For a team largely overlooked in recent years by coaches and opposing teams alike, the women’s indoor track and field team has quickly become one of the leading teams in Division II. Despite limited funding, the team has proven diligent this season as several athletes have broken records and achieved the possibility of attending the national championships.
The women’s track and field program had trouble maintaining commitments from highly-valued recruits in the past, but head coach Terry Burke has his team competing at levels that far exceed the perceived capabilities of a team with limited funding. The team is working with just under two scholarships for their athletes, which is far below the California Collegiate Athletic Association’s average; Cal State Los Angeles has about 10 full scholarships, up to $10,000 each, for their women’s track and field team.
“We have (scholarship money) spread out over 12 or 13 people. Typically schools in our conference have 20 to 30 people on scholarship,” Burke said. “We’re toward the bottom of the conference in terms of scholarship (money).”
In addition to a limited scholarship budget, SF State does not have an indoor track, competing primarily in out-of-state events, which proves taxing over the course of a season for the student athletes. Despite all this, the lady Gators have risen to the 19 spot in the most recent United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Division II rankings, earning multiple provisional qualifying marks in the process. This is no small feat for a team that failed to send a single athlete to nationals in recent years, but will potentially send five this season.
In the Gators’ recent trip to the New Mexico Classic, Keenya McDaniel, a 19-year-old sophomore, broke the year-old school record in the triple jump set with a leap of 39 feet, 5.75 inches. McDaniel finished fifth and earned a provisional qualification for nationals in the process.
“I think I’ve improved a lot. I was held back (last year) because of an ankle injury. It was tough because I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been,” McDaniel said. “This year, me being healthy has made a difference. I feel I get stronger as a runner, with more experience.”
McDaniel’s injury limited her improvement, but hasn’t prevented her elevation to one of the team’s leaders this year, earning provisional qualifying marks in three events: the triple jump, the 60-meter dash, and the 4×400 relay.
Senior Carrie Thomas, 21, runs on the 4×400 relay team with McDaniel, and views her cool demeanor as a comforting factor before big races.
“(Before a race) I’m really nervous, and she’s really calm and serene. She claims to be nervous but it doesn’t show,” Thomas said. “Her performance helps set the tone for the team. You want to work out with her and follow her; you know she’s going to be doing big things.”
The team had three other girls achieve provisional qualifications during the same meet. Meagan Moiola, 21, finished fifth in the high jump, and teammate Tiana Wills finished ninth, placing them in the top two for the event in school history. Senior Luisa Musika, 21, also earned a provisional qualification in the weight throw, achieving a personal best of 57 feet, 3 inches.
“Luisa broke her own school record,” Thomas said. “Luisa Musika is an amazing athlete, I look up to her every day.”
The women’s track and field team has greatly improved over the last decade due to the commitment shown by the coaching staff and evident in this season’s achievements. Burke said when he came to SF State, it was a struggle to give the program the attention it desperately needed, but had rarely been given from previous coaches.
“We had a men’s team, and one of the coaches that was here in the ’90s put all of his energy into the men’s team and the women’s team was just kind of an adjunct,” Burke said. “The team didn’t get the level of coaching support it needed.”
Burke recalls that when the current class of seniors, Thomas, Moiola, Musika and Alicia Chambers, came to SF State as freshmen four years ago that the team was at an all-time low. As the season comes to a close and the seniors move on, Burke acknowledges the importance of restocking talent and finding recruits to maintain the team’s success.
“SF State had years and years of bad teams, some talented people but not good teams,” Burke said. “The girls who came in fall 2008 are really the core of what we’re doing.”
Though the team now has money to travel, the area in which the program is most affected by under-funding is the lack of scholarships it can afford to dole out. Even with the rising cost of tuition for one of the most expensive California State Universities, SF State cannot provide additional funding for scholarships.
“As costs have gone up, my scholarship numbers have stayed the same. We have to convince people to come here and pay out of their pocket, take loans, hope they get grants,” Burke said. “They get a lot more funding than a regular student gets, but considering the amount of sacrifice and time they put in, it’s not a lot.”
Even though SF State faces challenges that mitigate the recruiting process, Burke hopes to focus on the accomplishments of past athletes as a means to attract future recruits and maintain the success of this season.
“We have a thrower (recruit) who got sixth in the state. She came and visited us the second week of school and had an amazing time. Luisa made an incredible impression on her,” Burke said. “She’s perpetuating the program. A kid sees her and says ‘I could do something like that!’”