John Denton's Knights Insider: Knights Look to Keep Rolling

May 27, 2010

By John Denton

NCAA Championships Central

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - In the eyes of coach Caryl Smith Gilbert, UCF's historic win in the Conference USA Outdoor Championships two weeks ago wasn't so much of a major accomplishment as it was a first step for the Knights' track and field program.

With UCF now heading into the Outdoor Track and Field East Championships in Greensboro, N.C., Smith Gilbert sees the opportunity for the Knights to prove that they are a rising power.

"We can't turn back now. Once we've gotten ourselves out there (as C-USA champions), now we have to keep it going and doing well," Smith Gilbert said.

UCF is sending a school-record 11 athletes to the NCAA East Outdoor Championships, an event that runs Thursday through Sunday. The field in Greesboro, N.C., will be made up of 48 athletes in each individual event and 24 teams in the relay events. The top 12 from the East Championships and the top 12 from the West Championships (in Austin, Texas) will vie for the national championship in Eugene, Ore., June 9-12.

The Knights are hoping to ride a wave of momentum into the East Championships after rallying to win the C-USA title two weekends ago on the UCF campus. UCF got several inspiring efforts from athletes who set personal records, lifting the Knights to the first C-USA team title in school history.

"A lot of the athletes came through when things got tough and that's why we were able to win," Smith Gilbert said. "That's what we've been preaching all season - step up when it matters. Now, it's up to us to come through and do it again."

One sign of how the Knights stepped up to the challenge and showed dramatic improvement throughout the season under Smith Gilbert was that 12 of the 14 entries in the East Championships set season-best marks at the C-USA Championships.

Many of UCF's hopes in East Championships rest on the shoulders of talented sophomores Jackie Coward and Sheila Paul and senior LaKendra Thames. Paul will compete in two individual events and run the anchor leg in the 4 X 100-meter relay, while Coward and Thames will compete in two individual events.

Coward, one of the nation's best young runners, is seeded fourth in the 100-meter hurdles after winning the C-USA crown in that event. She will also compete in the 400-meter hurdles alongside of teammate Aisha-Maree Frazier, the C-USA champion in that event. Frazier and Coward are best of friends and roommates and their 1-2 finish two weeks ago was one of the most memorable moments of the C-USA championships.

"Jackie should be able to do really well in this event," Smith Gilbert said. "She's running the short and the long hurdles. She hasn't had a lot of runs in the longer hurdles, but we think she'll do just fine."

As for Frazier, she delivered in the clutch despite struggling most of the season with a badly sprained ankle. That injury, Smith Gilbert said, caused her to run tentative at times during the season and affected her performance. But her work with sports psychologists helped to set the stage for her to become a C-USA champion.

Thames, who has become an accomplished shot put and discus thrower and a three-time honor roll student at UCF despite a challenging upbringing in Winter Garden, set school records in both events in the C-USA Championships. She is one of six UCF athletes returning to the East Championships, and Smith Gilbert feels that experience should aid the Knights.

"We have a couple of girls who had big high school meets there in Greensboro and every time that we've mentioned going back there their eyes light up and they have been excited," Smith Gilbert said. "And with LaKendra being there last year, knowing how the facility looks and how things are laid out, I think that will give her a slight advantage."

Tiki James, Micaela Wimberly will join Coward in the 100-meter hurdles. The trio finished 1-2-3 (Coward-James-Wimberly) in the C-USA event two weeks ago, propelling the Knights to the come-from-behind championship win.

Sonnisha Williams and Jacquelyn Gilchrist will compete in the long jump, while Tomika Story will participate in the triple jump. Junior Carley Dart will run in the 800-meters, while Champelle Brown will run with James, Wimberly and Paul in the 4x100-meter relay.

Said Smith Gilbert: "We really feel like we don't have to prove anything. What we have to do is go out there and do it the way we know how."

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.