By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The defending Ohio Valley Conference champion Tennessee Tech women's track and field team approached the Vanderbilt Indoor Opener the same way that many programs go into their first meet of the season: to see the gains they have made in the offseason.
"We did well today for it being the first meet of the year," said coach Wayne Angel. "We had a lot of our athletes competing in their 'off-events', just to see how they are progressing in their growth and training. Overall, I thought it was very positive from that standpoint."
Aside from the fact that winning was not at the top of the Golden Eagles list of priorities on Saturday, they still managed to produce a slew of top finishes, and saw many of their freshman members turn in impressive debuts.
Heading the list were Cierra Tate and Janet Kwambai, who posted runner-up finishes in the 300 meters and 3,000 meters, respectively.
Tate, who competed primarily in the 60m and 200m last indoor season, clocked a time of 39.13 seconds in her first-ever attempt in the 300. That effort was good enough to win her heat, and gave her the second-place result out of a 64-runner field.
Tate finished less than two tenths of a second behind the event winner, Sabrina Richman of Austin Peay.
Kwambai made a name for herself as the OVC Cross Country Female Freshman of the Year this fall, and was clearly unintimidated in her first-ever collegiate indoor track meet, as she clocked a time of 10-minutes, 19.13-seconds for second place among 38 competitors.
Joice Jebor of Middle Tennessee came in just 3.1 seconds ahead of Kwambai to win the race.
Tech's Khemani Roberts, who established herself as one of the OVC's best during last year's indoor/outdoor sweep of the conference championships, finished three spots behind Tate in the 300 meters with a mark of 39.80 seconds. It was the first career attempt in the 300 for Roberts, who is more well-known for her work in the jumps and multi-events.
Akili's fifth-place overall result came against a field of 81 other runners that were split into 14 heats. The freshman from Mason Hall, Trinidad and Tobago won her heat by more than half a second, and was the second-fastest freshman among the entire field.
Much like Kwambai, Chepkemboi was also a major contributor for the TTU cross country team this fall, and carried that momentum into the indoor track season with her time of 5:28.25 in the mile run. She was far and away the best of any of the seven underclassmen in the race, as Western Kentucky sophomore Aairiona Ransom was the next one across in 5:57.21.
Senior Raven Smith took a pair of top-10 finishes in the long jump and triple jump, and recorded a new indoor personal best in the process. Smith's 5.62-meter leap (18 ft., 5 1/4 in.) was good enough for sixth place among the 39 entrants in the event, and was just three-quarters of an inch off her overall personal best (5.64m) that she set at last year's outdoor league championships.
She followed that up with a seventh-place finish in the triple jump, as she sprang 11.13 meters (36-6 1/4).
Freshman Taylor Macklin competed in the shot put, and took ninth place out of 36 with a 12.30-meter throw (40-4 1/4).
Eshe' Robinson, another important piece of Tech's success last season, came in 13th out of 36 in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 9.40 seconds.
"It's a good starting point," Angel said. "There's still a long road to the indoor OVC Championships, but I'm confident after today that our training level is where it is supposed to be, and that we will bring it all together when it counts in February. Then, the goal will be to turn around and do the same thing in May for the outdoor season."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information