Women’s track team opens season at Clemson

The Florida A&M University women’s track team has been waiting for months to show if their off-season training will pay off.

Well they’ll have their chance this weekend as they open the indoor season at the Clemson Opener on Saturday.

The team said it would use the first competition as a way to assess development and see how it stacks up against NCAA competition.

“We want to see where we stand,” said LaKendra Cunningham, a 20-year-old junior from Tallahassee. “Right now it really isn’t about winning or losing. We are extremely confident going into the tournament.”

Much of the team’s confidence stems from second-year head coach Maicel Malone. Runners said they feel Malone’s coaching has them primed for a successful season.

“Coach (Malone) has us really focused on or technical running skills. She has done a great job with getting in shape,” Cunningham said.

Malone said the team’s development could be attributed to both her coaching tactics and the team’s response to them. “Everyone was really positive when I came here,” Malone said. “They adjusted well and received me right away.”

The 2006-2007 season is Malone’s first full season at the helm for the women’s track team. Cunningham said that having Malone for a full season is a major reason that the team is so excited about the upcoming indoor season.

“When coach first came here, we had to kind of rush through everything,” Cunningham said.

“This time we got to actually start our preseason on time.” Malone said the team seems to have found fervor for running that wasn’t there when she first arrived on the scene.

“They have a newfound joy of running track,” Malone said. “For some of them, I was their third coach in three years. They had a lot of struggles with a lot of different things. But they accepted the change with a positive attitude.”

One of the things Malone has emphasized this year is proper running techniques and more importantly keeping the team healthy.

“We have to stay healthy,” junior Ashley Gillis said. “We have to take ice baths every Thursday, and we have to cut out the fried foods. Last year, we really didn’t get in the weight room. But now we are in there three times a week.”

Malone said that team’s health is one key to making the team better.

“This year we wanted to focus on getting stronger, proper stretching and stuff like that,” Malone said. “It’s the little things that count now.”

The team has also found itself salivating at the chance to reach the regional competition, a feat that eluded them last year by one-tenth of a second.

“We ended last year with a close call for regionals.” Cunningham said. “We really want to pick up where we left off and make it in this time. We have to get mentally prepared.”

The team’s aspirations don’t stop at the regional level.

“First we want to get to regionals, then we want to make it to nationals,” Gillis said.

For now, the team is staying focused on Saturday; they will face their first challenge of the new season.

“I am expecting and hoping for a lot,” Malone said. “Competition wise, they have shown great promise. This is definitely going to be an interesting year.”

The Clemson Invitational will be held in Clemson, S.C.