Whether it's the men or women, indoor or outdoor, UC Riverside Track and Field director Nate Browne is excited for the year ahead. The track and field season officially begins on Friday in the Lumberjack Team Challenge.
On the women's side, the team has a lot of fresh, new talent that will try to replace many difference makers who have graduated.
"Our goal was to get people that could cover two if not three events well. We've had a steady fall and look to express that preparation in some great indoor competitions," said Browne.
On the distance side for the women, the team returns Big West scorers senior Cydney Branch and junior Samantha Poliakon. Sprints returns 400-meter Big West finalist, junior Kenday Jackson, along with junior thrower Natalie Mitchell, who scored in the shot put last year.
Standout junior Didi Amarasekara was a top finisher in the women's long jump and the heptathlon and ran on the 4x400m relay team last year. Past Big West long jump finalist and senior Jorden O'Neal has made great strides since the fall with new jumps and multi-events coach Eric Fremd.
Keep an eye on freshman Purnima Gunarathna in the high jump and long jump, along with freshman Alonna Johnson, who was a California State finalist in the 400m and the 4x400m.
"We are looking for our women to gain some valuable competition experience as we head into the meat of our season during outdoor and the Big West Championships," said Browne.
On the men's side, expect big things from junior Heinrich Van Niekerk. He finished second in the Big West Championships in the men's 800m race and the coaches expect him to be a factor in the 1500m as well. Senior Ricky Wright is also hoping to finish out his senior season on a high note. He claimed fifth in the men's long jump.
"I believe our men's team from top to bottom may be the deepest team we've had since the 2014 season," Browne said. "We have the potential to score in nearly every track event in my opinion."
Senior Justin Parker has impressed the coaches this fall with his maturity and consistency. He's scored at each of his Big West meets in the 400-meters.
Throws coach Candace Fuller has made steady progress with freshman John Ober and junior Jordan Davis, each of whom have become stronger as practice has progressed.
Junior Slade Cavallaro and freshman Fabian Bodden join sophomore Jose Castellon and sophomore Quinn Williams in the 400m hurdles to form a quartet that can make some noise.
"Our goal is to see this team jell and begin to hold each other accountable off the track so their hard work and dedication at practice and in the weight room gets maximized as it relates to performance," said Browne.