This will be the first outdoor conference championship for legendary Bahamian athlete ‘Superman’ Leevan Sands and his team, the University of North Colorado (UNC) Bears, but the jumps coach is confident that his athletes will perform well and secure medals. They compete in the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships which is set to get underway today and will wrap up on Saturday.
The meet will be hosted by Weber State University at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah. It will feature 11 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I programs.
Although there was no outdoor season last year, Sands said the team is much better this year and he feels confident heading into the championships.
“We have a much better team than last year,” Sands said. “This is my second year and I recruited heavily and I got some guys and ladies to come into UNC this past year. On the female side, we are looking pretty strong, and we could be possibly get top three if everybody does what they are supposed to do. On the men’s side, my two jumpers are probably the two best on the men’s side right now and we are still building the team.”
A couple of the jumpers he will showcase are freshman Welre Olivier who hails from South Africa and senior Tyler Thimsen. Olivier leads the conference in the triple jump with a leap of 15.84 meters (m) – 51’ 11-3/4” while Thimsen is second with a jump of 15.28m (50’ 1-3/4”). In the long jump, the South African is ranked eighth in the conference with a leap of 7.18m (23’ 6-3/4”).
“Welre came here with a lot more experience,” Sands said. “His dad was actually an Olympic triple jumper. Welre has far more experience in terms of coaching. I just developed Tyler since I have been here. I had him for one semester and he did indoor and did something spectacular and that was his second time going to conference.
“Coming into that meet, he was ranked ninth or 10th and he ended up getting the silver. He has been improving this whole year. This was his first time jumping 15 meters and each meet he has been jumping personal bests. I rested him a little these past couple weeks and with my experience, I know and understand what rest does for each of them so they can be ready for the conference championships. They have a lot more to go and I think 16 meters is within reach for Welre. I feel at this meet, he could possibly go low 16 meters or possibly mid 16 meters. He just has to be patient. I think the same thing for Tyler even though he only jumped 15.28 meters. I still think that he could potentially pull off a 16-meter jump.”
The Bahamian Olympian is young in the NCAA Division I coaching realm but he is by far no stranger to the pounding the body takes at the collegiate level. After all, he was an outstanding jumper at Auburn University where he won the NCAA Division I outdoors titles in the long jump (2003) and triple jump (2004). He uses his experience as an athlete to keep his athletes motivated. They have also bought into his coaching.
“I am a self-motivated person. I try to push them in the same way that I pushed myself. I try to teach them how to be confident when they step on the track and to know they are the best. I tell them that we all have bad meets. I feel bad too when they have bad meets as well because it’s a reflection on me. That motivating factor of pushing through, even through the downs is what drives a competitor. I tell them about the downs, heartaches, pains and injuries that I have experienced over my career and I kept on going. They trust me and once an athlete trust you, they will run through walls for you. They believe in me. Sometimes, it takes a while to get on board because they are used to doing things their way,” Sands stated.
It has been a tough year for sports as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Sands himself tested positive for COVID-19 during the season during his team’s weekly testing exercise. He had to quarantine for 10 days and was unable to coach. He said his symptoms were mild, and added that because he keeps himself healthy, he was able to stay away from any severe symptoms.
The program was affected coming back from the Christmas break like those of many other college teams where the student-athletes left campus. The situation is better now, Sands said.
“It is better now because COVID-19 ran its course, especially after people went home for Christmas and being around family members and people they hadn’t seen in a while. I think they brought it back here on campus and we had to quarantine a few times. It affected us a lot this year and as far as going to meets we had to cancel a few meets. Some athletes were left home for meets because they had to quarantine so it was difficult having to deal with that because the kids wanted to compete after putting in a lot of work in the offseason.”
There are two Bahamians who are on the Bears team – freshmen Wendira Moss and Craiesha Johnson. Both were unable to join the team in the offseason. It was an adjustment coming from The Bahamas and settling into a colder climate and higher altitude in Greely, Colorado.
Moss will be making the trip to the conference championships, but Johnson will not this year. Moss will be running in the 200, 400, 4×100 and the 4x400m relays.
“They are now just coming around. Wendira just dropped time last week from her previous meet. She is coming around at the right time. I think she will do even better at conference. The head coach (Wayne Angel) is hoping she qualifies for NCAA first rounds that takes place in a few weeks. With Craiesha, I think she is now getting to learn how to hurdle. She runs the 400 meters hurdles and she has helped the team a lot. She just missed out on conference this time around. This is her first semester and I feel it will be a better year for her next year,” Sands said.
Sands is looking to have both Olivier and Thimsen qualify for the NCAA Division I Regionals, set to be held later this month.