The North Texas track team entered a time of transition just the way it hoped last week.
The Mean Green women began the second day of the Sun Belt Conference meet in Miami in a huge hole before rallying to win the team title. UNT won the women’s team championship in each of the last two seasons as it prepares to move to Conference USA in 2013.
Carl Sheffield was named the Coach of the Year on the women’s side, while Charlotte Wilson was named the Outstanding Freshman after winning both the 3,000-meter steeplechase and finishing fourth in the 5,000-meter run.
The UNT men finished fourth.
“It was a great performance,” Sheffield said. “We are good outdoors and line up well with people because we cover the full-event spectrum. We are short in some places, but heavy in others, which helped make up the difference for us.”
The win marked one more step in UNT’s departure from the Sun Belt this summer, when the school will also begin the process of demolishing Fouts Field.
The venue that had been the home for the UNT football team since the 1950s until the opening of Apogee Stadium in 2011 is also the home venue for the school’s track program.
UNT has sent out a request for bids for a project that will include the demolition of most of stands around the track. The stands on the west side will remain along with the track until a new track facility is built across Interstate 35 near the Mean Green Athletic Center and the Waranch Tennis Center.
UNT’s locker room and offices at Fouts will remain in place until a new facility is built.
UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said the school would fence in the track after removing the stands and landscape the area.
“It won’t really affect us,” Sheffield said of the project. “The track will be intact. They will put up some shrubs and fence it in. We won’t miss a beat.”
Villarreal and Sheffield both said they expect UNT to have a new track venue within five years. Sheffield is hoping that he can help UNT secure donations for a new track that would move up the timeline for its construction.
“I don’t want them to spend a lot of time and energy on it [Fouts] because we want to move across the road to a new facility eventually,” Sheffield said. “I am hoping to gather some track and field alumni and get some other money.”
Sheffield said a new facility would help him improve the program as UNT makes the transition to competing in C-USA. UNT recruits against several schools that will be in the league and others in the state, including Texas State.
“Program wise, we are just as good as Texas State and UTSA [Texas-San Antonio], but when athletes go down there, they have a three or four million dollar track,” Sheffield said. “We have facilities. We just don’t match up with what they have.”
What UNT does have is momentum with its women’s team after its performance in the Sun Belt meet.
UNT came back from a 42-4 deficit in the team standings after the first day, a rally Sheffield said was a milestone moment for the program.
“It will give us momentum,” Sheffield said. “People say that the level of competition in Conference USA is s step up, but if you break it down and look at the sprint events, we are right there. Conference USA is deeper, but the top three are pretty much the same in both leagues. We will have to recruit better so that our depth gets better. I want to walk in and be competitive.”
Lama feels good about future after NCAA loss
Head coach Sujay Lama has turned his attention to the future after the Mean Green fell short of its goal to make a run in the NCAA tournament this spring.
UNT earned an NCAA bid for the second straight season and third time in four years before falling to TCU 4-1 in a first-round match.
“It was disappointing because I felt like we could play at a higher level, but it is a process,” Lama said. “We have been digging deep and are out recruiting. The majority of it is done. The players we are bringing in are hungry and motivated.”
UNT signed Ana Sofia Cordero of Puerto Rico this spring and Alexis Thoma of Frisco last fall. Cordero is a member of the Puerto Rico Fed Cup team, while Thoma was ranked ninth in Texas when she signed with the Mean Green.
Victoria Parshikova is transferring to George Washington, while walk-on Emelia Box is transferring to Northern Arizona, where she will be on scholarship. Lama said both would have struggled to find a spot in UNT’s lineup but will have a chance to play regularly at their new schools.
UNT has another scholarship to give after its roster shuffle.
“We have addressed most of our needs,” Lama said. “We have one scholarship left and are trying to hit a home run.”
The addition of Thoma was a milestone for UNT, which has depended largely on foreign players throughout Lama’s tenure.
UNT is hoping to add more top American players in the future.
“Signing Alexis is a sign of progress for us,” Lama said. “This is the best year we have had in having the top players in Texas looking at us. More people have heard of us. Going into C-USA has raised our profile with American recruits. That has made UNT a more prestigious place.”
Davis promoted to associate head coach
UNT head coach Mike Petersen announced this week that he has promoted Ashley Davis to the role of associate head coach.
Davis joined Petersen’s staff when he took over as the Mean Green’s head coach prior to last season. Davis spent four seasons at Georgetown before coming to UNT.
“Ashley has done an outstanding job and has a huge future in coaching,” Petersen said in a prepared statement. “Her new position reflects her work to this point as well as her role moving forward.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.