COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Northwestern State’s spring season officially kicks off Saturday when the men’s and women’s track and field teams head to Texas A&M for the Ted Nelson Invitational, the first indoor meet of the season.
Around 40 student-athletes will participate in their first competitions since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the outdoor track season and the NCAA Indoor Championships.
Senior jumper Jasmyn Steels was in line to defend her national title in the indoor long jump this past March before those national championships were wiped away as well.
Steels along other high profile seniors like sprinter Natashia Jackson, jumper LaTyria Jefferson and jumper Quindarrius Thompson won’t participate until the outdoor season, but NSU coach Mike Heimerman said this indoor season provides opportunities for other athletes to step in the spotlight.
“(Competition) is why we do everything, and it’s exciting to compete again after almost one year off,” said Heimerman, who is beginning his eighth season as head coach and 24th overall on the NSU staff. “We have a very talented group of men and women, and we’re still a young team with lots of freshmen and juniors.
“We’ve got a great mix of older and younger student-athletes and we’re excited to compete against high caliber opponents.”
One unit that encompasses both ends of the experience spectrum is the women’s pole vault.
Reagan Darbonne and Annemarie Broussard each share the program record mark of 13-9.25, which Darbonne cleared at the 2019 NCAA Outdoor Championships to earn second-team All-America status.
Add in Arkansas transfer Parish Kitto and freshmen Madison Brown and Karlyn Trahan, and the Lady Demons will be aiming for significant points.
“Our practices are very competitive,” said Broussard, who made her record mark this past indoor season. “We have fun out there, but we push each other.
“We all can win a conference title, and we’re out there pushing ourselves and pushing each other to do better so we can get on the podium and get those points for our team.”
The Lady Demons have won the past three titles at the Ted Nelson Invitational, beating similar competition on the first day of the two-day meet.
But COVID-19 has reduced the meet to one day, and NSU will face the top performers from Texas A&M and Arizona State along with UT Arlington and fellow Southland Conference members Sam Houston State and Stephen F. Austin.
“We’re very fortunate that Texas A&M invited us to the meet after restrictions were put in place on indoor meets in terms of how many teams and participants can be involved,” Heimerman said. “We feel like we can mix it up with any of these opponents, and we look forward to that opportunity.
“We’ve got three meets before the Southland Conference Indoor Championships and we’re fortunate to have that many opportunities. We’ll head down to LSU and then out to Texas Tech, and we want to put our kids in the best facilities.”
NSU has made a name for itself in men’s sprints, putting a 4×100 relay team in the NCAA Outdoor finals in 2018.
Juniors Tre’Darius Carr and Kie’ave Harry remain from that 4×100 team, and Carr said he can’t wait to get back on the track.
“It’s going to be amazing after sitting out because of COVID-19,” Carr said. “Everybody has been putting work in and is supportive of one another.
“We’re ready to go out there and have some fun.”
Other leaders heading into the indoor season Southland Conference gold medalists Lauren-Ashley Clarke and Markeit Steverson.
Clarke snatched gold in the triple and high jumps and Steverson captured the long jump title this past season in SLC Indoors.
Lynell Washington took bronze in the 60 meters, setting a program record with a 7.44 in the SLC Indoor prelims.
New standouts include sprinters Aarika Lister, Ebenezer Aggrey, Destine Scott, twins Alexus and Portia Harris among other incoming talent.
“(Associate head coach) Adam Pennington has done a great job in recruiting, and we’ve got some super talented young people in the program,” Heimerman said.