CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College track and field teams held their first outdoor practices of the spring semester on Monday, enjoying a mild start to January that is quickly thawing the frozen terrain and foreshadowing the spring weather ahead.
It's almost track and field season.
"This time of the year is always exciting for me as a track coach," said Cloud County head women's coach, Ted Schmitz. "I love the challenge and the opportunities myself, the school and the athletes have in front of us. I'm excited about the upcoming season."
Cloud County will get its first taste of competition when the indoor season gets underway this Friday and Saturday at the Graduate Classic in Lincoln, Neb.
The women's team is coming off of sixth-place finish at last year's NJCAA Outdoor Championships and seventh-place finish during the indoor season. With 10 returners in tow, the T-Birds are hopeful that 2019 will again see the team challenging for one of the top spots on the national stage.
As has been the case during Schmitz's tenure, the T-Birds are primed for another big spring in the field events. Cloud County scored more than any team at the national meet in the throwing competitions and welcome back national placers in sophomores Avi Bulai, Shanee Angol and Takyra Hilton.
Bulai was the national indoor runner-up in the weight throw (58'8.75) behind former teammate Gabbreil Harris, and added top-10 finishes in the hammer throw (6th, 154'1) and discus (8th, 143'3) during the outdoor season.
"Before Christmas she was throwing very well and we're expecting her to be a national contender in all those events again this year," Schmitz said. "We'll see what happens, but hopefully she can challenge for some school records and national championships. She has a very promising season outlook."
Angol also claimed a national runner-up finish in 2018, taking second in the women's javelin with a throw of 149'11, while Hilton finished seventh and sixth, respectively, in the shot put events at the national meets a season ago. Hilton will be adding the weight throw to her repertoire this spring.
Cloud County is also expecting key contributions from fellow sophomore Myflore Methelus, a national qualifier in the 100-meter dash and member of the 4X100 and 4X400-meter relays; Chanice Forbes, a national indoor qualifier in the 200-meter and 400-meter dashes who was hampered the rest of the year due to a hamstring injury; and Nikki Kraaijeveld, who jumped on the scene to finish second in the women's national outdoor heptathlon and qualify in the 400-meter hurdles.
The T-Birds are also hopeful the remaining returners, consisting of sisters Kenisha Stubbs and Kelle Stubbs and distance runners Sadie Jones and Janne Hamisi, will all take the next step and be national qualifiers this spring.
As for the newcomers expected to make immediate impacts, Schmitz said it was a point of emphasis in the offseason for Cloud County to find a talented crop of jumpers.
"We were a little limited on some of the jumping events last year and most of our throwers and runners are returners, so we put an emphasis on finding jumpers and hurdlers," Schmitz said. "We definitely have the pieces that, hopefully when we go to the national meet, we'll have someone from our team represented in each event."
Some of the new faces expected to find their way on to podiums this spring include Jacqueline Pokuaah, who competes in the triple jump, long jump and hurdles; Samaj McGhee, a national high jump contender who can also compete in the long jump and triple jump; Sophie Jebose in the pole vault and triple jump; and Concordia native Jessica Williams.
Williams, who was a standout on Cloud County's volleyball team in the fall, is expected to contribute in a number of areas for the T-Birds' track team.
"We're looking to see how quickly she can pick up the hurdles because we might even look to the multi events for her," Schmitz said of Williams. "We're thinking she could be a national qualifier in multiple individual events and possibly even in the women's heptathlon. She should be very valuable."
The T-Birds are also high on middle distance runners Tanya Harcum and Shackera Samuels, as well as freshman hurdler Deya Erickson, who has already recorded a time of 13.68 seconds in the 110-meter hurdles competing for the Brisitish Virgin Islands. Her time would have won the 2018 NJCAA national outdoor championship by over two-tenths of a second.
A new wrinkle Cloud County will also have to look forward to this spring is its first home track meet in over a decade at the newly renovated Harold M. Clark Stadium on Concordia High School's campus.
The T-Birds are aiming to host a 4-6 team meet during the final week of April, tentatively scheduled for Thursday, April 25.
"It's very exciting to have the new track and turf field out there and the opportunity to not only host a meet but to train, as well. We're very excited to have that facility after going through last year without a track to train on," Schmitz said. "I think it's exciting for our athletes to have a home meet and for them to be able to invite some of their friends, faculty and community members to come out and see them. We're looking forward to that opportunity."