Track and field wins another title
Mike Neville – Contributor
Domination is one of the many words that comes to mind when describing the success that Southern’s track head coach John Wallin has had over his ten years at the university.
Fresh off his fourth consecutive NE10 championship, Wallin said the goal from the start of the season was to be champions.
“Winning is on our mind every year, everyone performed well, we elevated ourselves pretty high and, in the end,” said Wallin, “it wasn’t even close.”
A big part of Southern’s track season was Ruvens Exantus, a senior who competes in a variety of events such as hurdles and the long jump and who is no stranger to success at Southern, being a part of all of the last four championship seasons.
Setting the bar early in the season despite setbacks he faced was on Exantus’s mind, who said he wanted to go out a winner considering in his last year.
“I had high expectations this season,” said Exantus. “Earlier in the season, hamstring injuries became a setback for me, but I felt better towards the end which was the most important part.”
Going into the championships, which took place on Feb. 20 and 21, Exantus said his mentality was to stay locked in and get the job done.
At the Championships, Exantus and his team did get the job done, as he claimed first place in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.09, an NCAA provisional mark and a personal-best.
The Owls dominated the two-day competition, which took place in Roxbury, Mass, especially in the 400 meter dash, where they took home the top four spots.
Justin Kelly, a senior, earned first place with a time of 48.71, Nigel Green, a junior, came in second with a time of 48.74, and Sachin Manning, a senior, and Jordan Lembo-Frey, a junior, came in third and fourth with respective times of 49.44 and 49.45.
Philip Quaye, a senior, finished in first for both the heptathalon and the pole vault, while Daniel Brown, a junior, earned a gold medal in both the 60-meter hurdles and 1,000-meter run.
Being a senior, Exantus is one of the many key members of the track team that will be leaving due to graduation, a hurdle Wallin must go over.
“We’re going to need a big push out of our sophomore and junior athletes moving forward,” said Wallin. “They’re the guys and girls we need to focus on.”
Kiah Strickland is another senior that will be departing at seasons end. This year she had the opportunity to compete alongside her brothers Derek and Nikolas Strickland, who are a freshman and junior.
“This is my first time going to school with both of them at the same time,” said Strickland. “so it was amazing seeing them form into their true selves and being in their element.”
Nikolas, is someone who Wallin said he could see stepping up next year, although younger brother Derek, along with the other younger athletes may need some time.
“I don’t see freshmen stepping up yet, they will need time to mature. Sophomores and seniors are our focus,” said Wallin.
Looking ahead to the NCAA DII Championships, which will play out on March 13 and 14, Wallin said grooming his athletes so they reach their potential is the key to being successful in the meet.
“Athletes we think have a chance to compete in the National Championships did not compete in NE10, so they are in full preparation mode ahead of the meet,” said Wallin.
For Kiah Strickland, the final chapter is being written on her time with Southern, a part of her life she has fond memories of.
“I could not have picked a more perfect school to go to,” said Strickland. “Southern has become home and I have gone farther in both academics and athletics during my time here.”
Kiah Strickland is also no stranger to success, as she was a NE10 Champion in the javelin and an AllRegion selection in the javelin and the pentathlon. This season in the NE10, she placed fourth in the shot put with a throw of personal-best throw 13.10 meters.
While the women’s side of track and field did not finish as champions like the men, they finsihed in fifth.
In the 4×400-meter relay, the team of Natalee Seipio, Cori Richardson, Toni Joseph and Arreiyona Jones, all of which are freshman, took home the silver with a time of 3:56:03, the fastest time from a Southern team since 2017-2018 season.
Regarding athletes like Exantus, it is not quite over, the NCAA Championship is another chance to reach the paramount of the mountain, something he amounted to in his junior season as well.
“I intend to become an All-American at the NCAA’s,” said Exantus. “It’s been a dream of mine since freshman year and I am confident this year I can achieve it.”
In terms of personal goals, besides becoming an All-American, Exantus said that he has not yet achieved his own goals and that they will come to light during the NCAA’s, whatever they may be.
With the season coming to a close at the end of the spring semester, and with Southern’s team looking very different, Wallin said that next year will have its own set of challenges.
“Every year is different, athletes come, and they go,” said Wallin. “We will see what next year holds in the fall of 2020.”
Photo Credit: http://www.southernct.owls.com