Late Season Success Has Thames Heading to Nationals

June 2, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. (www.ucfathletics.com) - Junior LaKendra Thames (Winter Garden, Fla.) has done what every athlete and team in any sport tries to do, peak at the right time. After a slow start to her junior campaign, Thames came on strong for the UCF track and field team late in the season, culminating in a fourth-place finish in the discus last weekend at the NCAA East Regionals which earned her an automatic spot in the NCAA Championships.

Heading into the month of May, Thames had not qualified for regionals in any event and had not even competed in the discus since March. At the UCF Twilight on May 10, she won the discus and posted an NCAA qualifying mark with a top throw of 161-10/49.34m. The following week at the Conference USA Championships, Thames finished third and posted an NCAA regional qualifier in the shot put.

"Focusing on myself has helped me to get better late in the season," Thames said. "I have been studying technique by watching videos of famous athletes to see what they do. I have just kept praying and kept my head up. I have been staying confident in myself because if I am not then nobody else is going to be."

Having turned her season around, Thames capitalized on her opportunity at the NCAA East Regionals in Greensboro, N.C. The junior set a new personal-best in the discus with a top mark of 162-9/49.60m. The mark left her in fourth place and meant she would be heading to the NCAA Championships next week in Fayetteville, Ark.

"Making it to nationals is awesome," Thames said. "It has helped me to see that my work is paying off in my performance, and that motivates me to do well and see that I can be just as good as those other girls, if not better.

"I hope to have a revelation and get to my ultimate potential for this season," Thames added. "I also hope to learn both my strengths and weaknesses from the experience so I will know what to focus on and work on for next year."

The NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, hosted by Arkansas, run from June 10-13 in Fayetteville, Ark. Thames is one of three Knights that were automatic qualifiers for nationals. Others competing for UCF will be seniors Dione Thomas (Jacksonville, Fla.) and junior Tiki James (Miami, Fla.) in the triple jump and the 100-meter hurdles respectively.

Sophomore Lizzie Harris (Miami, Fla.), junior Kesley Poljansek (Milton, Kan.) and freshman Jackie Coward (Knoxville, Tenn.) await word on whether they will receive at-large invitations. Prior to this season, the program had just one representative at the NCAA Championships, LesSundra Ford (high jump) in 2004.

For the latest news on the Knights, log on to UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.