With fourth-year coach -- and former Ohio Valley Conference Coach of the Year recipient -- Wayne Angel at the helm, the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles are poised for success at the OVC championships. The Tech squad had phenomenal indoor and outdoor seasons in the 2017 campaign, tallying runner-up and third-place finishes at the OVC championships respectively. The year was also highlighted by sophomore all-American Na'Asha Robinson's NCAA appearance in Eugene, Ore. -- the first Golden Eagle appearance in Tech women's track and field history.
This upcoming year, the Golden Eagles' success will rely on the leadership provided by experienced upperclassmen and highly-motivated youth. Each meet that they compete in will be essential in preparing them to contend at the OVC championships -- including the outdoor championships held in Cookeville in May -- and on the national level. After losing the OVC title by a mere 11 points a year ago, the Golden Eagles are hungry and have high expectations as Tech looks to make great strides and compete against some of the best programs in the OVC and the nation.
"Our goals are high and so is our team morale," Angel said. "We have a culture of accountability and responsibility where mediocrity is not an option. We are on a mission and won't be satisfied until we have accomplished it. Our eyes are always on the prize."
And the Golden Eagles learned so much from 2017 as the team reached new heights, but fell just short of even loftier aspirations -- a fate the team hopes to avoid in 2018.
"We had a taste of success last year -- it was bittersweet," Angel continued. "We had some adversity and a few setbacks, but we learned from them and as a result we are stronger. We have a renewed optimism and a clear sense of commitment going forth. We will focus on the process of becoming champions in the classroom, on the track and in the community in 2018."
Tech will face that challenge of youth this season, with a number of fresh faces being added to the squad, all of whom look forward to adding their names to the legacy of Tennessee Tech track and field. Despite losing OVC Champions Sarah Brandt, Jaydean Joseph and all-OVC athlete Antonia Susnjar, Tech returns all-American Na'Asha Robinson along with four OVC champions D'Airrien Jackson, Madison Stremler, Sharnique Leonce and Micayla Rennick, as well as four OVC scorers from last year's squad. The Golden Eagles are a quality team that boasts a solid blend of youth and experience with a sprint and distance crew comprised mostly of upperclassmen and a field events group led by OVC pentathlon champion Sharnique Leonce. Highly-touted transfer Khemani Roberts from Tobago will bolster that group.
"As a team we feel that we have unfinished business from 2017," Angel remarked. "We recognize that when striving for excellence, good is never enough. Our team motto this year is 'If it's going to be, it's up to me."
The sprints and hurdles group under the expert and watchful eyes of assistant coach Eugene Frazier are primed to do exceedingly well in 2018. If last year's performance was any indication of things to come, this year should be really special. The sprint group is led by all-American Na'Asha Robinson, an eight-time OVC champion and 2016 OVC Freshman of the Year, is expected to build on her outstanding accomplishments from last season. The Huntsville, Ala., native looks to reset school records and defend her OVC titles in the 200m, 400m, and mile relay, as well as garner even more accolades at the national level.
"NaAsha is the catalyst of this team," Angel said. "She has matured and developed into a super athlete and teammate. She will be in the thick of things at the NCAA championships this year."
The short sprints are highlighted by the duo of sophomore Lisa Wickham and freshman Cierra Tate, a former Tennessee High School State champion in the 200 meters from Whitehaven High School. They will also receive help from freshman Teauna Anderson as well. Wickham, who hails from Trinidad, is the Tech record-holder in the 60 meters. Both look to have a huge impact at the OVC championships.
"Wickham is a veteran with international experience at a very high level," Angel remarked. "She has competed in her country's Olympic trials as well as on the OVC and national level. She has made great strides since her arrival at Tech. I look for her to lead the charge for us in the short sprints along with Ciera. Those two will form the nucleus of our 4x100 relay.
"I am also excited to see what Teauna can do this year. She will challenge to score in the 60 meters and 200 meters this season."
In the longer sprints, the Golden Eagles boast two of the most decorated and dynamic 400-meter sprinters in the OVC and Tech history. Led by all-American and eight-time OVC champion and OVC Freshman of the Year Na'Asha Robinson and three-time OVC champion and OVC freshman of the year D'Airrien Jackson, both look to give a new meaning to the word 'domination.' They will do yeoman's work as they look to carry the heavy load for the Golden Eagles this season.
"Na'Asha and D'Airrien are super athletes and they exemplify what all athletes should strive for -- excellence." Angel stated. "They are ferocious competitors and will be a force to be reckoned with at the OVC championships. Both will be key factors in our long and short relays as well."
The distance group guided by veteran head coach Angel should provide a lot of excitement in 2018. Led by the most prolific distance runner in Tech history, Micayla Rennick has accomplished what no other distance runner has since former Golden Eagle superstar Stephanie Place donned the Purple and Gold. Rennick hails from San Luis Obispo, Calif., and has rewritten all but one of the indoor distance records -- the exception being the 5,000 meters, which is held by her teammate Purity Sanga. The OVC champion has a supporting cast of who's-who in the conference. OVC freshman of the year and NCAA cross country qualifier Purity Sanga will strengthen Tech's efforts in the mile, 3k and 5k runs. Three-time OVC champion and OVC Freshman of the Year D'Airrien Jackson will provide strong support in the 800 meters and the DMR. OVC champion Madison Stremler will reprise her role on the DMR and the 800 meters this year. She will complemented by senior Anna Cooper and freshman Courtney McCowan in the 800 meters.
"This is one tough distance group," Angel said. "We have a lot of quality and scoring power at our disposal. Micayla and Purity are phenomenal. I expect them to do some great things the OVC championships in February and beyond. Cooper, Stremler and McCowan are making great strides in practice and competition. They will answer the call to excel when the time comes."
MULTI EVENTS AND FIELD
The Multi and Field events group, coached by first-year assistant coach Whitney Fountain, looks to make a huge impact this year. OVC pentathlon champion Sharnique Leonce will lead the Multis and Field events group. The St. Lucia native was the top scorer for the Golden Eagles in 2017. She is also an integral part of the Tech sprint machine. Leonce will team up with newcomer Khemani Roberts, a transfer from Coppin State University. Roberts is a former two-time MEAC conference champion in the pentathlon and heptathlon. She has also qualified twice for the first rounds of the NCAA Track and Field championships. Roberts and Leonce will be one to look out for to be a dynamic presence at the OVC championship.
Nashville native Eshe Robinson was a scorer in the pentathlon last year. With a year of experience under belt, she will look to continue her climb into the ranking of the OVC. OVC scorers Na'Scottisha Drummond and Raven Smith are veterans who will put the exclamation mark on the Golden Eagles' scoring power this year.
"The Multi's and Jumps group must be an important part of the equation this year for Tech to be successful," Angel remarked. 'Leonce and Roberts will battle for supremacy at the OVC. Esche, Na'Scottisha and Raven are primed for major breakthroughs in 2018. They will be the difference makers in 2018."
Angel continued, "We will take a bold approach to all that we do this season. I have a Latin quote that I refer to quite often -- 'Audaces Fortuna Iuvat,' which means 'Fortune Favors the Bold.'. As a team, we have a bold mindset in practice, in our attitude, in class as well as in competition. We do not look as it being cocky -- we see it as we are very confident in our abilities. We believe that 2018 will be the year of the Golden Eagle."
The 2018 season will truly be one to not miss. Between the seasoned veterans determined to excel and the young faces thirsty to make a name for themselves, the Golden Eagles are ready to take on the OVC and boldly take the program where no track squad has ever taken it before.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information