Owls hope to top last year’s 8th-place finish

Coach Elvis Forde’s team looks to improve its standing in the American Athletic Conference.

When preseason workouts got tough, senior sprinter and jumper Bionca St. Fleur reminded herself this is her last year, and she will never be a college athlete again.

“I came into this season with a whole new mindset,” St. Fleur said. “It’s great to know this is my last year and we want to go out with a bang, so I’ve set goals for myself and I want to place high in conferences.”

St. Fleur put that new mindset to work at the first indoor track & field meet of the season on Friday at Lehigh University, where the Owls notched 15 Top 10 results, including two first-place finishes.

Last year, Temple finished eighth out of 11 teams at the American Athletic Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships.

“We want to improve on our finish in the conference,” coach Elvis Forde said. “That’s the primary goal. We feel our job is to get them ready and get them prepped, and their job is then to execute in the way that we have prepared them.”

St. Fleur came in 12th in the 200-meter preliminaries and missed the cut for the finals by four places. She also came in second place in her second event, the long jump.

In her rookie season, Sylvia Wilson took home gold for the Owls in the 60 hurdles.

The Owls’ biggest challenge will be replacing distance runner Blanca Fernandez, who graduated.

Fernandez was part of the Owls’ second-place distance medley relay team at the indoor championship and competed in the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship.

“We don’t have a heavy hitter like we had Blanca,” Forde said. “I don’t think you can ever replace someone who did that, but we hope someone will come along who will in time be well-respected in the conference and by their peers. We feel Millie Howard, Sylvia Wilson and Crystal Jones can do that.”

Howard, a freshman, started her career at Temple with the cross country team. She finished 20th in the conference championship in October and 74th in the regional championship in November.

“I’m really excited to see Millie this track season, because we recruited her primarily as an 800 runner,” junior distance runner Katie Pinson said. “She ran some really impressive times and she prides herself on being more of a track girl.”

Sophomore Crystal Jones made a name for herself when she came in fourth in the high jump at the indoor championship last year.

“Crystal Jones always surprises me,” St. Fleur said. “I’m really excited to see what happens this year with her. She’s a go-getter at practice, she’s always getting after it. I’m excited to see how far her training and her motivation for herself gets her.”

The Owls lost four athletes to graduation, but added nine freshmen, one walk-on and a transfer student coming into the 2016-17 season.

The track & field team also hired assistant coach Tramaine Ellison, a 2004 kinesiology and exercise science alumna who focuses on coaching the jumping events.

“Sometimes being male, having a female is nice to soften things up,” Forde said. “I’m very excited that she has chosen to come back to her alma mater and has that cherry and white bleed, it’s making a world of a difference.”

Forde, who is in his third year as head coach, is looking for newcomers to step up and seniors to be leaders.

“I’d like to see that senior group that I found here upon my arrival to really go out with a bang,” Forde said. “They did some good things last year and by doing that we will see our team improve from where we have been the past two years … but they have to grab the bull by the horns and say, ‘Hey, let’s go. I’m going to put you all on my back, you know this is our last year.’”

Tessa Sayers can be reached at teresa.sayers@temple.edu.

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