Coach Elvis Forde knows replacing Blanca Fernandez—his best athlete this season—will be a challenge.
The graduate senior Fernandez earned NCAA All-American Second Team honors twice in her time at Temple for track and was a first-team NCAA All-America selection in cross country last season.
Fernandez was also first-place finisher in six of the seven races she competed in during the fall cross country season.
“The two years that she has given us have been nothing but stellar,” Forde said. “I know she has been somewhat curtailed because of the nagging injury she has had, but she has had tremendous success in what she has done for Temple.”
Fernandez and four other seniors are set to graduate this year.
“It’s weird,” senior Imani Shell said. “We’ve been doing the, ‘We’re seniors’ group thing for a while now, kind of preparing, but it’s kind of sad, though. Even junior year, we were like, ‘Class of 2016, that’s us.’ And now as it’s getting closer, it’s like, ‘Whoa, I’m not ready to be done.’”
The seniors helped lead the Owls to an eighth-place finish at the indoor American Athletic Conference Championships from Feb. 28-29 after finishing in last place the previous two seasons.
Senior sprinter Courtney Mitchell said the bond the seniors share was key to the team’s success while she was an Owl.
“We have great team chemistry,” Mitchell said. “I think from the beginning, since I’ve been here, we’ve created a really great bond in knowing that after I graduate, I’ll still have a really great friendship with a lot of them.”
The Owls will return 24 runners next season, including freshman Sylvia Wilson, who has the best time in both the 60-meter and the 60-meter hurdles for Temple.
Freshman Crystal Jones is also set to return next season. The freshman multis finished in seventh place in the 400 hurdles at the Colonial Relays from April 1-2.
“I feel like they can build off that during the summer and preseason next year and I feel like they’ll do really great,” Mitchell said. “I think there’s a lot of talent on the team, especially with the freshmen.”
Forde noticed that the freshmen were pushing the upperclassmen and hopes to see juniors Jimmia McCluskey, Simone Brownlee and sophomore Katie Pinson take on more of a leadership position next year.
Mitchell said she maintained a positive attitude in front of her younger teammates to help them feel more comfortable.
“I feel like my positivity goes down to the younger ones,” Mitchell said. “I think knowing that it’s my last few weeks, actually this whole year, from the beginning, it’s the last few moments on a college team, so you need to stay positive.”
Shell said she preferred to lead the team by example.
“She’s just a fighter,” Forde said. “You know, not a lot said from her, but one who comes to practice every day willing to work hard. That is a trademark she’ll leave in terms of being here and she gets along with everybody.”
With three meets remaining before the American Athletic Conference championships, the seniors prepare to finish their season as best as possible.
“I know that there’s only four weeks left until my collegiate track career is over, so I’m just trying to, like, go out there knowing that this is it,” Shell said. “I know I have to compete my hardest and get the best results I can because there is no going back anymore.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at email@example.com.