By Jim O'Hara
ROME--A national championship, nearly a dozen All-Americans, impressive showings at numerous meets – all in all their first year as an NCAA Division II program wound up keeping the Hawks and Lady Hawks track teams at Shorter in the national spotlight.
Even better, the season has opened the door to a future that will produce more accomplishments and honors that have become the well-entrenched trademark of the team’s tradition.
“The tradition is there and it’s one that has been building for the last five years,” Scott Byrd, Shorter’s Director of Track and Field and the architect of the program, said after seeing the Hawks and Lady Hawks close out their second year of a three-year transitional process toward becoming a full NCAA member with high-water marks.
“We have a house full of champions who know how to win and the ones we’re bringing in are buying into it,” the head coach said. “They know the Shorter way. We’re very excited about the future.”
For Byrd and his coaching staff, keeping an eye on that future was a part of how this past season went, one that while not including an opportunity to compete in NCAA postseason championships – Shorter has one more year of making the mandatory transition before gaining full status in the 2014-14 calendar year – allowed the Hawks and Lady Hawks to showcase themselves at the National Christian College Athletic Association level.
That was accomplished with what the game-plan Shorter had entering the season: blending youth and experience to continue the winning tradition while at the same time saving its pool of youthful talent and veteran athletes for what lies ahead via the red-shirt route.
“I think we did reach our goal, even though we knew we had to red-shirt a lot of our guys and girls to help them and the program make the transition,” said Byrd, noting that more than 15 athletes sat out the season to help the program make an immediate impact during the changeover.
“They handled it like troopers,” he said about the group of red-shirts. “They sacrificed a lot, but they kept working hard.”
What Byrd is even more proud of was the way Shorter’s seniors closed out their careers, remaining true to the program and their teammates during the time of transition and leaving an all-too familiar winning All-American legacy.
Staying the course in their final season included sprinter Allen Huntley, a four-time NAIA All-American who was part of 4x100 national champion relay team that helped the Hawks win their second straight NAIA title in 2012; distance runners Daniel Sorenson and Carlos Perez, indoor and outdoor NAIA All-Americans last year; five-time NAIA All-American Tamala Daley, the 2012 national indoor triple jump champion; and distance specialist Rachel McDaniel, who in addition to her track skills helped the Lady Hawks’ cross country team give Shorter its first-ever Gulf South Conference title last fall.
“They did a great job,” Byrd said about the seniors. “They’re all high-character kids who set an example for the younger kids and who decided to stay with their friends.”
That kind of camaraderie resulted in notable success.
After winning the NCCAA national indoor championship in March, the Lady Hawks took runner-up honors at the NCCAA’s outdoor showdown while the Hawks posted a solid eighth-place finish outside.
Not surprisingly, the teams’ performances were anchored by individual performances, with Huntley and Daley adding to their laurels as Huntley was an NCCAA All-American in the 100 and 200 and Daley became an All-American as a triple jumper and as part of the Lady Hawks’ 4x100 relay squad.
Joining the two seniors on the All-American podium including junior Lakesisha Spikes (100, 200, 4x100, 4x400), sophomore Dominique Hoskins (400, 4x400), sophomore Sarah Jude (400 hurdles, 4x400), junior Shea Spicher (10,000), freshman Madison Sears (hammer throw), freshman Alexis Smith (4x100, 4x400), junior Jasmine Jackson (4x100), sophomore Cole Rice (400) and freshman David Johnson (triple jump.)
Byrd and his staff have wasted little time hitting the recruiting trail, a process that is dear to Byrd’s heart.
“I love recruiting, I really do,” said Byrd, whose latest trip took him to South Carolina. “For me, it’s fun to talk with a young man or a young woman and see their eyes light up when they realize that they are being recruited.”
Those who become a part of the “Shorter way” will quickly find out that there are still some challenges ahead, including major tests on the Hawks and Lady Hawks home track at Barron Stadium where Shorter will host an even bigger Rome-Shorter Relays and the Peach Belt Conference Championships for the second-straight year, as well as the NCCAA national championships that was announced last week.
“We’re already looking forward to next year,” said Byrd.