RICHMOND, Va. – There's no better feeling than going to the bank, making a big withdrawl and purchasing something that you've been wanting for a long time.
That's the exact theme heading into this weekend for the VCU men's track team as they head to the CAA Championships this weekend, hosted by George Mason.
Since August, the Black & Gold have put in countless hours in the track, weight room, training room and class room. Head Coach Jon Riley calls all those hours "deposits in the bank", all the hard work they put in to get to this weekend.
"We've competed in plenty of high profile meets this year, so this weekend should not be any different," Riley said. "Our message to the guys will be to go out and give it all you have by doing all the technical things we've worked correctly. If our focus is there all weekend, we'll have a chance at reaching our goals."
There's a much different feeling surrounding the men's squad this year compared to last. Riley and his staff are now in their second season in charge of the combined roster which has been a little smoother when it comes to the odds and ends.
"Being our second year, we were able to prioritize and be more efficient with practice, travel, equipment, all the odds and ends that may seem small, but make a big difference," Riley said. "We're still learning, but we feel that we've made big strides and believe it will help us out this weekend."
Riley and his staff feel that the combined roster really showed its benefits this year when the women's squad helped provide valuable leadership to an extremely youthful men's roster in which two-thirds of the athletes are underclassmen.
"We've got a really good group of female leaders that we've been working with for four years and they got the whole team together back in August to set the standard of we were going to work this year," Riley said. "That helped some junior on the men's team take a step forward in their leadership, which has helped us continue to progress throughout the year."
Even with a youthful roster, the Rams have a chance to make some noise heading into the championship weekend. Throughout the spring, VCU has shown its versatility as they enter the meet with top-five conference rankings in 10 different events, based on the latest performance lists.
The strongest area for the Black & Gold comes in the throwing events with six different marks sitting in the top-five led by freshman Brandon Ruffin (pictured, right) and junior Frank Afriyie, who both have two top-five marks and will be big-time point scoring threats this weekend. Ruffin has the second best toss in the discus and third-best in the shot put, while Afriyie has the third-best in the discus and fifth-best in the hammer throw.
"We've invested a lot of time and energy into our throws program, and while we're still not where we want to be, Coach Tussing has done a great job instituting his knowledge and we're starting to see it pay off," Riley said. "We wanted to create a niche for the men's side that would work best for the entire program based on our competition and the throws were a great area to start."
Even with a niche started in the throws, VCU is looking to make noise in a plethora of areas and it shows with potential point scorers in nearly every events. Youngsters like Darius Vaughn (sprints), Sam Hush (distance), Chase Turner (hurdles) and others will look to come up big with little experience, while veterans like Brendan Leavitt (distance), Alex Hinton (pictured, left) (mid-distance) and Cameron Morse (hurdles) will be looking to provide leadership and vital points for their squad.
"These guys have put in the work all year long, every single guy has put in the blood, sweat and tears needed for this weekend. Now it's time to make that big withdrawl," Riley said.