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Photo: COURTESY OF UCF ATHLETICS - UCF's women's outdoor track and field team was known for sprinters, but has broadened its talents to raise its profile.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Jun. 6, 2013 9 years ago

UCF track breaks NCAA top 10

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Best finish ever
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

The UCF women’s outdoor track and field team raced past the competition and into the history books last month as they broke into the top 10 of the national rankings for the first time in the program’s history. They arrived at this year’s nationals ranked seventh in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) standings.

The team was able to make the final push into the top rankings during the Conference USA Championship, finishing in first place out of 12 teams with 167 total points.

The knights had ranked in the top 10 for the indoor track rankings last year, but breaking the top 10 in the outdoor rankings this year proved to be an even bigger challenge, head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert said.

“In outdoor rankings it’s a pretty big deal, because there are more events,” Smith Gilbert said.

“Everyone stepping up to the plate to do what they’re supposed to do is what pushed us into the top 10.”

The milestone joins a long list of other achievements by the program. Earlier this season, the team won its fourth straight outdoor conference championship, becoming the first women’s program in Conference USA history to do so.

Last year, then-sophomore Afia Charles became the first UCF track and field Olympian, representing Antigua in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Combined with the indoor season, UCF has not fallen out of the top 25 since April 26, 2011.

UCF’s Senior Associate Athletics Director for Student Services Jessica Reo credited coach Caryl Smith Gilbert in the team’s recent achievement and in getting the program to where it is today.

“I think it’s a significant accomplishment in our program’s history and I think we’ve been very fortunate to have Caryl Smith Gilbert as our coach,” Reo said. “She has significantly propelled the program and put us in the position that we are.

“We’re very proud of what they’ve accomplished and do believe that she set the tone for the future hopefully for our women’s track program.”

Smith Gilbert said that the team’s success in the long jump event during the conference championship played a big part in moving the school into its current ranking, and was an answer back against comments labeling UCF as a school that only came up big in sprints.

“It just kind of shows which way the program is heading and the impact that we’re making in not just the sprints,” Smith Gilbert said. “We were pigeonholed into being a sprint school, but I think we’re broadening now and that’s the direction that I’ve been trying to take the program from the beginning, but it takes time.”

UCF long jumper Jen Clayton spoke about the importance of each Knight on the team stepping up.

“It means a lot, because if you take away just one name, the team dynamic decreases by so much,” Clayton said. “Everybody’s performance counts. We all need to push each other and work on the track.”

The UCF Athletics Association plans to move the other sports programs to new heights of excellence as well, Reo said.

“We have really worked with all of our programs at UCF to set the bar high,” Reo said. “Our coaches and our student athletes have risen to the challenge. The women’s track and field has absolutely taken that step for us. I can’t express how proud our athletics department is to work with them every day, see them succeed and to be a part of that ourselves.

“From our perspective, our women’s track program is a great program, and it will continue to prosper and the kids will do well. I have no doubt about that.”

Looking forward, Smith Gilbert is working to improve the program as a whole by recruiting more young talent in the future.

“Winning and doing well helps recruiting, and the more you recruit, the better athletes you can get to come in,” Smith Gilbert said. “It won’t be just a great team, it will be a great program.”

This week the team took off for nationals in Eugene, Ore. Smith Gilbert said that the girls are shooting for a top four spot, looking to earn the program some more hardware for the trophy case.

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