SFA’s men and women’s Track and Field teams took home first and third place on Feb. 28 and March 1 at the Southland Conference Indoor Championships in Birmingham, Alabama. It was the first time since 2015 that the Lumberjacks brought home the Indoor Championship and their fourth overall.
“I thought both performances were outstanding,” Phil Olson, SFA Director of Track and Field/Cross Country said. “Our men’s team really put on a great effort and show. As it turns out to be, they were really in championship mode. They were extremely competitive in just about every single event across the board. I just couldn't be any more happier for those guys.”
As a result of the Jacks’ performance, Olson was named the Men’s Coach of the Year.
“On the women’s side, we were about two or three people and a coach short, and we knew that we had some great challenges ahead of us that weekend,” Olson said. “But, also too, we knew we had the potential of winning a conference championship. We got really close, and we had a lot of women on the podium, especially in the first place category, and a lot of men on the podium. It was a great joy to see how happy they were, how pleased they were and just overall a really pleasing effort.”
Over the course of the meet, SFA had seven athletes, the men’s 4x400-meter relay team and the women’s distance medley relay team finished in first place. In addition, 24 athletes were named to the Southland’s First, Second and Third Teams for their performances.
Senior Kelsey Ramirez was named Women’s MVP, Outstanding Running Events Performer and Indoor Athlete of the Year. She took home the gold medal in the mile run with a time of 4:52.67 and was the anchor leg for the women’s DMR. In addition, Ramirez finished second in the 3000m and 5000m.
Sophomore Nissi Kabongo placed second in the high jump clearing 1.77m and senior LaSean Davis won the gold in the 800m and was the third leg in the DMR. Kabongo went on to compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships where she placed fifth and took home First-Team All American Honors. Additionally, she tied the school record in the high jump with 1.84m.
Other top performers for SFA included freshman Ahmaud Robinson (Men’s Freshman of the Year and Outstanding Running Events Performer), sophomore Paul Martin and juniors Muzuri Mattar and Asani Hylton. Three members of SFA’s pole vault team finished in the top three as sophomore Riley Floerke and junior Branson Ellis took second place and senior Carter Scott finished in third place.
Different from years past, SFA’s indoor season looked slightly different while navigating through COVID-19. This brought many challenges for both the athletes and the coaching staff.
“We didn't see our team from March  until September , and that was really difficult,” Olson said. “Everybody kind of disappeared, and we tried to keep everybody together as much as we could and that was really hard to do that.”
After the University reopened, there were still challenges that prevented the teams from meeting until January. SFA put together an indoor season as best as they could while at the same time losing athletes due to COVID protocols. Olson said that there was a complete team except once when the men’s team went to conference.
“It was very difficult, but our young men and women and our coaches persevered and did what our trainers asked,” Olson said. “My hats off to our Head Athletic Trainer AJ Van Valkenburgh, our assistant trainers Kasey Fissette, Cheyanne Goyen and Scott Cowlan. They did an amazing job trying to keep them glued together and keeping us all on the same path moving forward.”
The last time SFA competed in an outdoor meet was in May 2019 at the Southland Conference Outdoor Championships. Just as the 2020 outdoor season was set to begin, the pandemic forced the NCAA and the Southland to cancel the remainder of winter and spring competitions and championships.
Olson stated that being thrilled is an understatement for having an outdoor season during the pandemic.
“That’s just what we need to do,” Olson said. “What I’ve seen so far is that meets are opening up. We’ll have a lot more options outdoors; we’ll get to be outside, and it’s like a balm. It kind of soothes us. We need to train; we need to compete. Because that’s what these young men and women are made of. It’s in their DNA, so they just need to get out and compete. This is a real blessing for us to be able to start our outdoor season.”