Track teams open indoor season at MTSU

Nick Bratcher

As winter sets in, the WKU track and field team is headed indoors and focusing on some age-old concepts to bring success.

The Toppers think a mixture of hard work and accountability will carry them through the indoor season, which kicks off this Saturday in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for the Middle Tennessee Christmas Invitational.

Head Coach Erik Jenkins said the Toppers will face two main obstacles in pursuit of a Sun Belt Conference Championship.

First, WKU will take on some big opponents in its own league.

“If you look at a Middle Tennessee or a North Texas, both of those teams have a lot of depth, and they have traditionally done a very good job in track and field,” he said. “There are teams in the Sun Belt that have a lot of national representation.”

Second, the Toppers aren’t the talent-laden squad they’ve been in the past.

“We are not, by any stretch of the imagination, the most talented team in the Sun Belt,” he said. “We don’t have incredible depth in any event, but we do try to be very successful in every event. We try to spread the point total.”

The Toppers and Lady Toppers will compete in 10 events before the Sun Belt Championships on Feb. 27-28.

Until then, Jenkins said he’s pushing for small victories.

“We want to outwork everybody else,” he said. “If we can get better every day, making small jumps that are consistent over time, then we’re going to have a chance to be successful when it counts.”

Junior Sharika Smith said hard work started months ago with Red October, the Toppers’ grueling training period consisting of frequent weight lifting and campus-wide sprints.

“Basically, we just went all out every week,” she said. “They do that to show us that if we can make it through that, then we can make it through the year.”

Jenkins is also stressing the importance of self-responsibility in overcoming the obstacles. He said that includes depending on each other in a “championship situation as well as being independent.”

“Track and field is one of the very few sports you can have individual champions and team champions,” Jenkins said. “We obviously want to have a very cohesive mix of both.”

Sophomore Suzette Van-Lare said experience and team mindset will play crucial roles in the women’s team winning a fifth straight indoor title.

“We have so many veterans that can lead us by example,” she said. “As a team, we have the dedication, discipline and ability, but we’ve got to get our minds right and come together.”

Jenkins said a lack of standout individuals won’t kill WKU’s chances at a conference title.

“You can have one or two good athletes, but that won’t win a Sun Belt Conference title,” Jenkins said of the importance of having super-stars like other in-conference opponents. “It will keep you in the battle, but it won’t win the war.”