UTRGV’s strong track & field season cut short

EDINBURG — The UTRGV track and field program has been on a steady climb since Darren Flowers took over as head coach nearly three years ago.

This past season, Flowers and the UTRGV track and field coaching staff saw an upswing in the team’s performance. The mix of new recruits combined with the athletes who remained from former head coach Xavier Richardson’s tenure began to see their hard work come to fruition.

“It was that combination of new people we brought in and the veterans that’ve really developed. I really think we were starting to step on the gas a little bit,” Flowers said. “I’m really proud of how far we’ve come in two and a half, three years. Not only for the student athletes, but for our coaching staff, they just all embraced the challenge.”

At this year’s Western Athletic Conference Indoor Championships in Nampa, Idaho, in late February, the UTRGV men’s and women’s track team put everybody in the WAC on notice.

Together, the men’s and women’s track and field teams brought nine individual conference championships back to the Valley, posting third-place finishes, and the women tallieed the highest point total in UTRGV program history.

On the first day of the WAC Indoor Championships, junior distance runner Abraham Chirchir took first in the men’s 5,000-meter run, while senior Paul May and sophomore Samariae Bonds swept the men’s and women’s weight throws.

The next day, May and Bonds busted out the brooms again by sweeping the men’s and women’s shot put. Chirchir also picked up some more hardware as he won the 3,000-meter run. Getting onto the board with championships of their own was Mariano Hernandez in the 400-meter dash, Max Carmona in the 800-meter run, and the team of Hernandez, Carmona, Miguel Escamilla and Ackeem Gordon in the men’s 4×400-meter relay.

With the WAC Indoor Championships complete and the WAC Outdoor Championships scheduled for May 14-16, UTRGV was riding a wave of momentum. And they were going to get to host the Outdoor Championships on their home track at UTRGV.

“We were coming off nine individual conference titles. The women had scored the highest point total in UTRGV history, and we knew that we were going to be hosting outdoors,” Flowers said. “There was a lot of excitement those first couple weeks of practice going into outdoor saying, ‘Coach, we’re about to win this thing. It’s our time.’ There was a lot of excitement, a lot of buzz around the program, but it was really disappointing when we had to break the news to them.”

The NCAA and WAC announced the cancellation of all spring sports for the remainder of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Flowers said it was tough telling his student-athletes their season was over, and UTRGV wouldn’t be hosting the championships.

“I just reiterated to them how much we care about them as people, and ultimately, that this is much bigger than sports, much bigger than track and field. And that’s what life’s about, that’s the ultimate lesson that we’re trying to teach here as coaches, your sport is an avenue to teach life,” he said. “That was the ultimate lesson. You can plan and plan and plan, but sometimes, life has different plans for you, and you’ve got to adjust, stand up strong and be a leader and keep moving forward.”