UCF Track and Field On the Hunt for More

Jan. 9, 2013

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By Jenna Marina

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - One of America's most beloved sports films, "A League of Their Own," has an unforgettable inspirational quote:

"It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."

No one can deny the success of UCF's track and field team. The Knights have achieved greatness on the conference, national and even world stage. The 2012 season was arguably their best yet:

-A fourth Conference USA championship
-Four competitors representing not only the Black and Gold, but also the Red, White and Blue at the USA Olympic Trials
-A top-10 finish at the NCAA Indoor Championship for the best placing in school history
-Octavious Freeman's ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 appearance
-Six All-Americans with 13 distinctions throughout the year

But it is what the team fell short of - "the hard" -- that is pushing the Knights for greatness this coming season.

"Even though we accomplished a great deal, we still left a lot on the table," UCF head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert said. "We had injuries. We had people running PRs but not making finals. We didn't defend our indoor conference title. Without failure, you can't have success. So those are the things that made us humble and eager to work harder to learn more."

UCF begins the 2013 indoor season this Friday at the Kentucky Invitational, and the No. 11 Knights are eager to get the new year underway.

The sprinting corps remains stacked with All-Americans Aurieyall Scott, Freeman, Dominique Booker, Olympian Afia Charles and standout Christal Peterson. Smith Gilbert said the group was hard at work in the off-season to improve their strength and technique.

"We should be more stable. By more stable, I mean that last year we reached times that were possible and we ran them sometimes," Smith Gilbert said. "But I'm sure this year we'll run fast times consistently and continue to improve on those times."

UCF's hurdlers will look different without seven-time All-American Jackie Coward and All-Conference USA honoree Karessa Farley, who both graduated. The Knights have added Eastern Kentucky transfer and Ohio Valley Conference champion Lutisha Bowen and freshman Rayeisha Lowe-Chin.

Lowe-Chin was the 2012 conference, district, regional and state champion in the 300 hurdles her senior year at nearby Apopka High School.

"Lutisha Bowen has turned out to be a darn good hurdler. I think she is going to surprise some people," Smith Gilbert said. " Rayeisha Lowe-Chin only hurdled one year during high school, but she is a very good athlete, and I think she'll be a conference scorer for us."

The jumpers will be led by UCF's long jump record holder, All-American and Olympic Trials qualifier Sonnisha Williams. She is joined by junior Jen Clayton, who is primed for a successful season. The Knights added two accomplished recruits in California long jump state champion Alexis Faulknor and FHSAA 3A long jump and triple jump state champion Shemael Hamilton.

Pole vaulter Erica Weiss is one of three captains this year and is ready to leave a lasting impact on the program in her final season.

"Alexis Faulknor will be a huge addition for our jumps and she can also sprint. Shemael Hamilton is a developing long jumper but I think she's going to be solid for us in the triple jump," Smith Gilbert said. "Jen Clayton put in major effort in the off-season. She has changed as a person and as an athlete and I expect her to do well this season."

UCF's throwing unit, led by assistant coach Jeff Chakouian, welcomes back junior Destinee Romain, Precious Ogunleye, who rewrote UCF's freshman records last year, and added Colorado state champion Megan Patterson. Smith Gilbert said the group has become more disciplined and focused in their training sessions and expects the unit to contribute this year.

The distance crew has a host of new faces who will join Ne'Ausha Logan, Erica Winston, Teresa Huff and Shelby Blaes.

"Of course we have freshman Anne-Marie Blaney, who had a great cross country season," Smith Gilbert said. "I've been impressed with Shelby. Ne'Ausha is ready to go, and she has Caroline Pauls and Erica pushing her."

It would be easy to get caught up in the hype of the sustained success the Knights have been able to achieve over the last four years. But Smith Gilbert has ensured the team adopts a blue-collar attitude to strive for more.

"The motto is to be consistent and work hard," Smith Gilbert said. "We are going to do what we are supposed to do to get the desired outcome."