By Zach Manion, Contributing Writer
After a successful weekend at Missouri Southern State University, the McKendree University Women’s track and field team propelled themselves to 21st in the nation, their first national ranking since becoming a Division II program in 2012. Before joining Division II, the men’s and women’s track and field teams experienced some dominant years at the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) level. The men’s and women’s teams had a total of six national championships and multiple All-American performances before making the jump to Division II. The women’s team boasts five national championships, including winning the indoor national championship an unprecedented four years in a row.
Fast forwarding to the present, the women’s success this year is in large part due to intense practices and dedication to the sport. The women’s team is full of good athletes, but includes a few who catch the eyes of every spectator. These individuals have done well enough this indoor season to achieve individual national rankings. One of these athletes is Quincy McSweeney, a sophomore from Eureka, Ill. She specializes in mid-distance events and can even move down to the 200 meter dash if needed. Although she competes in many events, her bread and butter is the 800 meter dash. She showed this during the outdoor season last year by running a time of 2:08.64 in the 800m, a time that punched her ticket to the outdoor national championship meet, where she finished in 15th place. This year, McSweeney is determined and hungry for more. She has proved this by running 2:10.16 over 800m, an indoor school record that eclipsed the old school record of 2:10.91 set by Shernett Davis in 2000 and currently has her ranked 7th in the nation.
Quincy McSweeney crosses the finish line after breaking the 800 meter dash indoor school record at Pittsburg State Univeristy. Photo credit: Scott Stokes
While McSweeney’s success has benefited the team, another individual who has been very successful this year is Ciara Jones, a junior from O’Fallon, Ill. Jones competes in the hurdles, triple jump and long jump, with the jumps being her strong suit. She has jumped 38’7.75 in the triple jump, which ranks her 17th in the nation. Her indoor jump of 38’7.75” is just a few inches shy of her outdoor personal best jump of 39’2.5”. Last outdoor season, Jones placed 35th in the nation, narrowly missing qualification for the national championship meet.
Another key factor of the team’s success has been the distance medley relay. The relay is composed of a 1200m leg, 400m leg, 800m leg and finishes with a 1600m leg. The women have run a time of 12:24.64, which tied the school record, ranks 32nd in the nation and is just shy of qualifying for the national championship meet. The relay team is made up of McSweeney, junior Jordyn Looman, freshman Shayna Phillips and senior Karis Johnson. Although they have only been able to run the relay once, they will be looking to race it again in order to improve their time to qualify for the national championship meet.
The Bearcats are fearlessly led by Michael Mendez, who has been the head coach of both teams for five years. Coach Mendez doesn’t believe in limitations or special talent, only hard work and dedication. Because they have bought into his teachings, the women’s team has experienced success this season. When asked about what contributes to the team’s success, Mendez said, “There is better team chemistry this year and they all want it (success) as a group. The girls have all progressively gotten better and their lack of success in the past has provided motivation for this season.” On the reason for McSweeney’s success, Mendez said, “she’s had injury-free training for over a year’s span.” McSweeney is one athlete who has bought into Mendez’s training and it shows by her performances. When asked what it means to have an athlete like Quincy on the team Mendez said, “It is about time.” He also said, “It’s great to have an athlete like her because she doesn’t question, she just does it.” Much like McSweeney, a great deal of Jones’s success has resulted from consistent, injury-free training. “Her technique has gotten a little better, she is very consistent and has started to relax during meets, which has helped her perform better,” Mendez said.
The women have just two weeks left before the Great Lakes Valley Conference Championship meet, which is always the biggest meet of the year (unless the athletes qualify to the national meet). In order to qualify for the conference meet this year, athletes must be in the top 18 in their event. This rule is different than previous years, when each team had a set amount of athletes to enter in every event. This makes entry to the meet more difficult, but more satisfying when the athletes qualify for the meet because it shows the hard work they have put in has paid off. They aim to represent themselves and their school, while also trying to bring home a conference title. The meet is also the last chance to hit a national standard in order to qualify for the national championship meet. Only time will tell for the women as they try to make history by bringing home a GLVC championship.
Feature Image: Ciara Jones glides through the air. Photo credit: mckendree.edu
For questions or concerns, contact Zach Manion at email@example.com