In between a combined eight gold medal awards, 16 total event victories and top-tier overall finishes, this past Saturday likely qualifies as a positive for the Webster University men’s and women’s track and field team.
During the weekend’s St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) Championships, the women’s team ended with a first-place finish, highlighted by standout performances from senior Meghan Illig, senior Donalda Desir, and freshman Johnae’ Hightower. The three of them came away with multiple awards at the culmination of the event.
Opening as favorites heading into the 2017-18 season, the team came away with the university’s first conference championship in women’s track and field history. The team carried along that same confident mentality, even prior to the season. Freshman Vanessa Jones produced in multiple events such as the 100 and 400-meter hurdles and triple-jump event. Jones said she believed the team was capable of these types of performances from the start
“Throughout the season, I already knew our team was bound for greatness, so it was no surprise we won the conference,” Jones said. “We all push each other to be the best we can be and everyone’s work ethic is amazing.”
Senior Holly Goergen had multiple top-tier finishes in different races. Fighting through stamina was one of the challenges the team was presented with during the races.
“I was pretty tired going into the 1,500, having done the 5K and 10K before it,” Goergen said. “When I had about 200 meters left, I saw Minnell (Fundora) heading towards the finish with a pretty good lead on second place, and it completely changed my race. My excitement for her gave me the little extra bit of energy I needed to be able to pass someone in the last 100 meters.”
As for the men’s track and field team, the team put forth an accomplished effort at the SLIAC Championships event as well. As a whole, the group came away with four gold medal winners, six overall event wins, set five school records, and finished in second place behind Greenville University.
The Gorloks came away with four individual winners in seniors Riley Flynn, Mason Stevens, and Damon Fowler, and freshman Joe Souvannarath. The group also had a 4-by-100 relay team produce a first-place finish, with freshman Jacob Ridenhour, junior Brandyn Robinson, freshman Carson Gross, and junior Caleb Clemons.
The race was particularly special for Clemons, the Gorloks’ all-time leader in 60-meter dash and 200-meter dash times, among others. At the team’s first outdoor meet at Rhodes College, Clemons suffered an injury, but returned to help the team to a successful finish. Despite the team’s second-place ending, Clemons was positive about the team’s performance and overall outlook.
“I’m more pleased than not,” Clemons said. “I’m pleased because we were a lot closer to Greenville than last year and we have a lot of the team coming back next year so things are looking pretty sweet for us in the future.”
Both teams get back into action on May 10 and May 11 for the North Central Dr. Keller Invitational event in Naperville, Ill. For athletes that are close to qualifying for national events, strong outings will be paramount.
For some of the more celebrated players, such as Goergen, the event will carry on a special importance. With few events remaining, the opportunity to contribute to accolades for the team have become a primary focus.
“This race was special because it would be my last opportunity to race for Webster,” Goergen said. “I really wanted to try as hard as I could throughout the weekend. I didn’t really care about how tired I’d be afterwards. I just wanted to make a contribution, and do as much as I possibly could for the team before being done.”