SE: Coming Together

You don’t earn a No. 4 national ranking on your own; the K-State track and field women’s team knows this and has taken it to heart. 

This year’s squad is among the strongest women’s track and field teams in K-State history, and recently found when they come together as a team off the track, it helps them compete better on it. 

“All the years before it was really individual, especially during the indoor season,” said reigning Big 12 indoor weight throw champion Sara Savatovic, “but this year, we really have a good team bond. We’re all competing together, and we all want to win together. This year, we are all together, all part of the same team; I really feel this is my family.”

During the fall, the team’s upperclassmen started a counsel group where they plan team-wide events to strengthen the bond among teammates. The most recent event took place on Saturday evening following the Wildcat Invitational. At a team “Lock-In” in Ahearn Field House, the Wildcats spent the night getting to know each other better and strengthening their ever-growing bond.  

“We’ve started an initiative where you go up to a teammate you don’t know, somebody from another event, like someone from shot put would talk to someone from distance, and you ask them about their day and you cheer on them at meets,” explained 2015 NCAA Outdoor Heptathlon Champion and 2015 Big 12 Indoor Outstanding Performer of the Year, Akela Jones. “We realize that was something that was lacking in other years, so this year, we’re really trying to come together as a team. We’re looking forward to moving forward together and we’re looking forward to having a spectacular year.” 

The team’s bond was evident on Saturday during the Wildcat Invitational. Regardless if it was a freshman or senior or somewhere in between, at every Wildcat Invitational event, a crowd of their teammates from other events was there to cheer them on. 

“We all support each other, and I think it shows when we’re performing because we’re not just performing for ourselves as individuals, we’re part of a team,” said reigning Big 12 indoor high jump champion Kim Williamson. “I think the chemistry that we’ve built helps us take our competition a lot more serious.” 

K-State head coach Cliff Rovelto has seen the team bond grow and is glad with the direction his team is going. 

“What happens on any team, whether it’s a team sport or an individual sport like ours is, a lot of the load gets carried by a small group of people,” explained Rovelto. “But when you collectively come together as a team, if they know that all those other people are appreciative and supportive and that they’re also giving everything that they’re capable of giving, then I think it makes a difference.”

And so far this season, that bond certainly has made a difference. 

The Wildcats entered this 2016 indoor season with a preseason ranking of No. 4 with 120.25 points. It marked the highest ranking the Wildcat women’s team, one filled to the brim with fierce competitors, has ever accomplished. 

Across the board – from the heptathlon to the high jump to sprints to throws – K-State has some of the most talented athletes in the nation.

With a group like that, it’s hard to go to practice and not be motivated to give it your all.

“It doesn’t matter where you came from, we all came here for K-State because we loved K-State and we knew K-State was going to bring something out of us,” said sprinter Tia Gamble. “We’re all here doing what we love to do. It’s so great to be surrounded by so many athletes who are greater or just as good as you because you can’t slack at practice. You have to go out there and get it. I’m already running against one of the top people in the world at practice, so running against someone else at a meet is nothing. That helps with confidence.” 

This indoor season, K-State boasts five returning All-Americans (Jones, Williamson, Gamble, sprinter A’Keyla Mitchell and shot put thrower Dani Winters) and four reigning individual Big 12 Champions (Jones, Savatovic, Williamson and Winters).

Despite producing dominant performances in last year’s Big 12 Championship, the women’s team fell to preseason No. 3 Texas by just six points. The close loss stung. It’s a loss the team remembers well and is using as motivation moving forward in 2016.

“Last year we barely lost Big 12s, so this year we’re really fighting for that because we know we can do it,” said Gamble. “To come in ranked No. 4 this season, it shows that people are starting to see how good we already know we are. It is really exciting for us to be out there finally.”

Next up for the Wildcats is a trip to Lawrence, Kansas, for the KU-KSU-WSU Triangular on Friday, Jan. 15, at Anschutz Sports Pavilion.  

“From a national perspective, this is a very good team,” said Rovelto about the women’s squad. “We have a number of people that are capable of scoring significantly at the national meet. But we’re also going to be a very, very strong Big 12 Conference team; probably just as strong, if not stronger, than a year ago.” 

And now that the world knows what this year’s talented Wildcat women’s team is capable of, K-State is ready to continue putting on a show in 2016.  

On Friday morning, Akela Jones woke up in sunny, 80-degree Saint Michael, Barbados. By 4 a.m., the following morning, she had arrived back in zero-degree Manhattan, Kansas. She may have been tired, but she was ready to get back on the track in Ahearn Field House…

Stay tuned to tomorrow’s K-State Sports Extra featuring NCAA Champion Akela Jones’ quick turnaround from travel to competition in the Wildcat Invitational.  

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Kelly McHugh-Stewart or K-State Assistant AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.