The first event for the winter sports at McNeese kicks off its season on Friday when the indoor track program will participate at the LSU Indoor Invitational that's set to get underway at 2:30 p.m. at the Carl Maddox Field House.
Both teams return a handful of athletes from last season that saw the Cowgirls place fourth at the Southland Conference Indoor Championships, and the men seventh.
The Cowgirls will take the biggest hit with the loss of All-American thrower La'Shantena Rounds, who placed fourth in the weight throw at the NCAA Indoor Championships last season, and conference champion Jasmine Cornelius as well as point scorers Jasmine Webb and Jasmine Cornelius.
The men went through some growing pains last year but grew up quite a bit throughout the year. The Cowboys lost all-conference hurdler Tristan Joynes but returns all-conference jumper Kartavius Hamilton as well as league championship finalist Hiram Morales in the throws.
Below is an event-by-event preview of both the men's and women's teams.
Women's Throws: Junior RaKira Turner returns after posting a sixth place finish in the shot put a year ago. Freshman Erin Fakler could turn some heads this year in the weight event but she's primarily a discus thrower.
Women's Sprints/Hurdles: Sophomore Maegan Moore and Junior Danielle Epps are the top two returning in that area and both had stellar performances at the annual Blue and Gold scrimmage in December. Moore will be looked upon to take over from Webb. As a freshman last year, she was a member of the 4x100 relay team that won a conference championship in the outdoor season. In the indoor season, she posted a PR of 7.80 at the league meet in the 60 meters. Epps was also a member of that championship relay team and also placed fifth in the 100-meter dash to score for the Cowgirls. During indoors, she competed in the 200 meters and was part of the 4x400 meter relay team. Freshman Victoria Martin and senior Simone Johnson are also expected to provide points for the Cowgirls in the short and long sprints. In the hurdles, senior Lauren Thompson will be making her indoor debut for the Cowgirls after a nice outdoor season. Last spring, she posted three top three finishes in the 100-meter hurdles and ran a PR of 25.21 at the Longhorn Invitational which ranks as the fourth fastest time in school history. She flirted with the school record at the Blue and Gold scrimmage in the fall.
Women's Jumps/Multis: Junior pole vaulter and school record holder Nicole Casper will look to improve on her performance from last year that saw her take sixth at the SLC indoor championship and fifth at the outdoor meet. She qualified for the NCAA East Prelims and cleared 12-3 ½ to place 40th. During the indoor season, she had four top six finishes and cleared a season-best 11-7 ¾ at the Samford Indoor. As a freshman, she finished fourth in the indoor conference meet and second in the outdoor championships. Junior Maya Tunwar has one of the team's top high jumpers over the last two years and will be looking to return to the podium where she finished third in the outdoor season as a freshman. Tunwar will also lead the Cowgirls in the multis along with freshmen Breyuanna Jackson and Kristan Ojanta.
Women's Distance: McNeese lost all-conference runner Amy Talbot to graduation but returns a slew of talent including junior Kaitlyn Jeter who was a finalist in the 1500-meters at the outdoor championships. Adding depth will be newcomers Gemma Bridge and Katja Woelfl, both who placed 14th and 15th at the 2014 SLC cross country meet.
Men's Throws: Morales will be the top thrower for the Cowboys and will lead a couple of young guns in Tyler Tijerna and Nick Passaglia. Morales had a decent indoor season as a freshman last year but improved greatly during the outdoor season where he finished fifth at the league meet in the shot put event. Joining the throwers will be freshman Kyle Zenon, a member of the McNeese football team, who was an all-state thrower during his career at Vermillion Catholic High School.
Men's Sprints/Hurdles: All-conference hurdler Joynes has graduated so that leaves the door open for a young crew led by juniors Jared Mack and Zack Cart. Mack ran a PR of 7.35 in the 60 meters last year and a 6.79 in the 55 meters while Cart clocked PR times of 6.57 (55m) and 7.17 (60m). Freshmen Morgan Smith and Jaylan Goodly are expected to add depth to the event.
Men's Jumps/Multis: All-conference long jumper Hamilton is back to lead a talented but young group. Hamilton placed fourth in the long jump at last year's conference indoor meet and was sixth in both the long jump and as a member of the 4x100 relay team at the outdoor championships. Joining him will be sophomores John Lemke (TJ), Steven Benjamin (LJ), Dakota Breaux (PV), and freshman Jacob Pruitt (LJ). Lemke posted an indoor PR mark of 44-9 ½ in the triple jump and an outdoor PR of 42-0. Breaux had four top 6 finishes in the pole vault event during the indoor season including a sixth place mark at the SLC meet with an indoor PR of 15-1. He placed first at the McNeese Springtime Invite during the outdoor season with an outdoor PR of 15-6 ¼. Sophomore Clayton Sexton will lead a crew in the multi events.
Men's Distance: After a successful cross country season that saw the team place fourth at the league meet and eighth at the NCAA South Central Regionals, the distance crew will look to get back to the podium this coming season. Sophomore Oliver James, who earned all-conference cross country honors with his ninth place finish at the league meet, has emerged as the one to lead the charge. Junior transfer Enock Bor (12th at SLC XC meet) is also expected to score points as well as sophomores Fisher Hamilton and Enrique Soto, and freshmen Nathan Jones, Bradley Traviss, Finlay Murray, and Bryson Skinner.
Following Friday's meet, the teams will compete at the Aggie-13 Team Invitational on Jan. 16. McNeese will host the Cameron Communications Indoor Meet on Jan. 30, as well as two high school meets on Jan. 17 and Jan. 31. The Southland Conference indoor championships will be held Feb. 16-17 in Birmingham, Ala.