Influx of newcomers energizing track program at Southeastern
HAMMOND, La. – The 2017-18 Southeastern Louisiana cross country and track and field teams will bring to mind the old adage, “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard” as first-year head coach Corey Mistretta and his staff are welcoming in 42 newcomers across the board this fall.
Mistretta said the turning over of the program began this past season under former head coach Sean Brady.
“Before Coach Brady left, we had started talking about changing the culture of the team a little bit and making sure we have everybody on the team that has the same vision,” Mistretta said. “When I was going out recruiting, that’s kind of the type of kids we were looking for, kind of following the mission of the athletic department. High academic kids, kids who love working in the community and kids who can help us not only on the conference level but also on the national level. That’s what we were looking for. That brings a different type of kid into the program. And because we graduated a lot and because we let a lot of kids go who weren’t kind of following our mission, it left open a lot of spots so we had a whole bunch of new kids on the team this year.”
Mistretta said he is excited about the changes, saying they have already had an effect in the early weeks of training.
“We’ve been testing here the last week and a half and the kids are really motivated,” Mistretta said. “We had someone on campus watching yesterday (Monday) and they were talking about how it looks like the team is really coming together. So even early on, it’s already noticeable that the changes we made are positive ones for us.”
While there are new faces in every discipline, a few stand out. Rocky Capello’s cross country team features seven newcomers on the men’s side and six on the women.
“We hired Rocky Capello a few years ago and he is super motivated, super gung ho and wants to do a lot of stuff and we wanted to help him,” Mistretta said. We put some money into the distance group and had a lot of new distance kids.”
Another area that will see changes for the 2018 seasons is the sprints. On the men’s side, the Lions signed Jaysen Robinson, a freshman from Georgia, plus a pair of transfers from Barbados, Jebarri Cumberbatch (Eastern Oregon) and Trevontee Garner (Washington State). They will join a sprint group led by senior Cliff Resias, an NCAA East Preliminary qualifier in 2017.
“We’re really excited about those three guys, putting them together with the returners and Cliff,” Mistretta said. “We’re really excited about the opportunities the 4×100 and sprint relays will have this year. Those guys should bring a lot.”
The Lady Lions will see even more of an influx of newcomers. Coming in are a pair of freshmen from The Bahamas, Kendesha Ingraham and Angel Collie; Friederike Matthes, a freshman from Germany; junior A’Dreama Johnson, a transfer from Hinds Community College; and a pair of freshmen from New Orleans, Taylor Mumford and Destinee Jeanpierre. They will add to an already strong group led by seniors Daijah Washington and Treshanna Taylor and junior Aareion Jackson.
“We haven’t had a group like this in a very long time,” Mistretta said.
Southeastern’s throws group has become nationally-known under the tutelage of assistant Amin Nikfar. Joining that program this year is a transfer from Barton Community College, junior Steven Crooks. The Lady Lions have added two junior college prospects, Grace Walford (Barton CC) and Alexia Stein (Iowa Central), in addition to freshman Charlotte Wissing out of Germany.
Hurdlers coming on board for the women are freshmen Daisha Nickelson, Jacquelyn Walker and Sophia Huegel; and for the men, sophomore Michalis Andreou, a transfer from Tennessee Wesleyan out of Cyprus.
Southeastern has experience in the jumps with the return of senior All-American Devin King and senior Brandon Hollier in the pole vault and junior Rodney Ruffin in the high, long and triple jumps. They will be joined by a trio of freshmen in Michael Williams, Carlos Wilkerson and Dejuan James.
Those newcomers have not only already caught the attention of outsiders but also a number of the squad’s returnees from the 2017 season.
“The kids, even just in testing, are coming together and it looks like the group will be super motivated,” Mistretta said. “With these young ones who we brought in, because we brought in some quality young kids, especially some of the international kids, they have raised the eyebrows of some of our returners. They’re saying, ‘Hey, we have to step our game up because somebody is going to come take my spot’. The more competition that is out there in training sessions, the better we become as a whole. That’s kind of the idea.”
The Southeastern program has made a name for itself in recent years with the success of All-Americans King, Alex Young and Andre Colebrook for the men and Ashley Davis, a regional qualifier as a freshman, for the women. The cross country team also drew notice earlier this month when freshman Adam Cortez was named the first Southland Conference Men’s Athlete of the Week of the 2017 season.
“People are noticing that,” Mistretta said. “Adam’s friends and competitors he ran against in high school, they are all of sudden starting to reach out to us and wanting to be a part of what we are doing. Of course, any time you have kids on the national level, you’re going to draw attention. Ashley’s success as a freshman last year, probably the most improved freshman in the country, helped us with getting kids, even international kids, wanting to come here to throw for us. That’s exciting and it’s kind of the idea with us changing the culture of the team and kind of scaling it down a bit and making it smaller, of trying to keep bringing in national level kids or kids that are right on the cusp that we can develop into national level kids and continue that presence at the national level. Hopefully, the cycle will keep going on.”
That can happen if this class stays together for the next couple of years, Mistretta said.
“Everybody is doing a really good job of staying focused,” Mistretta said. “All the energy is going in one direction right now. If we can keep that energy going in one direction and keep people excited about wanting to get better and stay academically strong, in a few years, it should be really, really good.”
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