By Gary Axelbank
BRONX, NEW YORK, MAY 20- Three of the brightest stars in the Monroe Mustangs track and field constellation took home some impressive jewelry at the 2013 NJCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships held this past weekend at Gowans Stadium in Hutchinson, KS.
Lithuanian sophomore Tautvydas 'TK' Kieras won his second straight national discus championship, Sengalese freshman Mamadou Gueye finished second in the long jump and third in the triple jump, and Colombian sophomore Francisco Escobar took fourth in the pole vault. Those remarkable achievements helped propel the Mustangs men's team to a sixth place overall finish in the Nationals out of 36 teams. They also finished sixth at the Indoor Nationals in March.
"We did great this weekend," said head coach Mark Goodman. "Those three athletes exemplify the best of the Mustangs. They are quality citizens, excellent students, and in the biggest showcase of the year, performed better than almost everyone in the nation. Actually, we had some opportunities to score points that didn't pan out and when I look at the final team standings it's clear that we are becoming one of the premier track programs in the NJCAA."
TK's performance was an example of a true champion rising to the occiasion. Out of his six throws, he had fouled on three of them and he was rooted at the fifth spot going into his final throw. But just as he did when he won the national title in 2012, his final toss won him the 2013 championship. His 51.98m was actually well below his own customary distance, but it was unsurpassed at this meet, earning him two national titles in his two years at Monroe.
"TK is a champion, no doubt about it," Coach Goodman said. "He practices diligently and everything he does, from his diet, to his leisure activities, to his mental fitness, to his willingness to improve at his sport, fueled his achievements at Monroe."
Kieras will bring his gold medals with him when he continues his college career at Mississippi State in the fall.
Gueye's performance over the weekend was no less remarkable. Beset with painful tendinitis, his coaches urged him to ease up in the more grueling triple jump to save his knees for the long jump on Saturday. But once he hit the runway on Friday morning, his competitive spirit took over and he made it clear to jumping coach Rachel Cassata that he could not triple jump without trying to win. His 52'3" was good for third.
On Saturday, as he limped around the track during warmups, no one could think they were looking at the future silver medalist. But indeed, he jumped 25' 1/2" and took second. He had won the triple jump at the indoor nationals in March, and was second in the long jump, there too.
Though Escobar's story is laced with glory off the field, he will tell you that it's his sport that is the source of all his accomplishments, including winning the Mr. World title in the fall, and completing his studies at Monroe with a 3.8 GPA. At the Nationals on Saturday morning he jumped 14'7", taking fourth in the process.
In other action, the men's 4x400m relay team (Antione Davis, Joshua Blango, Damion Walker, Joel Johnson) ran 3:13.57 in the final race of the long weekend, simultaneously taking sixth place and moving the Mustangs from a ninth-place team finish, to sixth. It is noteworthy that in the semifinals on Friday they set a school record, running 3:12.96.
In addition to running the 4x400m, Blango qualified for three races on Saturday. He also did the 110m hurdles (14.33, 14.14 in the semis) and 400m hurdles, where he had a fifth place finish, but was DQ'd for hooking a hurdle.
In the 100m dash, Suwaibou Sanneh ran a fast 10.3 in Saturday's finals, finishing sixth. On Friday he qualified with an even faster 10.19.
Johnson set a school record on Friday in the 400m dash, running 48.62.
Monroe had a difficult moment on Friday as high hopes were dashed in the men's 4x100m when the first and second legs mishandled the baton and dropped it. As a result, Monroe was DQ'd and did not get a chance to follow-up their Penn Pelays championship.
The women's 4x100m (Manaiza Kelley, Melika Lewis, Shanice Cameron, Tyra Jamison) finished ninth with a school record time of 47.11, just missing the cut for the finals.
Dennisha Frazier competed in the high jump and the long jump.
"When I look back at this long season, we had our largest-ever cross country team go to the nationals, we finished sixth in the indoor and our indoor women's 4x400m relay was at the All-american level, and we were quite successful at outdoors, too, " said Coach Goodman. "We'll rest for a split second and then go back at putting together another quality team for next year."