Libby Strickland (1.74m)
Long Jump: Libby Strickland (5.93m)
Triple Jump: Malika Ouedraogo (12.47m)
Hammer: Casey Nelson (45.86m)
@ - Altitude adjustment
^ - WTAMU Track & Field Complex Facility Record
The 2013-14 track & field season may now be over but the Lady Buffs are still racking up the awards. On May 29th, Collegiate Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) announced the members of the Capital One First-Team Academic All-District teams for the cross country and track & field seasons combined. The six female athletes on the list were Graham, Guarner, Leeper, Love, senior Amber Moore, and Strickland.
First-team Academic All-District® honorees advance to the Capital One Academic All-America® Team ballot, where first-, second- and third-team All-America honorees will be selected in June.
The following day, the USTFCCCA released the 2013-14 Program of the Year Rankings which reflect the all-around strength of each school’s cross country and track & field teams combined during the athletics season. The Lady Buffs achieved their highest finish in the rankings in school history at eighth. Points in the rankings are determined by the program’s final ranking in each of the three National Championships during the given year.
"I'm extremely proud of how far this Track & Field and Cross Country program has come in the last five years," noted Flowers about the USTFCCCA rankings. "It has always been our goal to be a complete, well-rounded program and to finish in the top 15. For the women to take it even further this year in eighth place is remarkable. These rankings reflect all of the hard work and dedication our athletes and coaches put in. I am grateful for the people that have been a part of building this program over the years."