Life is resuming as usual in the United States, particularly in college sports, and one such Bahamian athletics coach is excited about the outlook of the season.
‘Superman’ Leevan Sands, a legendary Bahamian athlete, is into his second year as an assistant coach at the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) in Greeley, Colorado. The UNC Bears compete in the Big Sky Conference in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I.
Sands is particularly excited about the two Bahamians who will be joining the program this year – former St. John’s athlete Wendira Moss, who represented The Bahamas at the World Athletics Under-18 (U18) World Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2017; and Cariesha Johnson, who is a promising up-and-coming athlete. Moss competes in the 100 through 400 meters (m) and Johnson takes part in the 400m and 400m hurdles along with being a steady 4x400m relay runner.
“I’m really excited. I was always one who wanted to look out for my fellow Bahamians and we are thankful to have both Wendira and Cariesha on board,” said Sands. “We’re looking to hopefully get a few others next season. It’s looking pretty good. It’s a li’l cold up here during the winter months but we’re adjusting and our athletes who run the 400 shouldn’t have a hard time adjusting. Running at altitude is good for their training. We have a pretty decent team. I believe we’ll be able to compete with a lot of the top schools. We’re looking forward to big things this year. We’re going to be very competitive in the sprints and middle distance events.”
Sands said they are aiming for a top three finish at the respective conference championships and have a few student-athletes qualify for the NCAAs. This year’s elite recruiting class boasts three world ranked athletes as well as three nationally ranked athletes among the class of 12. The signees include athletes from three foreign countries – South Africa, The Bahamas and Tanzania, plus athletes from Colorado and California. Three members of the class will join the men’s team, while the remaining nine will join the women’s.
Kayla Van Der Bergh, Elviano Johnson and Welre Olivier rank in the top 10 in the world for their respective events.
South African Van Der Bergh ranks fifth in the world in the under-20 girls 100m hurdles with a time of 13.31 seconds. Her compatriot, Johnson, is one of the fastest under-20 sprinters in the world (10.28). He is currently ranked second in the 100m and eighth in the 200m (20.67) in the under-20 boys division. Johnson also ranks 26th in the world for the under-20 400m.
The world’s best under-20 triple jumper (15.80m – 51’ 10-1/4”), Olivier, joins the UNC family from Johannesburg, South Africa. He owns the second-best triple jump of all-time in New Zealand.
Also, the second-best triple jumper in the United States in the under-20 division (15.21m – 49’ 11”) decided to trade in the sandy beaches of California for the majestic mountains of Colorado for college. Reference is to Namir Hemphill who ranks at No. 34 in the under-20 world rankings. He also competes in the long jump, 60m, 300m hurdles and 400m.
Needless to say, Sands, who experienced a lengthy career in the triple jump, is overjoyed to have Olivier and Hemphill as members of the program.
“We’re looking to make history,” said Sands. “These guys come in with a lot of talent and it’s up to us as coaches to help develop that talent. The sky is the limit for them. Right now, there is nothing much happening except for training and practices but we’re looking forward to the start of the season. We know that certain safety measures and social distancing protocols will be in place but we’re ready embrace it. We’re looking forward to going to meets and performing well.”
The start of the indoor season has been pushed back to January because of the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sands said that the schedule is already out and he doesn’t expect any further setbacks. Their conference is progressing with the indoor and outdoor season as planned.
Director of track and field and cross country at Northern Colorado Wayne Angel previously experienced success while at Tennessee Tech University and Florida A&M University. He led teams at those institutions to a number of conference titles and runner-up finishes. He is a two-time Hall of Fame coach and six-time Coach of the Year recipient at the conference level.