After the first-year Sandhills Community College track and field team returned from the NJCAA Division III National Championships last May with six individual titles, and four Flyers earned All-American honors, Coach Jef Moody called it a "storybook season".
At 4:30 am on Tuesday, a traveling party that will include Moody and six members of both the men's and women's squads will depart for Utica, N.Y. to add another chapter. The 2019 national meet gets underway on Thursday at Mohawk Valley Community College and concludes on Saturday.
What kind of trip is this?," Moody called out to anyone within earshot during a workout at Union Pines High School last week. "This is a business trip", someone answered, dutifully.
In the course of putting Sandhills track and field on the map, the Flyer men finished in a tie for fifth place and the women finished ninth. Both teams are ranked ninth in the current national coaches' poll.
"I would love to to win as many national championships as we did last year," Moody said. "That may be pushing it, but that's the goal. If that doesn't happen we want to have as many All-Americans as possible. If I know they've done their best, and they know they've done their best, I'll be happy."
For the men, Tyrese Kelly, who won national titles in three field events a year ago, did not return for his sophomore year. But Daniel Taylor will be back to defend his 2018 titles in the 10,000 and 5,000 meter runs. He is also qualified to compete in the 1,500 meter run. Alex Worley will attempt to repeat as the champion in the decathlon.
Also for the men, Andrew Bowen, who was fifth in the 10,000 last year, will compete in that event again as well as the 5,000. Other qualifiers include Daniel Hagen in the 3,000 meter steeplechase and Jalen Easley in the 400.
Completing the lineup for the men, Worley will compete in the discus and Jonathyn Knight in the long jump.
Taylor and Bowen provide the Flyers with a strong tandem in the distance events.
"I feel I'm a lot more experienced and know what to expect," Bowen a product of Hoke County High School says. "This is my last year running here so I plan to go out with a bang. I just have to come out really good and do my best."
Last year Emily Doorey earned honorable mention All-American honors with a third place finish in the heptathlon. She will compete in that event as well as the discus. Sara Lindell finished fifth in the 3,000 meter steeplechase a year ago and along with Enya Dewars gives the Flyer women a strong presence in that event.
Claudette Smith, who finished seventh in the 400 hurdles last year, is also qualified to compete in the 100 hurdles. Freshman Hannah Canady will represent the Flyers in the 10,000 meter run.
Another freshman, Brianna Spencer, did not come to Sandhills planning to participate in track, but is glad she was convinced to do so. The Pinecrest graduate is qualified to compete in the 400, 800 and 1,500 meter runs. All three races are held within three hours of each other on Friday and she will only compete in one of them.
"I wish they had been on different days," she said, "but I think I'll have my best shot in the 800."
With four spring meets against mostly teams from four-year colleges behind them, last weeks workouts were about tapering down and fine tuning.
"Make sure when you're coming down the home stretch that your knees are up and you're using your arms," Moody urged one of the runners. "You are only going to run as fast as you pump your arms."