RICHMOND, Va. – When Jon Riley and his staff took over the VCU women's track & field program four years ago, they knew this day would come.
For four years, Riley and his staff have rebuilt the Black & Gold and will be keeping a watchful eye on a very confident group heading into this weekend's CAA Championship meet.
"When we started four years ago, we talked to this group of seniors about how their time was coming and one day they would be the ones to set the standard for VCU Track. That time has come," Riley said. "We've got a confident group that has worked extremely hard, not only this year, but for their entire careers. They want it badly."
Unlike last year, the Rams are locked and loaded headed into the conference meet. It wasn't that the talent wasn't there last year, it definitely was, but unfortunately for VCU, luck wasn't on their side with key injuries to the top two throwers and several injuries and redshirts on the track, which hindered the Black & Gold from obtaining the ultimate goal of a CAA title.
"We've got some of our key components back from injury and they've been taking care of business this year," Riley said. "We want to go out be competitive and fight and claw for every possible point. We're a confident group that has nothing to lose."
Versatility will be crucial for VCU this weekend as the Rams boast potential point scorers in nearly every event. Entering the meet, 11 different athletes in 13 different events rank in the top five on the CAA performance list with plenty others right on the cusp.
Some of those athletes are the ones that missed last year's meet due to injury like junior Dionna Hayes (pictured, left), who suffered an injury during the championship meet and wasn't able to score like she expected to. This year, she's back and set to be a force in the sprints with the second-best time in the CAA in the 100-meter at 11.75.
After being sidelined last year, the Williams sisters, both Jaleesa (pictured, above right) and Jessica, are back and ready to take the meet by storm. Jaleesa enters the weekend with the top toss in the shot put and the second-best mark in the discus, while Jessica is right behind her sister in the discus at third in the CAA entering the meet.
"A lot of our key pieces this weekend have already experienced the conference meet and that's extremely valuable to us," Riley said. "They understand the severity of the meet and can relay what the expectations are to our younger athletes. In the past, they were the ones benefiting from good leadership, now it's their turn to step up and lead the way."
It's not only the health, but also some star-studded freshman led by the blazing Kiara Porter, who has the conference's best time in the 200-meter at (23.60) and second-best in the 400-meter at (53.98).
Even with a bundle of athletes among the top performances in the CAA thus far, Riley knows that it's not going to be a select few that get it done this weekend.
"In order to reach our goals, this has to be a collective effort from the entire team," Riley said. "All the sweat, tears, hill runs, squats, sit-ups, leg cramps, pain, all they've endured all year long comes down to this one weekend. They've all experienced success before and this is just another time for them to go out there and give it all they have."