Track and Field Secures Two Event Wins to Start 2024 Season

by Alex Clough

ORLANDO - The sixth-month-long journey for the UCF track and field team started today in familiar places, as the squads split up to compete at the Jimmy Carnes Invitational in Gainesville, Fla., and the Rod McCravy Memorial Invite in Louisville, Ky. While Friday marked the first indoor track and field meet for the Knights as members of the Big 12 conference, head coach Dana Boone and her squad wasted no time in getting acclimated to their new position, as familiar faces, joined by a refreshing crop of transfers and newcomers, picked up right where they left off in 2023.

Rayniah Jones was once again in the spotlight, embarking on her final collegiate season and her last-ever opening meet. Though unsurprisingly the All-American didn’t disappoint, notching two top-three performances in the nation in both the 60m dash and hurdles to qualify for tomorrow’s semifinals.

Friday’s action got off to an early start as Natalia Madison placed fourth in the high jump with a 1.65m mark. A short two-hour break saw Madison joined by Y’Vette Harris, making her collegiate debut, and Holly Cassels in the 60m hurdles. In one of the five pentathlon events, Harris (8.76) and Madison (8.98) showed their strengths on the track, qualifying for the finals with third and fifth-place finishes, respectively.

Following a top-10 finish in the long jump with a 5.33m mark, Harris shined once again in the hurdles, securing third place and a new personal record of 8.67. The Californian native would cap off her incredible debut meet with a strong 9.81m mark in the shot put, her second personal record of the day.

A strong showing on the track for Madison as she came in fifth in the finals of the 60m Hurdles with a time of 8.87 led into her final event of the day. One of three Knights competing in the shot put, the junior smashed her personal record, notching a 12.04m mark and an eight-place finish to secure the field squad its fourth PR of the afternoon.

Alexis Waller in her first collegiate meet represented the Knights in the triple jump, securing a 12.12m mark and a new personal best for the freshman.

Following Katie Pinnell’s departure, concluding five years of dominating in the 800m, freshman Hannah Taylor wasted no time in conveying her talent on the track. The Scottish native turned on the jets in lap three and bested two Florida State entries, claiming first in the event with a time of 2:11.41, one of the best performances by a UCF freshman to date and the program's seventh-best time in history.

Another marquee performance came from the veteran and fifth year, Charlotte Crook, who made her first appearance on the track since 2022. Crook led nine Knights in the 3000m, running a 10:06.81, just six seconds off her personal best. Rounding out the top five, Paige Jaszczak opened her sophomore campaign with a time of 10:11.03, the third PR from the distance squad in Gainesville.

Action from the Jimmy Carnes Invitational concluded with one UCF win and 10 top-10 finishes, including four top-three performances.

At one of the premier meets of the new year, the Knights had a strong showing at the Rod McCravy Memorial Invite. Two Knights qualified for tomorrow’s semifinals in the 60m dash and hurdles, and a handful landed among the top 10 in their respective events.

I’Asia Wilson led UCF in the 60m dash, qualifying in 15th with her time of 7.51 to tomorrow’s semifinals at noon. Minutes later, the two-time Indoor All-American in the 60m hurdles returned to the event with a strong 8.12 performance, which currently stands as the third-best time in the nation. Jones led the collegiate field and will look to replicate her form tomorrow in the semifinals at 12:20 p.m.

Jones would eventually wrap up day one in Louisville with another stellar showing in the 200m, running the nation’s second-best time of 23.68 and winning the event. The performance is her fastest since winning the 200m at the 2022 American Athletic Conference Indoor Championships, setting the tone for what is sure to be an impactful final collegiate campaign. Jones placed ahead of three competitors from fellow Big 12 opponent, Texas, in the top 10.

Multiple Knights making their UCF debuts impressed, including three transfers who already showed their value to the squad. Kentucky transfer, Colleen “Coco” Branch, secured a quality ninth-place finish in the 200m with her time of 24.66 following a 7.54 performance earlier in the day in the 60m dash.

In the hurdles, Ese Awusa secured her qualification to tomorrow’s semifinals, running an 8.62 to finish in 14th place. BYU transfer, Adaobi Tabugbo notched a top-15 time in the 200m with her 25.05 performance. Latasha Smith claimed a ninth-place finish in her first event of 2024, running a 38.95 in the 300m, which was followed by Kiah Williams running a 1:35.06 in the 600m to finish 10th.

Tomorrow, Wilson and Jones will look to advance to the finals of the 60m dash and hurdles, while Pulliam, Smith, and freshman Kate Henselmeier will compete in the 400m dash at 1:45 p.m. to complete action in Louisville, Ky.