Texas State track and field combined to win two events and take home 14 top-ten Sun Belt performances at the Red Raider Invitational on Friday. The meet, which held competitors from the Big 12, Pac 12 and Conference USA, marked a trend of early-season top marks as they continue towards the Sun Belt Indoor Championships.
The Bobcats took home the gold in each of the 3,000-meter competitions, nearly sweeping the women’s race with first, second, fourth and seventh place finishes. Freshman Riley McGrath hit the finish line first with a top 10 SBC time of 10:27.93, followed by runner-up junior Esmeralda Fuentes with a time of 10:29.07, a fourth-place finish in senior Abby Steinhauser at 10:40.89 and an 11:00.59 time for seventh-place senior Leslie Romero.
On the men’s side, junior Cade Michael led another near-sweep with a top time of 8:42.30, putting him at fifth in the Sun Belt. Junior Chase Bracher came in third in the race with a seventh-place Sun Belt time of 8:47.14, and senior Johen Deleon followed suit in fourth with a time of 8:54.15.
Senior Jaylon Jorge placed in the top five for two throwing events, including a fourth place throw of 16.59 meters in shot put and fifth place mark in weight throw (19.9 meters). Jorge now ranks second in the Sun Belt in shot put and third in weight throw and said he feels good about his early-season performance.
“I’m starting off very good and I feel pretty strong,” Jorge said. “My techniques where I need it to be, and I just need to be bold, take risks and get some throws out there.”
Jorge started out hot, earning third place in weight throw at the teams’ first meet, the Navy Invitational, and second at the UAB Vulcan Invitational. Jorge said his goals for his senior season are to make it to Nationals for the first time in his career.
“Right now I feel really strong, but I know there’s a lot more work to do for my last season,” Jorge said. “I had what it took last year, I just didn’t really get good marks in my meets. Moving forward, I’m just working on getting stronger in the positions I need to hit for my throws and just getting those marks that I need to go to Nationals.”
Other top Sun Belt finishers include the women’s 4×400-meter relay team, consisting of sophomores Kattiana and Ariana Ealy-Pulido, sophomore Sadi Giles and freshman Paige Kimble. The team finished the race with the second-best time in conference (3:50.20). Ariana also joined her sister at the top of the Sun Belt charts in the 60-meter hurdles with a time of 8.67 seconds.
Giles said that top finishes in the indoor season are even more promising because they show promise for faster times in the outdoor season.
“The only thing that’s different is indoor is just the beginning, so everybody’s progressively getting faster,” Giles said. “In outdoor everybody’s reaching their peak, so that’s why when people are fast indoor you wonder how they’re going to be outdoor.”
Six of the team’s top finishers in the meet were freshmen. In addition to McGrath, Kimble and Jorge, freshman Alexa Venezuela logged the Sun Belt’s second-best time in the women’s 200 meters with a seventh-place finish of 24.49 seconds. Freshman Dias Redmond took fourth in the men’s weight throw (14.93 m) and freshman Daniel Chase cleared 1.98 meter’s in the men’s high jump for a top five Sun Belt ranking. Jorge said that having a leadership position has been rewarding and that younger teammates listen to athletes with experience.
“We are pretty young but I feel like our leadership is really pushing us forward,” Jorge said. “Our leaders on the team aren’t very vocal: we’re more lead by example, but when we do speak, they listen. Our young guys have a lot of talent, they just need to be put in the right direction.”
The ‘Cats also did well at their first two meets of the season, earning 13 top three finishes and four gold medals at the Navy Invitational Dec. 7, 2019 and eight first- and second-place spots at the Vulcan Invitational Jan. 11.
Giles, who took home the gold at both of the first two meets of the season in the women’s 60-meter dash, said that while their first meet of the season was focused on having fun, the second gave them a good look at what the Indoor Championships will be like.
“We’ve just been trying to get in the groove of things,” Giles said. “(Head coach Jody Stewart) told us for the first meet just to have fun, and then we did really well as a team overall which was just a good way to set it off. At the second meet everybody from conference was basically there, so we got a good look on how the Sun Belt Conference Championship would be. I think we have a pretty good chance of winning just based off of that meet because everybody was there.”
Giles also said that the team’s goal is to focus on teamwork as the women’s team looks to make a four-peat at the Sun Belt Indoor Championships and the men’s team searches for a second consecutive Outdoor Championship.
“Our goal as a team is just to be able to work for each other,” Giles said. “Last year I think we wanted to work for each other, but there were new people so we were kind of just getting used to it. I think this time we need to connect more and just know that it’s not just for us, we need to win for each other and if we do that we’ll do well.”
The ‘Cats will hit the road to Lincoln, Nebraska on Friday, Feb. 7 and Saturday, Feb. 8 for their final test before the Sun Belt Conference Indoor Championships kicks off on Monday, Feb. 24.