Indoor Track & Field Gets Underway Tonight in Kentucky

Jan. 14, 2011

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By Pat Salvas

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - It's been eight months since the UCF track & field team won the 2010 Conference USA Outdoor Championship. Friday afternoon in Lexington, Ky., the Knights will begin their quest to return to the top of the conference when they run at the Kentucky Invitational to open the 2011 indoor season.

Head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert returns for her fourth season at the helm of a program that has made improvements in each of the last three years, culminating with the first C-USA title last spring.

Last season, UCF was led by a talented group of runners. Now a junior, Jackie Coward (Knoxville, Tenn.) became the program's first-ever All-American, doing so in the 100-meter hurdles. Her fifth-place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships solidified her as one of the best individual runners in C-USA.

In all, 10 individual UCF runners and one relay team competed at the NCAA East Regional Qualifiers following the Knights' historic comeback in the conference championship meet held at the UCF Track & Field Complex.

Trailing midway through the final day, a surge of points from the Knights pushed them to the top of the leaderboard. Holding off national power UTEP in the final two events gave UCF the edge in the final point totals, 114-109, to earn the league crown.

Coward was the conference's 100-meter hurdles champion with a time of 12.99. She was joined by then fellow sophomore Aisha-Maree Frazier (Marietta, Ga.) as conference champion with Frazier taking the 400-meter hurdles crown in 59.20.

The comeback win, combined with impressive individual performances across the board, earned Smith Gilbert the 2010 C-USA Coach of the Year award.

Now, Smith Gilbert and her staff must refocus their team for the road ahead in the pursuit of yet another league title. That quest to repeat begins in Lexington with the first meet of the indoor season.

The two-day event will begin Friday at 6 p.m. and continue Saturday at 10:30 a.m. UCF will compete against teams from Alabama, Eastern Kentucky, Florida A&M, Georgia Tech, Kentucky State, Louisville, Michigan State, Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Western Carolina, Western Kentucky and the host Wildcats from Kentucky.

The Knights will have a chance to see one other team from the conference as Marshall is the only other C-USA school scheduled to run in the meet.

At this meet last season, UCF saw season-best showings from Champelle Brown (Oakland, Calif.) in the 400 meters (56.32 - 12th) and the 4x400-meter relay team (3:48.13 - 7th). Brown also ran in the relay alongside sophomore Sonnisha Williams (Jacksonville, Fla.), senior Micaela Wimberly (Miami, Fla.) and Coward.

Coward's 24.75 finish (14th) was the second-best in the 200 meters by a UCF runner all indoor season.

In the field events, the Knights will look for strong performances from standouts Jacquelyn Gilchrist (Tallahassee, Fla.), Tomika Story (Orange Park, Fla.), Ashley Bolling (Jacksonville, Fla.) and Samantha Shields (Orlando, Fla.).

Assistant coach Jeff Chakouian will have his work cut out for him with the loss of regional qualifier and All-C-USA Second Team member in both shot and discus LaKendra Thames to graduation following last season. However, Chakouian brought in talented freshmen Satrina Oliveira (Fort Myers, Fla.) and Destinee Romain (Miami, Fla.) to strengthen the core of the throwers for the immediate future.

Following this weekend, UCF will also compete in meets at Virginia Tech and Penn State in January before heading to the Tyson Invitational at the University of Arkansas and the C-USA Championships in February. The indoor season rounds out with the Last Chance Meet and a return to Blacksburg, Va., to start March with the NCAA Championships to follow March 11 and 12.