LEVELLAND—This is the week we've worked for.
That was the message radiating off South Plains head track and field coach Erik Vance on Monday as the men's and women's teams held their first of two practices before heading to Hutchinson, Ka. for the 2017 NJCAA Outdoor National Championships May 18-20.
Months of perpetration packed into a three-day meet that will ultimately decide the top program in the country. There will be a pause, heads will turn and the intensity level will rise when the South Plains College bus arrives at Gowans Stadium as the Texans enter the meet as the 10-time defending national champions.
"This week is what we have worked for for the entirety of the year," Vance said. "We really know what we have and are excited to put our kids in good spots in a championship environment. Our kids have really worked hard, and the intensity in practice is there, and they're championship ready."
The Texans, who rank second in the country in the latest USTFCCCA national polls just behind Iowa Central, have combined for 42 national qualifying marks in 19 different events. The Texans have four of the top marks in four events, including defending national javelin champion Adrian Williams who used a heave of 227' 6" at the Texas Tech Masked Rider Open.
Then, there's future Arkansas Razorback Laquan Nairn, a freshman jump specialist from the Bahamas who set the top mark in the country in the long jump at the ACU Wildcat Open in April after soaring 26' 1.75". Nairn also ranks second in the triple jump with a mark of 51' 4.25", which he set at the NJCAA Indoor Championships in March.
"I'm ready to go and help the school win another title," Nairn said. "I'm hungry. I really want to do something big up there and help my team win. I just try to relax and do what I do. I need to focus on my events and get mentally ready to go."
Look for Robert Downs Jr. and Okeen Williams to set the tone for the Texans on the track on Friday. Downs Jr. holds the top time in the NJCAA in the 800 meters with a 1:51.12 set at the Masked Rider Open in Lubbock. Williams ran a 50.75 in the 400 hurdles at the Texas Relays in Austin in March and has two teammates in Rayan Holmes and William Watson who rank second and third and could help the Texans go 1-2-3 in the 400 hurdles come Saturday.
"Our guys do a great job of competing when it's time to get up and compete," assistant coach Justin Hobbs said. "At indoors, you could just feel the environment and the atmosphere. Just like today, you can tell there is a focus there that maybe isn't there in the middle of the season. It's like they know that it's time to go."
The Lady Texans, who last won the outdoor team title in 2015, will enter Thursday ranked third in the country. A young team with a veteran mindset, the Lady Texans have strung together three of the top relay times in the country to date and will look to add to those numbers in Kansas.
Seselia Dala, Hellen Maasotuo, Poro Gahekave and Latriceia Smith have the top 4x800 composite time of 9:08.32. The Lady Texans' 4x400 relay team made up of Smith, Mauricia Prieto, Nataasha McDonald and Agnes Abrocquah rank second in the country with a 3:40.33 set at the indoor championship meet. South Plains' 4x100 team comprised of Omotayo Abolji, Prieto, Taylor Hill and Safia Bright will look to spring out of the blocks and improve upon their second-ranked time of 45.26 set at the Ross Black Open in April.
"I'm really excited because this is my last junior college outdoor meet," Prieto said. "I just need to go out there and execute and have a good start. It's like once I do this, I know I can go out there and help my team."
Prieto ranks fourth in the 100 meters with an 11.38 and 11th in the 200 meters with a 23.91. McDonald, a 400-meter specialist will look to improve on her nation-leading time of 52.59 set at the Masked Rider Open. The Lady Texans will also look to Dala to pick up crucial points in the 5000 and 10000 meters where she ranks eighth and 10th, respectively.
"We're going to head up there on Wednesday and shake out a little bit," Vance said. "Thursday we will start running some kids out there, and then Friday and Saturday, those are our money days when we have to go get some things done."
You can watch the meet live at flotrack.org and access the full meet schedule below. Live results can be found at the following link: https://trackmeet.io/meets/317