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B-CU Track Opens Indoor Season Friday at UAB Blazer Invite

Courtesy:           Release: 01/10/2013

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Bethune-Cookman track & field teams open their indoor season on Friday at the Birmingham Crossplex Arena for the UAB Blazer Invite. With several reigning MEAC Champions returning to action, the coaches are looking to gauge the progress of the team as they expect to see great improvement in the 2013 season.

This is the second consecutive season that the Wildcats will make the trip to Birmingham for the UAB meet. B-CU logged nine top-10 finishes last season, highlighted by Ricy Brown's win in the 800m. With the available early season southern venues, B-CU expects to run up against familiar competition, including several squads from MEAC Southern division schools.

"There will be a lot of good competition there," Head Coach Donald Cooper said. "We know what's out there and we're just trying to go out there and make sure we're competitive, and see what direction we need to go to stay competitive."

Typically the Wildcats will be well into their season by this juncture; however, B-CU opted to train through the opening week of competition in December for greater preparation for the season.

"We've been putting in a lot of work, and I'm just looking for some results from that," Cooper said. "The discipline and execution is what I'm looking for."

The men's team returns some talented athletes, including some MEAC upper-tier finishers, but has only grown in strength in the offseason with solid training and new additions.

"We're pretty well-rounded." Cooper said. "The only thing we lack is the long distance."

The men's team is highlighted by the pole vaulting unit led by junior MEAC Champion Akeem Barthol, who hit 4.73m at the B-CU Beach Invitational and won the conference meet with a mark of 4.37m. Joining Barthol is MEAC Runner-Up Pierre Strother, who takes on his sophomore season after hitting a season-high of 4.37 at MEAC.

"I'm expecting even more," Cooper noted. "The conference has gotten a little tougher and more coaches have sought out pole vaulters."

Looking to expand B-CU's control of the event in the conference, the Wildcats vaulters are also joined by Ashton Boston, a transfer from Longwood who shows the potential to match the team leaders.

MEAC outdoor decathlon Champion Martin Embry III returns to action this spring, taking the MEAC title with 6,210 points, along with Nnamdi Davis, the MEAC indoor heptathlon runner-up with 4,555 points. Keron Stoute joins the pair in taking on the multis along with the high jump.

The men's sprinters have also drawn acclaim with big expectations from the staff, topped by two-sport athlete Angelo Cabrera, who turned in a nation-leading time in last season's 60m dash opener, finishing the season ranked 67th nationally with a time of 6.77 seconds.

"This year without the early meet, we got in the extra training," Cooper said. "He's looking real sharp."

Joshua Perkins also returns with a 200m time of 22.82 and 300m time of 35.78. Darnell Washington has shown strides in the offseason, looking to improve upon his 6.83 60m and 22.52 200m times.

Despite the loss of All-MEAC and NCAA Outdoor Championships hurdler Kemar Clarke, who finished 17th nationally last spring, the Wildcats are looking to build on offseason squad acquisitions, with the addition of Tremayne Banks and the return of two-sport athlete D.J. Howard. Banks, a transfer from Virginia Union, logged times of 8.26 in the 60m hurdles and 22.50 in the 200m last indoor season. Having completed his B-CU football career, Howard returns for his final track season, looking to build on a time of 8.04 in the hurdles.

B-CU boasts strong returners in the men's field events and multi-events, including La'Quan Howard in the triple jump (14.64m), Barry Kimbrough in the throws and of course Ricy Brown returning B-CU's presence in the middle distance. Brown finished eighth in the MEAC last year's indoor meet, logging a time of 1:54.63 at last year's UAB meet.

On the women's side, B-CU returns one multi-event MEAC titleholder and record holder and another MEAC Champion record holder, but the staff feels they really an all-around squad in 2013.

"The women cover all areas." Cooper said. "There's a lot of good talent in all the event areas."

Leading the charge is senior distance runner Kadian Dunkley, the 2012 winner of the MEAC indoor 5000m (18:11.99) with a new MEAC record (knocking 24.4 seconds off the mark set by Howard's Ashley Hodges the previous year). Dunkley also finished second in 3000m (10:22.52), with an on-track traffic accident in the mile knocking her from her feet, later affecting her ability to pull away from the field in the 3k. Later last spring, she also won the indoor 5000m (18:33.57), 3000m Steeplechase (11:06.99) and came in fourth in the 1500m (4:45.91).

"This year is going to be a challenge for Kadian. Through recruiting, some other schools have gotten some talented athletes also," Cooper noted. "She's been working very diligently and we're hoping she gets her confidence and retains her championships."

Coming off a minor offseason knee rehab, pole vaulter Sasha Smallwood returns for her sophomore campaign as the defending MEAC indoor record-holder after hitting a mark of 3.49m at the MEAC Indoor Track & Field Championships (3.58m outdoor mark).

"She's back," Cooper said with obvious enthusiasm. "She's looking awesome. Her conditioning level is higher and her confidence is through the roof. She's extremely excited about this first meet and is ready to be back. We expect her to go out and perform well and continue to progress throughout the season."

Building the strength of the squad is freshman Tristie Johnson, a USA Today All-USA athlete who ranked second in the nation among high schoolers in the 200m dash (23.47) and ran the 11th fastest 100m time in the nation (11.60). However, she will need to make the change over the next three months to taking on a banked indoor track. She's expected to make the transition to longer sprints and relays to aid the transition early in the season.

"She's an exceptional athlete," Cooper said. "She's already elevated our current athletes and our sprinters. They've upped their intensity."

Meet results and recaps will be available following the completion of the meet at the Birmingham Crossplex.

For all the latest information on the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats, follow the official Twitter feed, @BCUathletics, or "Like Us" on Facebook at Bethune-Cookman Athletics.

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