The Owls are hoping to send a message to the university with their performances at the American Conference Championships.
“We the T,” junior hurdler Simone Brownlee said. “We’re showing that we’re just as awesome as all the rest of the sports.”
Last season at the conference championships, the Owls finished last of 11 teams in the conference championships.
This year, Temple is sending 14 of its 29 athletes to the conference meet in Birmingham, Alabama, on Feb. 28-29, compared to last season when coach Elvis Forde sent the whole squad.
“Based on what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been running so far this season, I’m very optimistic,” Forde said. “The key for us is I want us to see how many points we can score as compared to last year. That’s critical for us.”
Last year, Temple scored 26 points. Graduate-student distance runner Blanca Fernandez scored 20 points with two first-place finishes in the mile and the 3,000-meter.
This season, the Owls will not be able to rely on Fernandez as much since she is recovering from an overuse injury involving her IT band and ran in her first race of the indoor season on Feb. 12-13. Fernandez will compete in the 3,000 and the distance medley relay at championships.
Despite running just one race this season, Fernandez ranks seventh in the conference in the 3,000.
Even though Forde sees a lack of depth as a problem with the team, he said there are several Owls who have the potential to score at conferences. To score, the individual must place in the top eight of their event.
Four Owls are ranked in the Top 8 of their event in The American standings, including freshman sprinter and hurdler Sylvia Wilson, who is ranked fourth in the 60 hurdles. Both relay teams, the 400 relay and the distance medley relay, are also in the top eight.
“I’m very excited,” junior sprinter Kenya Gaston said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone is going to do at conferences.”
Gaston will run the 400, the 400 relay and the 400-meter leg in the distance medley relay. She ranks 11th in the 400 in The American, and she set her season-high in the event during the team’s final regular season meet on Feb. 12-13.
“After the last meet, a lot of the team had [personal records] in their respective events, so I feel like that’s also kind of a boost of confidence that we needed,” sophomore distance runner Katie Pinson said. “I feel like we’ve crossed a mental block so now going into this, we are confident and ready.”
Pinson will compete in the mile, the 3,000 and the distance medley relay. The relay team just broke the school record at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational and hopes to improve even more at conferences.
Connecticut won The American team championship meet last year and finished second behind Southern Methodist in 2014. The Owls have set their sights a little lower for themselves.
“The [American] is very loaded in terms of events,” Forde said. “The team we probably have to go for is a team like a Cincinnati or Houston. Those are, in my mind, probably a couple of the programs we have to set as the bar for us to chase after.”
Last year, Houston finished 23 points ahead of the Owls and tied for seventh place with Tulsa.
Despite what any statistic says, Forde is confident in his team and knows anything can happen when it comes to a big race like this. The atmosphere is different and the “best” runner in the heat becomes somewhat irrelevant, he added.
“It’s a different kind of meet,” Pinson said. “It’s definitely more competitive, there’s a little bit more on the line, and it’s the same schools every time, so I know how hard it is going to be.”
Members of the team are aware of the improvement they are making, but hope to make sure Temple knows about their progress over the past years.
“Even though we aren’t considered a powerhouse sport, we work just as hard as any powerhouse sport team out there,” junior sprinter and jumper Jimmia McCluskey said. “It’s like we want to show that the Temple track & field team is not just a team that they put out there, a team that they kept. They cut our boys team, but we stayed. We gotta show the reason track & field should still be here at this school.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at email@example.com.