By Layne Weitzel, TTU Sports Information
CHARLESTON, Ill. – Tennessee Tech's performance at the 2017 OVC Indoor Championships was unprecedented.
With the help of five event titles, the Golden Eagles finished second at last season's conference meet for its highest team finish in program history. It was a truly remarkable turnaround after Tech was unable to score a single point in 2016.
Heading into the 2018 OVC Indoor Championships, which return to Eastern Illinois, Tech has a great opportunity to build off last year's finish.
"We're very excited about the opportunity to go and hopefully improve on last year's performance," said head coach Wayne Angel, the reigning OVC Indoor Coach of the Year. "We have an interesting team this year in the sense that we are relatively young, yet we are taking a small group of very experienced veterans. It's an interesting dynamic of this team as far as that goes."
Tech has been consistently strong throughout the entirety of the indoor regular season. The Golden Eagles currently lead the conference in seven indoor events (200m dash, 400m dash, 800m run, mile run, 4x400m relay, distance medley relay and pentathlon) and rank second or third in another four events (60m dash, 3000m run, 5000m run and high jump). They've been rewarded throughout the season with a high regional ranking from the USTFCCCA and currently stand at 10th in the South Region, which marks the highest ranking of any OVC team entering the conference meet.
Tech has the personnel in place to score points, returning 103 of its 111 points scored at the 2017 championship. Na'Asha Robinson, ranked first and second in the OVC in the 200m and 400m dashes respectively, will look to defend her event titles, and teammate Sharnique Leonce will hope to do the same with her pentathlon crown. The Golden Eagles also return at least half of each of last year's distance medley relay (Madison Stremler and Micayla Rennick) and 4x400m relay (Robinson, Leonce and D'Airrien Jackson) championship squads.
Tech's newcomers have had as much to do with the program's success thus far this season as the returners. Junior transfer Khemani Roberts gives Tech options at various field events and has also run on the 4x400m relay team. She leads the league in indoor pentathlon, ranks second in high jump and ranks fourth in the 200m dash. Freshman Cierra Tate paced the OVC in the 60m dash and now ranks third, and she also stands at fifth in the 200m dash. Purity Sanga, coming off an outstanding cross country campaign during which she was named the OVC Women's Freshman of the Year, helps Tech out in distance. She ranks third in the 5000m dash and is also within the top 10 in both the mile and 3000m.
Tech has done all it can do in preparation for the conference meet and will now put its work to the test this weekend.
"We will not take this championship for granted. We recognize that we are up against three of the most experienced coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference. Tom Akers (Eastern Illinois), Chandra Cheeseborough-Guice (Tennessee State) and Rick Erdman (Eastern Kentucky) are legends in this conference. They are all well-respected," said Angel.
"It's going to be a fun and exciting meet. We have some events where we will do exceedingly well and in others, we will be sparse at best. In the final analysis, I believe it will boil down to the athletes that are fifth through eighth places. And if Tech is really going to have an impact on the scoring, we're going to have to have to have some athletes who are hovering around 10th and 11th spots step up. If we can do that enough times, that usually makes the difference in conference meets.
"On paper, EIU, the defending OVC champions, TSU and EKU are strong contenders. EIU has a huge advantage being at home, so we will have our hands full once again. We are returning 103 points from last year's 111 that we scored for the runner-up finish. We are a much stronger team this year with the addition of Khemani, Purity and Cierra. We have put ourselves in an enviable position. We are highly motivated and laser-focused and will certainly do our part to influence the outcome of the championship. We are on a rendezvous with destiny."
The 2018 OVC Indoor Championships will be held on the campus of Eastern Illinois from Friday, Feb. 23 to Saturday, Feb. 24.
Some additional statistical info:
NATIONALLY RANKED MARKS
- D'Airrien Jackson – 12th, 400m dash, 52.84
- Na'Asha Robinson – 14th, 400m dash, 53.06
- Micayla Rennick – 28th, mile run, 4:39.69 (converted)
- DMR – 49th, 11:39.32
- Khemani Roberts – 53rd, pentathlon, 3,712 points
- Na'Asha Robinson, 56th, 200m dash, 23.70
- Khemani Roberts – 57th, high jump, 1.75m/ 5' 8.75"
NOTE: The top-12 athletes in the nation in each event following the completion of all conference championships will qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships in early March.