LEVELLAND—The South Plains College track and field program has been a perennial powerhouse since its birth, resulting in an influx of national title trophies and a growing list of athletes who move on to four-year universities after their time on the South Plains comes to an end.
This year's teams remain no different, and the list of athletes who sign to compete at the next level grew by six today at a signing ceremony held inside the Texan Club. First-year head coach Erik Vance congratulated five members of the Texans squad, and one Lady Texan, all of whom announced where they will be competing next season.
Taylor Hill, a sophomore sprinter from Houston by the way of the British Virgin Islands, announced she will return home to attend Houston Baptist University. Hill is one of six Lady Texans who set a national qualifying mark in the women's 100 meters after she posted a time of 11.81 at the 2017 Texas Relays in Austin on March 29.
"I chose the school I chose because one it is close to my family," Hill said. "I think that I can also help them build their track system up. South Plains has helped me in many ways, especially with the coaches because they listen and they help you understand things from different perspectives."
Sophomore Robert Downs announced he will be attending Texas A&M University-Kingsville next season to compete for the Javelinas. Downs ran the eighth-fastest time (1:53.16) in the 800 meters at the UTEP Springtime meet on March 25 and is excited to head to South Texas to continue his career on the track.
"I went to Kingsville and I basically felt home there and they really took care of me there," Downs said. "I felt like it was going to be a great fit for me for the next two years. South Plains definitely steered me in the right way. Before I came to South Plains I was at Temple University, and things didn't really go well there with grades and injuries, and South Plains really disciplined me for me to be able to get my education and continue my running career."
Deric Martinez, a sophomore from El Paso announced he will be continuing his career at East Carolina University. Martinez set a national qualifying mark in the men's 5000 meters at the Indoor Championships on March 3 with a time of 15:13.44.
"South Plains College gave me a great opportunity to develop not only as a student but as an athlete, Martinez said. "Without South Plains College, I don't think I would have this great opportunity to go so far to East Carolina."
Sophomore Jose Silva, who is also from El Paso, announced he will continue his running career at New Mexico State University. Silva set a national qualifying mark in the men's 5000 meters at the Charlie Thomas Invitational on Feb. 3 with a time of 15:17.84.
"I went to New Mexico State because it's close to home," Silva said. "It's like 45 minutes to an hour away from home, so that was a major reason why I'm going to New Mexico State. South Plains got me ready to compete at that Div. I level. We went to all the big meets and competed really well."
Yuma, Arizona native Derrick Monroe announced he will head to the SEC conference to compete for the Bulldogs of Mississippi State University. Monroe currently ranks sixth in the NJCAA in the long jump after setting a mark of 25' 0.5" at the NMJC Ross Black Open on April 15.
"South Plains helped me develop a lot," Monroe said. "Coming out of high school, I didn't really jump what I wanted to jump until like the last month of high school, and coach Vance brought me out here and I've been able to develop and get better as much as I wanted to."
Joining Monroe in the South Eastern Conference is Laquan Nairn, a sophomore from the Bahamas who will be attending the University of Arkansas after setting two of the top marks in the country in the long and triple jump. Nairn currently ranks first in the NJCAA in the long jump with a mark of 26' 1.75", set at the ACU Wildcat Open on April 27. Nairn also ranks second in the NJCAA with a mark of 51' 4.25", which he set at the Indoor Championships on March 3.
"I chose Arkansas because the coaches there want to make you a better person in life," Nairn said. "They care about you before track and field, they care about you as a student-athlete. Coming to South Plains wasn't the original plan for me, and coach Beene contacted my parents after he found out I couldn't go to Arkansas anymore out of high school.
"Unfortunately for me, my freshman year I tore my ACL, and I didn't want to come back, but coach Vance really helped me out when I was home over the summer break. He kept me focused on my goal and I came back. He's really helped me as a human being and made me humble, and made me realize that you shouldn't take anything for granted."
Watch the signing here: