CONCORDIA, Kansas — Cloud County Community College sophomore Lesley Mahlakoane came to Concordia expecting to be a jumper for the men's track and field team. Instead, he found his calling as a sprinter and will graduate with a scholarship to a perennial power in the University of Arkansas.
Mahlakoane signed his National Letter of Intent on Tuesday to become a Razorback just hours before the No. 3 ranked T-Birds started their trek south to Hobbs, New Mexico for the NJCAA National Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
The South Africa native is coming off a first-place finish in the 400-meter dash at the Region VI/KJCCC Outdoor Championships and is currently the No. 6 seed in the event heading to nationals with a season-best time of 46.95 seconds. He finished third at the NJCAA National Indoor Championships (47.66) back in March.
Mahlakoane, a school record holder in the indoor 600-yard run and as a member of the indoor distance medley relay team (9:59.48), is also nationally qualified as the anchor of the men's 4X400-meter relay team, ranked 11th in the country among NJCAA teams with a time of 3:14.
"He came to us as a 24-foot long jumper and didn't know about running the 400-meter. But he has just continued getting better in the 200, 400 and 600. He's been running at a very high level," said Cloud County head men's coach, Harry Kitchener. "He's long and he's lean. He already had a lot of speed when he was brand new at the events. We started running him on some B teams just to get workouts and since then he has really bought into it. Coach (Ted) Schmitz has done a great job with our fall running program and it really paid big dividends for Lesley."
Mahlakoane, who said he plans on studying Sports Management, will head off to a storied Arkansas program that has won 30 NCAA Division I National Championships between the indoor and outdoor seasons.
The 400-meter dash and the 4X400-meter relay will still be the events Mahlakoane hangs his hat on once he arrives in Fayetteville, with the opportunity to long jump, as well.
Mahlakoane said it was a mix between a friendly coaching staff, headed up by Chris Bucknam, the opportunity to compete for a perennial power, and the internal competition he will face that ended up making the University of Arkansas the right fit for him.
"I had a lot of schools to choose from. I have some of my best friends at TCU. It was a hard choice for me, but I can say that Arkansas is one of the best teams in the nation," Mahlakoane said. "I enjoyed the coaches on the visit and the team were easy people to get along with. I'm also going there as their fourth fastest guy, so I'm going to have more people to train with and help me become better."