Wildcat Women's Track and Field on the Rise

"People better watch out," the talented, 6-foot-3 junior from St. Michaels, Barbados, said with a smile on her face. "This K-State women's team, people have been sleeping on us for a lot of years, but this year, next year, you've got to wake up. If you're sleeping, we're going to wake you up. We have some powerful 400 runners and our freshmen are doing amazing. These next four years, this is going to be a dynamic team."  
Earlier this week, the Wildcat women moved from No. 11 in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) Division I Indoor National Rankings to No. 10. It marked the first time the team has ever cracked the USTFCCCA's top 10 since the national computer rankings began in 2008. As a matter of fact, it's the first time a K-State squad, men or women, have ever been ranked within the top 10 at any point during an indoor season. 
"It makes me feel really proud," said sophomore thrower Dani Winters, a key contributor this season in helping K-State to its top-10 ranking. "I've always loved K-State, and when I signed to come here, I never really thought about what we'd be ranked nationally. It's sort of incredible to look at the numbers now and know we have all this talent in one place. It makes you feel really proud of being a Wildcat."
Aside from its top-10 ranking, Kansas State is ranked at No. 1 in the USTFCCCA's Midwest Regional Index with a score of 377.14 - 70 points ahead of No. 2 Nebraska and more than 140 points ahead of No. 3 Minnesota. 
"There have been some very good marks, and I think that what's promising is not what they've done so far but what we know is to come," explained K-State head coach Cliff Rovelto. "If they perform at that level where they are in their training, then there's going to be some good stuff happening in the future. The No. 10 ranking is a reflection of what the team would do at the NCAA Championship based on marks already, but we know we're going to have a lot better marks, so I expect us to be better than 10th."
Along with Jones and Winters, sprinters A'Keyla Mitchell and Sonia Gaskin, pentathlete Erica Twiss and jumper Alyx Treasure also highlight this year's women's squad.
With so many athletes competing at high levels week in and week out, regardless of event, the Wildcat women have paid close attention to what their teammates are doing. 
"It's been incredibly fun to watch everybody compete, PR and to just excel," said Winters. "I think it makes it a lot more motivating. Every year you want to do great at conference, but when you know that everyone else has a really great chance of doing well, you want to contribute to that field, do your part and make that happen."
While track and field may usually be more of an individual sport, the K-State women have come together this year with one common goal: excel at nationals.
"In the past six months we've really come together, and we know we're going to need everybody to win a national title," said Jones. "There isn't just one person at the top or one person having all the pressure on them. (Coaches) say, 'Okay, Akela we're going to need you for this, we're going to need all the high jumpers, the shot putters, we're going to need the throwers, the distance runners, everybody.' We're going to need everybody."
Jones came to K-State prior to the fall semester as a transfer from Oklahoma Baptist University and has quickly made her mark on the Wildcat track and field team.
The pentathlete has set numerous records so far this season, and added to her list yesterday afternoon at the Tyson Invitational where she broke the K-State women's long jump record with her first-place, 6.64m/21-09.50, leap - currently the NCAA's leading mark. At the Jayhawk Classic earlier this month, she broke the school multi record in the 60-meter hurdles (8.21) and in the long jump (6.38/20-11.25). Her 4,402 points bettered per previous pentathlon PR of 4,153 and broke the Jayhawks' Anschutz facility record.  Her performance earned Jones a nod as the Big 12 Athlete of the Week on February 4. 
"I've been training a lot harder here, so it was expected," said Jones on her quick start with the Wildcats. "Earning Big 12 Athlete of the Week, that's just a stepping stone to my ultimate goal: to win a national title. So Big 12 is good, but my real goal is bigger than that."
Jones currently holds the No. 2 mark nationally in the pentathlon and the No. 1 mark in the Big 12, while her 4,402 points are also fifth overall in the world. 
"At Oklahoma Baptist, I didn't really train for the pentathlon as serious as I'm training now," said Jones. "Coach Rovelto is a very smart man. He knows how to train professional athletes. He's trained very talented athletes and he's experienced, so I feel like his experience and my talent and hard work is just going to create a dynamic duo."
Calling her "unbelievable" and saying she has potential to be "one of the best female athletes at this university, ever" in early January, while Rovelto knew the kind of athlete he was getting in Jones, he has been pleasantly surprised with how quickly she has come along.  
"She's a very, very talented young lady and she's worked really hard," said Rovelto. "We anticipated that she would work hard, but the fact that she's adapting as quickly as she is to entirely different training, and she's working on things that she really hasn't worked on before, she's making pretty significant changes technically. That's what's very impressive to me - she's performing at a very, very high level while going through a lot of change."
Last weekend at the Husker Invite, thrower Dani Winters was feeling it. The sophomore from Plainville, Kansas, broke the K-State record with a mark of 17.45m/57-03 in the women's shot put and took first place in the event. 
"I was so excited," said Winters about breaking the record. "It was kind of a surreal day. It was a lot of fun, and it's still a lot of fun to think about, but from the start of this season we have talked about, even when you have great highs, you have to stay focused on the big picture. It's easy to say that when you have a bad day, but when you have a good day, it's important to do that too."
With every practice and competition, Winters has continued to improve. She credits it to a new mindset of focusing on the bigger picture and putting the highs and lows behind her when it comes time to perform.
"My perfect big picture would be to know that at the end of the season I had done everything I could to throw as far as I could," she added. "I try not to give myself goals with specific distances on them because I just want to know that I used my technique well, I threw far and I worked really hard in practice. So, my really big picture goal would be to be satisfied at the end of this season that I did everything I could do and gave it my best."
Winters' performance at the Husker Invite marked the top mark in the Big 12, the second best in the NCAA and the 14th best in the world. 
"She had a very good year last year, but where she is now compared to where she is last year, it's like she jumped a step or two," explained Rovelto on Winters' progress. "She's at a significantly higher level now than she was a year ago." 
The Wildcats are currently in Fayetteville, Arkansas, competing in one of the most elite meets this season, the Tyson Invitational. With competitors from nearly 40 schools nation-wide, 42 Wildcats are currently competing or have competed.
"This is a huge meet," Rovelto said about the Tyson Invitational. "It's huge. This is almost like the national meet. In a lot of the speed and power events, 85 percent of the people who we'll see at the NCAA meet will be at this meet. You can definitely tell there's a little more interest on the part of some people."
For updates from day one at the Tyson Invitational, please click here

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 or K-State Assistant AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.