Abilene Christian – long recognized as the premier track and field program in all of NCAA Division II athletics – will compete at its final Lone Star Conference Championship this weekend, bringing an end to one of the sport's most dominating eras.
The ACU men won the first of their 28 team championships in 1978 and have since won 19 consecutive titles dating back to 1993. The ACU women competed at their first championship meet in 1983 and have won 23 of a possible 30 titles.
Equally incredible is that both sides have left together as team champions on 18 different occasions, most recently in 2008 right before the Angelo State women began their run of four straight titles. ACU came within a half point of dethroning the Rambelles last season at Texas A&M-Commerce, falling 195.5-195, while the men held off Texas A&M-Kingsville, 176.3-170.83.
In addition to the countless team titles, Wildcat student-athletes also have combined to collect over 80 individual awards since 1976, including 10 LSC Track and Field athletes of the year, 41 outstanding track athletes and 31 outstanding field athletes.
Not surprisingly, these individual efforts have the given the Wildcats a firm control over the LSC's record book. The ACU men hold 14 of 21 conference records, the most recent of which was ' winning shot put distance of 64 feet, 2.5 inches (19.57 meters) from last year's meet in Commerce. The ACU women also claim 14 records, with their last coming in 2009 when Linda Brivule threw for 184-6 (56.25m) in the javelin.
The current ACU men's and women's rosters already have a conference championship hanging on each of their belts as they both won team titles at the LSC's inaugural indoor meet held this February in Lubbock. The women scored a decisive 150-98 victory over runner-up West Texas A&M, but the men were forced to rally over the last few events to edge Texas A&M-Kingsville, 149-142.
The Wildcats came away with 11 individual titles that weekend as well as both 4x400-meter relay championships. Senior Jordan Geary was named the outstanding male track athlete in scoring 22.5 points, which included wins in the 200-meter dash, 400-meter run and 4x400 relay. And on the women's side, senior Amanda Ouedraogo was named outstanding female field athlete after winning the triple jump behind an ACU record effort of 43 feet-00.50 inches (13.12 meters).
The men return all of their indoor conference champions heading into the outdoor meet, but the women will unfortunately be without Reyare Thomas. The 2012 London Olympian won three events and scored a whopping 22.5 points at LSC Indoors, and later set the school record in the 200m (23.51) at NCAAs.
The Wildcats also just got back LSC 400m champion and indoor all-America Elea Diarra, who made her outdoor season debut last week at Texas Tech. There, she ran a wind-aided 25.12 in the 200m and helped the 4x400 relay place third (3:48.78).
ACU will be spread a little thin in the sprints and relays without Thomas' services, but can still count on Diarra, senior Shennae Steele and sophomore Karolyn Palmer to provide points from the 100 to 400m. Steele has recorded provisional times in the 100m (12.02) and (24.04), while Palmer's season best in the 200m stands at 24.97.
Sophomore Lexus Williams has primarily competed in the hurdles this spring but also has experience on both relays as well as in the 200m. She is a provisional qualifier in the 100 hurdles behind a season best time of 14.13.
Seniors Ayesha Rumble and Chloe Susset are expected to lead the Wildcats in the mid-distance races. Rumble is the LSC's third-ranked 800m runner (2:110.08) and will also be part of the 4x400. Susset could possibly compete in the 800m, but her true strengths are in the 1500m (4:32.07) and steeplechase (10:39.43) – an event she's won at conference the last three years.
In the jumps, senior multi-athlete Cassie Brooks is the Wildcats' top scoring threat in the high jump and long jump. She also ranks second in the conference to Angelo State's Jordan Gray (5,083) in the heptathlon with 4,954 points.
Ouedraogo will continue her rivalry with ASU's Kearah Danville in the triple jump. Ouedraogo bested Danville at the indoor championships, but could not beat her again at NCAAs. Danville enters this weekend's meet with the best triple jump in all of D-II at 43-7 (13.28m), one inch further than Ouedraogo's school record of 43-6 (13.26m).
The Wildcats look to be very balanced in the throws and should get points in all four events. Junior Tara Riley ranks among the conference's top-10 performers in the shot put (43-6/13.26m), discus (147-2/44.85m) and javelin (126-1/38.43m), while junior Lauren Hartwick (169-9/51.74m) and senior Shalania Lakey (168-7/51.39m) rank first and second in the hammer. Lakey also ranks among the LSC's top-10 in the discus, and Ameilia Mitchell (145-3/44.28m) is its No. 2 competitor in the javelin to WT's Tanesha Blair (151-2/46.07m).
If the current conference rankings hold true in the men's throws, then it's assured that senior Baptiste Kerjean will win his second straight hammer throw and junior Andrew Hudson will win his first in the discus. Kerjean is far and away the best hammer thrower in the LSC as his conference and school record distance of 218-0 (66.44m) is over 20 feet better than No. 2-ranked Nick Alejandro of Angelo State. Kerjean recorded that mark last month at the Mt. SAC Relays.
Hudson (181-1/55.19m) also has a sizeable advantage in the discus over the rest of the LSC, but he's still 31 feet off from breaking former Wildcat Andy Kokhanovsky's conference record of 211-5 (64.44m).
Elsewhere in the throws, junior Aaron Bynum (183-5/56.51m) and freshman Jelani Rainey (43-6/13.26m) are ACU's top performers in the javelin and shot put, respectively.
ACU is just as deep in the multi-events as it is in the throws, but the Wildcat trio of freshman Luke Woods and seniors Parker Petty and Matthew Stark should expect some tight competition from Angelo State and Texas A&M-Commerce, both of which have several athletes ranked among the LSC's top 10.
Woods surprised many earlier this year in winning the indoor heptathlon title with 4,520 points, while Petty is a two-time defending champion in the decathlon. Petty won last year's event with 6,700 points and was the 2011 champion with 6,236 points.
Stark has come on strong this spring and is currently ranked second in the LSC decathlon standings with 6,276 points, which he recorded in winning the West Texas Open and Multi. Stark also can score for ACU in the pole vault, while the long and triple jumps will be anchored by junior Darian Hogg and Malcolm Barnes. It's also possible that the Wildcats will again enter freshman sprinter Johnathan Farquharson in the long jump since he placed third in this event at indoors with a distance of 23-01.75 (7.05m).
Hogg is ranked third and 10th in the triple and long jumps with respective marks of 48-3.5 (14.72m) and 22-10.5 (6.97m). Barnes is the No. 6 ranked triple jumper in the LSC (46-8/14.22m).
Farquharson also remains the Wildcats' top sprinter, a group that also features Geary, freshman Devan Brown and sophomore Osei-Allyene Forte. Farquharson has provisional marks this season in both the 100 (10.36) and 200 (21.23) and helped the 4x100 post a season best time of 40.78, which ranks second only to Incarnate Word in the LSC.
Freshman Jeremy Tatham is ACU's only competitor ranked in the top-10 in the 110 and 400 hurdles, but the Wildcats appear to be well stocked in the mid-distance races led by seniors Banjo Jaiyesimi and James Grantham and freshman Xavier King, who is more than capable of scoring in the 800m, 1500m and 5K.
The LSC championship begins Thursday at West Texas A&M's Buffalo Sports Park with the women's heptathlon 100-meter hurdles (1 p.m.) and concludes Saturday night with the team trophy presentations (8:20 p.m.).
The meet also is part of the Lone Star Conference Championships Spring Festival, which also includes baseball and softball competing nearby. An all-festival pass, which includes admission to the baseball and track & field championships, will be $25 for adults and $10 for youth. Single day passes are $15 for adults and $6 for youth. All seats are considered general admission and are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Information for this story provided by ACU Sports Information.