STEPHENVILLE – Make no mistake about it. The 2022 Tarleton track and field roster has the potential to be the most talented team the Texans have boasted in recent years.
That’s the conventional wisdom emitting from the program as it gears up for its second outdoor season at NCAA Division I and as a member of the Western Athletic Conference.
“The women’s side is young but very talented,” interim head coach Clay Holland said. “I think some of our older athletes who have not been as successful in the past are starting to come around and could put some good marks out there. Men’s side, we have more than enough talent. We’ve just been bit a little by injuries right now. I think this team has more than enough talent and experience to be the most talented team I’ve coached at Tarleton.”
Part of the optimism stems from what Tarleton returns from a spectacular 2021 outdoor season. The Texans bring back 18-of-22 athletes who garnered All-WAC first or second team credentials at the WAC Outdoor Championships. Three-fourths of Tarleton’s championship-winning men’s 4x400m relay team are back for another tour of duty in Zachary Martinez, Brandon McKissick and Bailey Smotek as are reigning conference champions Gentrye Munden (high jump), Alan Palmer (long jump) and Oscar Rodriguez (discus).
The Texans debut D1 indoor season from January-February further tantalized the program’s collective potential. Over the span of four meets and culminating with the WAC Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Tarleton shattered seven indoor school records, brought home 11 sets of all-conference accolades and saw Justin Raines crowned as the WAC 60m dash champion and the conference’s Most Outstanding Freshman.
Youth is another factor feeding the excitement. The Texans stocked their roster with 19 qualifiers for the TX UIL State Championships and 14 athletes ranked in the top-50 in the state in their primary event during the 2021 recruiting cycle. Of the 84 athletes listed on Tarleton’s combined roster, 57 are true underclassmen.
“For us to walk into the WAC Indoor Championships with primarily freshmen and sophomores,” Holland said, “and have the showing we did and have the growth we did from regular season to conference, I’m really excited for us being that young and for us being that successful this early.”
The conference competition has ratcheted up considerably with the annexation of regional rivals Abilene Christian, Lamar Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin from the Southland Conference and impending arrival of Big Sky powerhouse Southern Utah. Including Tarleton, eight WAC’s 13 programs were featured in the final USTFCCCA Regional Track and Field Rating Index in the mountain, south central or west regions.
The added challenge has only served to amplify expectations for the outdoor season, which begins in earnest on Friday-Saturday at the ACU Wes Kittley Invitational.
Tarleton’s throwers and distance crew will do the honors in commencing the two-month charge toward the conference championships. The meet gets underway at 3 p.m. on Friday with the shot put and hammer throw and later transitions to the track around 6:45 p.m. for the 1,500m and 5,000m. The Texans will then compete in a full day of events on Saturday, beginning at 9:30 a.m. with the javelin and concluding at 5:30 p.m. with the 4x400m relays.
“I’m excited about getting going this week and going over to a meet hosted by a fellow Western Athletic Conference member,” Holland said. “We always have some good marks at Abilene. I’m expecting that to get us jumpstarted for the rest of the season.”
This weekend’s trek 90 miles west down Interstate 20 starts an intense scheduling stretch. Tarleton has five meets on the docket over the next four weeks. The Texans will next send a select group of athletes to the 94th running of the prestigious Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays on March 23-26.
“Going to the Texas Relays and having a good meet is important,” Holland said. “We did last year. We went there and started [the season] off right with our men’s 4x400m relay team making the finals. We’re going to make the same type of effort this year. We’ll travel quite a few athletes if they get in.
Our women’s 4x100m, I expect them to run fast. Things can go wrong – it’s a relay – but I expect them to run fast. I expect our men’s 4x400m to show up and run fast as well as our women’s 4x400m. I’m excited about that meet and going out and competing against the best athletes in the nation and best teams in the nation.”
Tarleton travels its multi-event athletes to San Angelo on March 31 and Apr. 1 for the David Noble Relays. The program will then take aim at the region’s best with full-day affairs at the Baylor Invitational (Apr. 2) and UNT Classic (Apr. 9).
The schedule tapers down following the drive to Denton. Tarleton has sandwiched three weeks of rest between its final pair of regular season meets – the SFA Invite (Apr. 15) and UT Arlington Invitational (Apr. 28) – and the WAC Outdoor Championships, which run from May 12-14 and are hosted by Seattle U.
The conference championships again are the apex of the program’s season. Tarleton track and field and cross country is eligible to compete for and win team and individual conference titles in postseason play. But the Texans are unable to advance beyond their conference slate and on to the NCAA Preliminary Rounds and NCAA Outdoor Championships.
“The WAC Championships – that’s our national meet,” Holland said. “There’s no going forward from there. We show up and we really get after it, and our athletes kind of have an extra chip on their shoulder. I think that helps a lot. To be in the top-five in our conference, you’re going to have to be an elite athlete.”
Below is a breakdown of each event group:
Tarleton’s core of sprinters is perhaps the program’s deepest contingent and best bet to score points and bring a collection of medals back from Seattle to Stephenville.
Nyla Barlow, Hanna Dudley and Summer Croxton headline the women’s 100m and 200m group. All three earned All-WAC second team honors last outdoor season as a part of Tarleton’s 4x100m relay. Barlow had a standout indoor season. The junior broke Tarleton’s indoor 200m record at the WAC Championships with a time of 24.53 seconds and placed sixth to earn all-conference honors. Dudley, Tarleton’s top returner in the 100m (11.98 seconds), earned All-WAC second team honors in the 60m dash in February and moved to No. 2 on the program’s all-time indoor top-10 list at 7.62 seconds.
Among the newcomers. Breonna Campbell is a name to again keep an eye on. The freshman was the Texans’ No. 2 performer in both the 60m dash (7.63 seconds) and 200m (25.10 seconds) during the indoor season and ranks third in school history in both events.
The Texans feature a deep women’s 400m crew as well. Barlow and Dudley teamed up with Jordan Anglin and Alessa King to twice break the Texans’ indoor 4x400m relay school record this winter, culminating with a fourth-place finish and time of 3:47.78 in Albuquerque. Four athletes clocked sub-1:00 times in the individual 400m during the indoor season; Barlow (57.32 seconds), Anglin (57.58 seconds), King (58.38 seconds) and freshman Macie Evans (58.87 seconds).
On the men’s side, Tarleton features an intriguing mix of freshmen and veterans.
Raines broke Tarleton’s indoor school record 60m dash and won the WAC Championship in 6.71 seconds. He’s expected to feature in the 100m as will fellow freshman Reid Vincent, Tarleton’s No. 2 indoor performer in the 60m dash (7.01 seconds) and 200m (22.04 seconds).
Tarleton also received the welcome return of senior Mikel Stone, who was halted in 2021 by injuries. Stone’s lifetime 200m personal record of 21.63 seconds hit an NCAA provisional mark during Tarleton’s final season at NCAA Division II in 2020 and is the fastest time the Texans have notched in the event in three years.
Martinez and McKissick are all-conference returners in the 400m and will again set the pace in the event for Tarleton. Martinez’s took third place and earned All-WAC first team honors at the 2021 WAC Outdoor Championships with a lifetime personal record of 47.66 seconds. McKissick joined him on the conference podium, placing fourth in 47.72 seconds – also a lifetime personal record.
The women’s 4x100m and 4x400m relays each have clear cores.
Barlow, Campbell, Croxton and Dudley will lead the charge in the 4x100m relay.
Anglin, Barlow, Dudley and King comprise Tarleton’s ‘A’ team in the 4x400m relay. The Texans will undoubtedly benefit from their 400m depth throughout the spring.
“We’re fortunate on the women’s side in that we have four girls who could step up at any time in Summer Croxton, Kyndal Gladson, Brenna Lee and Macie Evans,” Holland said.
Holland does not anticipate debuting Tarleton’s men’s 4x100m relay team until later in the schedule. The quartet will likely include Raines, Stone, Vincent and a combination of Palmer, Martinez or decathlete Isaac Hutchings.
“We feel like our men’s 4x100m has a chance to be a lot better than last year, and we got fourth at the conference championships,” Holland said.
Mid-Distance and Distance
The Texans are top-heavy in the 800m and 1,500m.
Juniors Jenna Brazeal and Smotek each made the podium in the 800m at the 2021 WAC Outdoor Championships.
Brazeal shattered her indoor school record and lifetime 800m personal record in Albuquerque with a time of 2:12.65 to place fourth and pick up All-WAC second team honors.
“It goes to show you her commitment,” Holland said of Brazeal’s race. “She has become a lot more accountable and she takes care of her body in that way. She’s really strict about what she puts in her body and what she drinks, and you can kind of see that. Maybe training hasn’t been going great because of sickness, illness, those type of things at the beginning of indoor, but then she walks onto the track and breaks her lifetime PR. It goes to show that if you do the right things away from the track, sometimes things don’t have to be going right on the track for you to be successful.”
Smotek is Tarleton’s top men’s returner in the 800m at 1:55.39 while Kevin Calvani (1:57.97) has established himself as a clear No. 2 in the event.
Tarleton will also have an interesting addition to its 800m lineup in the early going. Kevin Baez will begin the outdoor season by running the 800m and 1,500m to work on speed development before transitioning to the 5k ahead of the conference championships. Baez clocked Tarleton’s fastest recorded 8k time in well over a decade (24:01.30) during the 2021 cross country season.
“He kills workouts,” Holland said. “He just needs to find the confidence and the perfect situation to be successful, and he will. We have all the confidence in the world in him. The one thing about Kevin is you never have to worry about his effort. As long as he has that going, we’re perfectly fine with where he’s at.”
Tarleton has a trio of newcomers with championship experience on the women’s side who will factor prominently in distance events. Vianney Sanchez raced at the Sun Belt Conference Championships in both the 3k and 5k in 2021 with Arkansas-Little Rock and notched Tarleton’s top indoor 3k time (11:03.40) this winter. Maria Diaz-Fernandez finished fourth and earned All-Great American Conference second team accolades in the 800m during her freshman year at Arkansas Tech last spring. Fellow sophomore Aimee-Landers Wilburn broke the 10k school record last year at Austin College and was an all-conference performer in both cross country and the 10k.
The Texans also return freshmen cross country standouts Austin Flores, Angel Gomez, Allison Hedrick, Sage Lancaster and Khristian Vastlik as well as third-year veterans Kaleigh Ellis, Johnnie Wilkinson and Dominick Vastlik.
Tarleton is deep in both the 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles on the men’s side.
Raines picked up his second set of All-WAC first team honors in February with a third-place finish in the 60m hurdles (8.01 seconds). He’ll transition to the 110m hurdles and short sprints this spring.
Sullivan Sanders specializes in the 110m hurdles and appears primed for a successful senior season after clocking a lifetime personal record of 14.94 seconds and going on to place seventh at the WAC Outdoor Championships last spring.
A newcomer to keep tabs on is Konnor Hoerman. The freshman finished 14th in the 60m hurdles at the WAC Indoor Championships in February and registered a personal record of 8.28 seconds.
Seniors Dahmir Pearson and Joey Ortiz-Martinez and sophomore Brady Sisneroz lead the Texans’ 400m hurdles contingent. Pearson took fourth place at the WAC Outdoor Championships last year in 54.04 seconds while Ortiz-Martinez turned heads with a fifth-place finish and lifetime personal record of 54.66 seconds in the prelims. A successful freshman season in 2021 for Sisneroz was highlighted by a 36th place finish in the event at the Texas Relays and personal record of 55.98 seconds he set two weeks later at the UNT Classic.
For the women, Khloe Turnbull and Karleigh Hill are two touted freshman Tarleton will groom over the next four years. Turnbull notched the second-fastest 60m hurdles time in school history (8.92 seconds) last month at the WAC Indoor Championships.
Ashlynn Cash is the top women’s returner in the 400m hurdles and is an athlete Holland heaped praise on.
“Ashlynn has come a long ways in the last three years with her running,” he said. “She’s running a 68-second 400m hurdles time last year. I don’t think she’d run that time even if she tried this year. She’s in good shape. She’s hurdling better.”
Tarleton has legit staying power atop the WAC in the event on both sides.
Gentrye Munden holds a lifetime personal record of 5′ 7.25″ and is the defending WAC outdoor champion. Freshman Rylee Hennig turned heads this winter when she broke Tarleton’s indoor record in her first collegiate meet and then medaled at the WAC Championships with a personal of 5′ 7.75″ to place third.
The two share a friendship and competitive nature.
“I really love it, because they’re both so talented and they’re both so competitive,” Holland said. “There are days where one is jumping well and the other is not, and it’s tough on them. But it’s also teaching them how to work through adversity. It doesn’t matter what goes on at practice or at meets. They’re going to shake it off and really pull for each other.”
Palmer headlines a young nucleus of talent in the men’s high jump. The senior cleared 6′ 9.5 to take second place at the 2021 WAC Outdoor Championships.
Behind Palmer is freshman Jamariyan Howlett, who moved to fourth on Tarleton’s all-time indoor top-10 list with a mark of 6′ 8″ in his first collegiate meet in January.
The Texans are also integrating a trio of freshmen in Kylee Willis, Kyler Seymore and Tyler Stone and return sophomore Maxon Newell, who placed seventh at the 2021 WAC Outdoor Championships.
The event is in good hands with sophomore Jaden Hall and junior Nakia Dunn. They each placed fifth at the WAC Outdoor Championships last spring to earn All-WAC second team credentials.
Hall leapt 45′ 10″ to break Tarleton’s indoor school record in January and owns a lifetime personal record of 46′ 11.” Dunn recorded a mark of 39′ 2.25″ at the WAC Indoor Championships to best her previous personal record.
Palmer’s long jump credentials paired with his prowess in the high jump and sprints gives him a legitimate claim as to being one of the most accomplished male athletes on campus. He broke his own indoor school record and placed fourth at the WAC Championships in February with a mark of 24′ 5.” The senior is also the defending WAC outdoor champion and owns a lifetime personal record of 25′ 2,” which places him second on Tarleton’s all-time outdoor top-10 list.
Vincent jumped 23′ 5.5″ in January to move to No. 2 in indoor school history while Hall and Stone cracked Tarleton’s all-time indoor top-10 list as well with respective jumps of 22′ 2.5″ and 21′ 7.5.”
Dunn is Tarleton’s top returner in the long jump on the women’s side with a lifetime personal record of 17′ 11.5.” She headlines a young nucleus. Gladson specializes in the pentathlon and ranked second behind Dunn in the event this winter with an indoor personal record of 17′ 4.25.” Freshman Kylee Willis was not far behind at 17′ 2.” Sophomores Chloe Goodman and Reagan Gallagher each competed at the WAC Outdoor Championships and boast respective personal records of 17′ 7″ and 17″ 6.25.”
Tarleton landed a high-impact transfer in two-sport star Elise Smith. The former Sam Houston standout owns a personal record of 136′ 1″ and placed fifth in the javelin at the 2021 Southland Conference Outdoor Championships.
Ben Presley and Kora Pennartz are Tarleton’s top returners. Presley placed fifth at the 2021 WAC Outdoor Championships with a throw of 162′ 6″ en route to all-conference second team accolades. Pennartz slung the spear 125′ 9″ to claim eighth place and pick up a point at last season’s outdoor championships.
The greatest competitor in school history is back for his second outdoor season in Oscar Rodriguez. The junior broke Tarleton’s school record on his final toss at last season’s WAC Outdoor Championships with a heave of 174′ 8″ and picked up all-conference second team honors in the process.
Fifth-year senior Elena Reagan is expected to challenge the women’s outdoor record. She came within six feet of surpassing the mark in May with a lifetime personal record of 154′ 0.” She was Tarleton’s top performer in the weight throw (46′ 0.5″) this winter.
“Elena, she’s grown a lot in the last year,” Holland said. “Last year, she didn’t have a good outdoor meet until the end of the spring semester. She’s grown a lot. Having a personal record in the weight throw at the WAC Indoor Championships was big for her confidence. I’m excited about her.”
Rodriguez is the defending WAC Outdoor Champion after he claimed the crown last spring with a personal-best throw of 174′ 6.” Behind Rodriguez is fellow junior Ethan Bratton, who has steadily progressed over the last calendar year. Bratton translated a personal record of 155′ 1″ into a seventh-place finish at the WAC Outdoor Championships and now ranks second in school history in the weight throw (51′ 3.75″) after setting a personal record and notching 13th place at the WAC Indoor Championships in February.
Bonnie Clifton and Audrey Lillard are a pair of names to follow alongside Reagan in the discus. Clifton and Lillard rank fifth and eighth, respectively, in school history in the weight throw following their debut indoor seasons. Both athletes will compete in the shot put this spring as well.
A trio of talented underclassmen give Tarleton a strong foundation to build off of on the women’s side.
Allison Robling cleared 11′ 1.75″ during the indoor season to move to No. 2 all-time on Tarleton’s indoor top-10 list. The San Antonio native was the 37th-ranked pole vaulter in Texas in the class of 2021.
Keelin Engel was the top-ranked Missouri Class 1 vaulter from 2019-2021 and notched a collegiate personal record of 10′ 2 in January.
Also back is sophomore Chloe Smith, who placed ninth at the WAC Outdoor Championships in May with a mark of 10′ 0.5″ and ranks fifth on Tarleton’s all-time outdoor top-10 list.
“It’s a good core group, and they’re going to get better,” Holland said.
The Texans have several athletes to grow with in the heptathlon and decathlon over the next two-to-four years.
Isaac Hutchings is Tarleton’s top returning decathlete. The sophomore scored 5638 points at the 2021 WAC Outdoor Championships and ranks third in school history.
“He’s one of the most talented athletes on the team,” Holland said. “He can do a lot of different things. He’s extremely powerful. We have to build him up and make sure we’re touching all events and getting better in every event, which he is.”
Gladson and freshman Rese Schoonover completed their first pentathlon at the WAC Indoor Championships. They posted respective scores of 3,027 points and 2,660 points. Both athletes will begin preparing for the heptathlon this weekend.
“I was happy with them,” Holland said of their performance in February. “I think there was a lot of growth. As long as they keep going with it, they’re going to be fine.”