May 2, 2024

By Kevin Malcolm

Head coach of the UIW track, field and cross-country teams, Dr. Derek Riedel, has claimed five Southland Conference Championships in the last two years. At the February 2024 Southland Indoor Track & Field Championship meet, he aimed to make it six.

This season began differently for the Cardinals who usually compete in several meets in preparation for conference championships. This year most of the team was limited to two competitions in the month and a half leading up to the big meet.

While the Cardinals were confident after winning so many championships, the lack of opportunities to sharpen their skills in real competition this season made it ever so important for Riedel to rally his team to lock in, fight complacency and give it their all during each event.

athlete performing

“We always talk about storming the castle,” an analogy from sports psychologist Jim Afremow, “Doesn’t matter how good you are, how many trophies you’ve had in the past, you could be the best team coming into it, but your name is not on that trophy," shared Riedel.

The phrase would come in handy as then Cards faced more adversity through the two-day meet. Heading into the competition, school record holder, Griffin Neal was struck with the flu. During day one, the 2022 SLC Indoor MVP, Isaiah Hudgens, experienced back spasms and was unable to complete all his events. Despite the struggles UIW was in the lead with 48 points.

In the second day of competition the Cardinals performed well, but faced more misfortune when senior Candan Martin clipped his foot on the final hurdle, causing him to fall and injure himself. However, the veteran sprinter had the wherewithal to finish the race, earning key points for UIW. While this was happening Northwestern State and McNeese were able to put together some great performances and keep the team competition close.

athletes competing

It was an unfamiliar feeling for the Cardinals who usually run away with the team title, in some cases knowing the hardware will be theirs after just 10 of the 17 events.

“I really enjoyed the joy they had and the support they gave each other,” Riedel said, “We got to see how gritty they are.”

In the end it all came down to one last race, the men’s 4x400 meter relay. The team of Corin Burns, Ikenna Opara, Thomas Gignoux, and Eric Quilantan placed third, securing a third consecutive Southland Conference Indoor Championship for UIW.

After the meet Riedel said, “These guys know how to win. They kept hitting a wall, kept hitting a wall and eventually broke through.”

The excitement does not stop there as the Cards consider themselves a better outdoor team. With events like the discus, the hammer, the steeplechase, and the 4x100 relay, events UIW has dominated in the past, the Cardinals look to make even more history in the coming months.


Photo Credit: Michael Wade