HOUSTON – The Houston Cougar Men’s and Women’s Track & Field teams return to action, after a month-long break for the holiday’s, when they host the Leonard Hilton Invitational on Friday, Jan. 12, inside Yeoman Fieldhouse.
Action at the 2018 Leonard Hilton Invitational begins at 11 a.m., with the women’s weight throw, and running events are set to kick off at 1:30 p.m., with the women’s and men’s 60-meter hurdles.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The men’s shot put features a loaded competition that will see seven Cougars enter the event. Highlighting the field at the Leonard Hilton Invitational will be Felipe Valencia and Cameron Cornelius who finished first and second, respectively, at the Reveille Invitational to open the season. Cornelius and Valencia have combined to win all four of The American Athletic Conference indoor shotput titles, with Cornelius claiming the title in each of his three seasons, and Valencia claiming the honor in 2016.
School record holder and 2017 American Athletic Conference indoor champion Tonye’cia Burks is scheduled to make her 2018 debut at Friday’s invitational. The 3-time, American Athlete of the Week honoree jumped 42-7.5 (12.99m) at the American Championships in 2017 to set the top mark in program history.
Each of the men’s and women’s 60-meter dash races figure to steal the spotlight at the Leonard Hilton Invitational, with loaded fields on each side. In the women’s race, Brianne Bethel returns to action for the straight-track race. The sophomore is already a four-time American Conference silver medalist (indoor 4x400-meter relay, outdoor 100- and 200-meter dashes and 4x100-meter relay) and currently ranks No. 36 in the nation in the 200-meter dash after running 24.89 at the season-opening Reveille Invitational.
On the men’s side, NCAA Champions in the 4x100-meter relay and All-Americans John Lewis III and Jacarias Martin highlight a field of athletes that also includes projected standout freshmen Nick Alexander and Joe Williams. Martin ran the nation’s fourth fastest 200-meter dash time at the Reveille Invitational in 21.30, while Lewis III matched his personal best of 6.87 in the 60. Joe Williams made his debut in the 200-meters, where he clocked 21.68, to rank 23rd in the NCAA in the early stages.
Seven different Cougars are scheduled to make their Houston Track & Field debuts on Friday, including four student-athletes in the distance events. Devin Fahey, Josh Lee and Nicholas Fernandes will debut in the 3,000-meter run, while Cooper Godfrey opens his career in the mile. Thomas Alcon will debut in the sprints in the 60-meter dash, while Lagarious McQuirter hits the runway for the long jump, and Jennifer Ramirez officially debuts in the weight throw after redshirting and competing unattached throughout the 2016-17 season.
A full list of competitors for the Leonard Hilton Invitational can be found with the heat sheets by clicking HERE.
A handful of student-athletes will not be in action at the Leonard Hilton Invitational, but will instead be competing in the Texas Tech Corky Classic, in Lubbock, Texas. Field events at Texas Tech begin at 11 a.m., with the men’s shot put and women’s weight throw, while running events kick off at 1 p.m., with the women’s and men’s mile. A full list of competitors and heats will be released prior to the start of the Corky Classic.
ABOUT THE MEN
The Cougars entered the 2017-18 season as the defending American Athletic Conference Indoor Champions after claiming the title for the third consecutive season last February. The Cougars will be tasked with replacing sprinter Cameron Burrell and distance runner Brian Barraza who were each USTFCCCA Indoor All-Americans in 2017 but only have outdoor eligibility remaining in 2018.
Houston returns indoor All-Americans in Mario Burke and Amere Lattin as well as outdoor All-Americans Jacarias Martin and John Lewis III, and welcomes back 2016 American Champion in the indoor shot put, Felipe Valencia who redshirted throughout the 2016-17 season. Elsewhere in the field events, sophomore Nathaniel Mechler looks to defend his 2017 American Heptathlon title.
The men welcomed 17 freshman as part of their 2017 signing class, and also added one of the nation’s top 400-meter specialists in Missouri transfer Kahmari Montgomery.
ABOUT THE WOMEN
The Houston women took great strides in collecting their first podium finish as a team since joining the American after taking third a season ago. The Cougars will need to replace graduated sprinter Tori Williams, who claimed the indoor 200-meter crown at The American Championships, but triple jump champion Tonye’cia Burks returns to lead a majority of athletes who helped tally the Cougars’ highest point total at the indoor meet since 2009 with 99 points.
A pair of sophomore sprinters lead the way for the Cougars into the 2018 campaign, including Sierra Smith who was the American runner up in the 60- and 200-meter dashes as well as Brianne Bethel who surged late into her freshman season and claimed three silver medals at the outdoor conference meet.
Sophomore Birexus Hawkins will enter the season looking to build upon a bronze medal in the indoor 400-meters a season ago, while in the field events, Taylor Scaife and Mikaila Martin, Houston’s record holders in the weight throw and hammer throw respectively, are poised to have big seasons after each qualified for the NCAA West Regional in the outdoor season in May.
The women’s roster is very young, with just 18 student-athletes entering their junior season or later. 12 true freshmen will join 13 sophomores as the Cougars continue to build toward their first indoor conference championship since 2006.
FOLLOW THE COUGARS
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