2010 UCF Track and Field Preview

Jan. 15, 2010

ORLANDO, Fla. (www.ucfathletics.com) - In her first two seasons at the helm of the UCF track and field program, head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert has left no doubt that she plans to build a program built to compete for championships, not only in Conference USA but also on a national level.

If you look at the laundry list of accomplishments, records and awards by her athletes, her team and even by Smith Gilbert herself, it is clear the program is on its way to being just that - a champion.

"The program has made tremendous strides," said Smith Gilbert. "We are a very well-rounded program coming into this year with people that have the potential to produce in all event areas. Overall, academically and athletically I feel that we are becoming complete."

In 2009, the Knights had three NCAA Indoor All-Americans and finished third in the C-USA Indoor Championships. They followed that up with a remarkable outdoor season, culminating in sending five athletes to the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

In between, UCF broke 14 outdoor school records, finished ninth at the NCAA East Regionals and a program-best second place at the C-USA Outdoor Championships. Smith Gilbert herself, she was recognized for it all when she was named the 2009 South Region Coach of the Year.

All of that success in only Smith Gilbert's second year as head coach was recognized, and Smith Gilbert was as well when she was named the 2009 South Region Coach of the Year. She says is not surprised by the team's accomplishments and is proud of the program's progress, but that they are looking ahead to bigger and better things.

"I knew coming in that the program had great athletes so I am not surprised," said Smith Gilbert. "I expect to be able to send people to nationals, but the real goal for me is to be top-10 on a national level. The team knows that is the direction we want to go in. Last year was a step forward, and I am praising all steps forward, but we have bigger goals and we are challenging ourselves to be really great."

Looking to the 2010 season, with much of the talent back from a season ago, Smith Gilbert's expectations are high for her team.

Among the talented returners for UCF are seniors LaKendra Thames (Winter Garden, Fla.) and Tiki James (Miami, Fla.), who both went to the NCAA Outdoor Championships as juniors.

James, in her first season after transferring to UCF, was an NCAA Indoor All-American in the 60-meter hurdles and finished in second and 12th respectively in the 100-meter hurdles at regionals and nationals.

"Tiki James was very consistent for us last year," Smith Gilbert said. "She has developed into a positive role model and is a team captain right now. Her performances are solid and consistent, she just has to make the next step towards reaching her goals."

Thames came on strong at the end of last season to qualify for both regionals and nationals in the discus. The Orlando area native also qualified for regionals and set the school record in the shot put.

Along with the program's other throwers, Thames will be coached this season by a new member of Smith Gilbert's staff, Jeff Chakouian. The assistant coach joined the team this summer after spending three previous seasons at Illinois State.

"Coach Chakouian is a person of great character," Smith Gilbert said. "He can talk to anybody and leave them with a positive feeling. He is a great motivator and a great recruiter. He has the ability to simplify complicated tasks so that the athlete can understand them. I think the throwers are having fun, they are strong and I think we will have some real big performances from the throwers."

A talented crop of sophomores return after impressive freshmen campaigns. Jackie Coward (Knoxville, Tenn.) burst onto the scene in the indoor season, finishing in seventh place in the 60-meter hurdles to earn NCAA Indoor All-American honors. She also won the 400-meter hurdles title at the C-USA Outdoor Championships.

"Jackie is a major player on our team with the ability to score in several events. Because she was so good out of high school, there is a lot of pressure on her at times, but I think this year she has done a good job of honing in on what is important to her and I think she will really come through for us. The things she was able to do as a freshman were phenomenal."

Fellow sophomore Sheila Paul (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.) won the 60-meter dash event title at the C-USA Indoor Championships and broke the school records and qualified for regionals in both the 100- and 200-meter dash.

Junior Micaela Wimberly (Miami, Fla.) is the last remaining NCAA regional qualifier on UCF's current roster and the third Knight (James, Coward) that qualified in the 100-meter hurdles.

Smith Gilbert also reloaded with incoming talent after last season, which included the addition of impact transfers Champelle Brown (Oakland, Calif.) from Laney Community College and Tamika Story (Orange Park, Fla.) from Florida A&M.

"Champelle Brown should be a major contributor and by the end of the season she should be running very well in the 400 as well as the mile relay," Smith Gilbert said. "Tamika Story is going to be solid in both the long jump and triple jump for us. She has done a great job in the offseason developing her skills in both events."

Nine student-athletes make up one of the best freshman classes in school history and will join the program for 2010. The diverse group includes sprinters, hurdlers, throwers, middle distance and distance runners as well as jumps.

With the talent the Knights have on its roster, Smith Gilbert's goals and expectations are high entering the season.

"We want to compete for the title at both the C-USA Indoor and Outdoor Championships and also place in the top-15 at the national championships in both the indoor and outdoor seasons," Smith Gilbert frankly said of the team's goals.

One reason for excitement around the program is the plethora of action at the UCF Track & Field Complex. The Knights will host three regular season meets, including the Black & Gold Challenge (March 20), the UCF Invitational (March 26-27) and the UCF Twilight (May 6).

More importantly, for the first time in its history, the track and field team will host the Conference USA Outdoor Championships from May 14-16.

The team gets its indoor season underway on Jan. 15-16 at the Kentucky Invitational in Lexington, Ky.

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.