K-State track and field sets goals high for 2016

K-State Athletics Communications and K-State Alumni Communications

Senior Akela Jones is one of the Wildcat Olympic hopefuls. She recently was named the Big 12 Female Athlete of the Week and the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Athlete of the Week. (Photo: K-State Athletics)

Following a short break at home for the holidays, Kansas State University track and field student-athletes are back in Manhattan and ready to compete. The first event of the season was the Winter Invitational on Dec. 12 in Ahearn Field House, then the K-State student-athletes kicked off the new year with the Wildcat Invitational on Jan. 9, posting 17 first-place finishes and setting two facility records.
Heading into this 2016 indoor track and field season, the Wildcat women’s team earned a preseason ranking of No. 4 in the nation — its highest ranking ever — with 120.25 points, while the men’s team also broke into the top 25 polls at No. 20 with 43.19 points.
“Right now we have a great team,” said five-time Big 12 Champion senior thrower Sara Savatovic. “I knew we were going to be very highly ranked because we have so many champions. We have so many great athletes and hopefully Olympians. I knew we had a great team, and I think we can do a lot this season.”

On the women’s side, along with Savatovic’s dominance in the weight throw, the Wildcats will be led by seniors Akela Jones (heptathlon) and Dani Winters (shot put), as well as junior Kim Williamson (high jump). Jones, Winters and Williamson are defending Big 12 champions in their respective events. On the men’s side, the team will look to senior sprinter and long jumper Ifeanyichukwu Otuonye, as well as the 2015 Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Second Team All-American sophomore Nate Gipson (high jump).

Jones, the 2015 Big 12 Indoor Outstanding Performer of the Year, is coming off a Big 12 title in long jump and earned high-point scorer in the Big 12 Championship meet — and she is looking to make a splash again this year. At the Wildcat Invitational, Jones earned first-place finishes in every event she tackled, breaking both the Wildcat Invitational and the Ahearn Field House facility 60-meter women’s hurdle record. She also was named high-point scorer of the KSU-KU-WSU Showdown on Jan. 15, where K-State finished with 14 overall first-place finishes and ended the meet in second place.

Heading into the 2016 indoor track and field season, the Wildcat women’s team has earned a preseason ranking of No. 4 in the nation, while the men’s team — including Ifeanyichukwu Otuonye (above) — also has broken into the top 25 polls at No. 20. (Photo: K-State Athletics)
“This team is really strong — they’re stronger than I’ve ever seen,” Otuonye said. “The upperclassmen came together, and we’re trying to do activities to bring the team together, and I think that’s been helping a lot. We’re more united, we’re more of a family, and with the team being stronger and being more of a family, that’s going to help push us to do great.” 

Along with the high preseason rankings, this year’s Wildcat squad has even more to be excited about. This year, 2016, is an Olympic year, and track and field athletes around the nation are hard at work preparing to compete at their very best. The 2016 Summer Olympics are Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Several K-State student-athletes are hoping to qualify.  
“I don’t know what happens on the Olympic year, but every Olympic year everyone just steps up,” Otuonye said. “People who have been injured, magically they’re good again. The competition level has really increased. Being an Olympic year, for me, that’s the big goal. This indoor season is a huge stepping stone for the outdoor season, so I’m trying to really get the most out of the indoor season and do the most that I can. I’m going to try and get some big marks.”

Follow K-State track and field throughout the season. 

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