Nile McNair, Contributing Writer
Women’s track and field’s goal for this season is simple: win another Atlantic 10 championship. The black and gold have claimed two outdoor titles in the last four years, in 2016 and 2018, and they aim to add another in 2021.
The Rams weren’t able to chase a title during the indoor season after the event was canceled due to COVID-19, but assistant coach Thomas Sage said they used the time to get better.
“We had the luxury of being able to slow things down and add a little bit more volume to our training because we didn’t have to run fast in February,” Sage said. “We’re looking forward to running fast in May, so we’re kind of seeing the dividend being paid off now as we’re progressing through the outdoor season.”
The additional attention to training has resulted in top performances this season.
Senior multi event athlete Courtney Higgins earned A-10 field Performer of the Week honors after winning three events at the Bobcat Invitational at Texas State University on March 28 and March 29.
But it’s not just the seniors who have had standout performances in meets during this season. Sophomore jumper Khalil Lyons placed first in the women’s high jump at George Mason’s Winter Track Fiesta on Feb. 27 and 28.
Record breaking achievements
This season, the Rams have logged multiple school records, two of them in field events.
First, Makayla McGowan set a new school weight throw record with a 18.93 meter toss at George Mason’s Winter Track Fiesta. The previous record of 17.76 meters was set by Camora Sanders in 2019.
Junior thrower Kayla Merkel broke her own javelin throw school record that she set back in 2019 with a 47.11-meter toss at the South Florida Invitational on April 3. Merkel said she’s having her best season yet after recovering from COVID-19.
“At first I didn’t think it was going to go that far, after that throw I didn’t feel it was super powerful but when I noticed how far it was I was like OMG I did it,” Merkel said. “All this work has been paying off, even with the year of COVID, it doesn’t matter now I’m here, I earned this.”
Sophomore hurdler Lauryn Freeman broke a 100-meter hurdles school record with a time of 13.84 seconds. The previous record of 13.88 seconds was set in 1993 by Donna Pegram.
“Me and Coach Sage have had these talks multiple times so we knew I would break it eventually just not at that meet,” Freeman said. “At that exact moment and not this early but it was just a shock to everyone especially me.”
The A-10 championships are on the horizon for the Rams, beginning on May 1 at George Mason. Winning conference championships has been a staple at VCU since coach Jon Riley arrived on campus 11 years ago, winning five team conference titles in the span.
“The man just gets it done every year — it’s inspiring me to be a better coach and better version of myself,” Sage said. “Just to follow in his footsteps and the way he’s taken this program from when he first started from a bottom feeder team to perennial A-10 champion is something I’m extremely proud to be a part of.”
As the season has carried on and the team has learned from previous meets, their confidence in what they could accomplish has risen.
“I think we’re going to do very well,” Merkel said. “I mean we have great sprinters, jumpers and multis, everyone is hitting personal records every other week so I think we will do pretty well at the conference.”