Jan. 8, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina track and field program begins its 2016 indoor season Saturday, hosting an all-day home meet at its indoor facility. The USC Open #1 will bring in schools from across the region, and is the first of three home meets the team has on its indoor schedule.
Parking is available in the lot adjacent to the fieldhouse on a first come, first serve basis. Additional parking is located nearby on Whaley, Marion or Heyward Street. Fans are recommended to take advantage of free parking available in the garage located off Heyward Street.
The Gamecock men enter 2016 with sky-high expectations, bringing back depth at nearly every single event. The team has already drawn national attention heading into the season, earning the #19 spot in the USTFCCCA’s preseason top 25 poll.
One discipline to watch will be the hurdles, where seniors Jermaine Collier and Dondre Echols join with junior Jussi Kanervo and sophomore Isaiah Moore to form one of the best quartets in Division I.
Not to be outdone, Carolina’s throwers and multi-event athletes are primed to be high-scorers for the team in postseason action. Josh Awotunde and Clarence Gallop had tremendous first seasons with the team in 2015 with multiple implements and are looking to make the jump in 2016.
The breakout star for the team last season was undoubtedly Markus Leemet, who became an all-american decathlete outdoors and now owns the second-best heptathlon and decathlon scores in program history. Joining him will be Alex Asselin and transfer Simon Gyllensten, who won NJCAA national championships in the pole vault and heptathlon at the 2014 indoor meet.
One group primed to break out in 2016 is the sprint crew. Joining 200 specialist Ncincilili Titi and relay veterans Ryan Bermudez and DeVon Lewis will be David Winters, a JUCO All-American from Barton County CC.
The men’s team added 17 newcomers in total for the upcoming season, with skills that will help add depth to every event. Many earned All-American honors as high school standouts, and will be asked to step in right away to help a veteran team compete for national acclaim.
The women’s team lost an important piece with the graduation of national champion Jeannelle Scheper, but her loss was softened by the return of seniors Erika Rucker and Sarah Graham. Despite earning their degrees last year, the two chose to spend one final season with their teammates to chase the dream of a national championship.
The veteran leadership will be welcome for a group that features 14 freshman who have draw high praise from the coaching staff but will need to be ready for a tough SEC field. The women are happy to welcome back an extra “recruiting” class for this season, as it was ravaged by injuries but returns them all for 2016. Just some of those who are coming back after missing some if not all of last season will be Marisa Bellamy, Tyler Brockington, Sarah Graham, Precious Holmes and Erika Rucker.
Sprints will continue to be the backbone of the team heading into 2016, with Brockington, Holmes, Rucker and Bellamy rejoining an already accomplished group that features runners like Gabby Gray, Alexis Murphy and Briana Haith. Freshmen Aliyah Abrams, Maiya Dendy and Pitt transfer Taranisha Taylor will also add depth.
Despite the loss of Scheper, the jump crew is far from short on talent. Natasha Dicks (TJ), Alexis Murphy (LJ) and Nakita Gray (HJ) all set new personal bests in their respective events last season, with Gray earning second team outdoor all-america honors to cap her year. Makayla Stanley, Milan Parks and Funlayo Oluwole will have plenty of great role models in the jumps as they start their careers in the Garnet and Black.