Bradley has always had a reputation in the Missouri Valley Conference for having very good long-distance runners. The Braves men’s cross-country team won five consecutive conference championships prior to this year, while the women’s team won four of the last seven.
“Bradley has always been known as a distance team,” sophomore sprinter Miguel Aygei said. “Other MVC teams would often label Bradley as being very weak in the sprints, therefore not worrying about competition in track and field.”
In 2018-19, Bradley had seven sprinters on its roster. Three of those decided to leave the program the following season. Aygei, sophomore Hannah Ivy, senior Keina Suggs and junior Soren Umali were the only four sprinters left on the team in the COVID-19 season.
“There were people who rode out the season with me, and then they packed up their bags and left,” Aygei said. “It [is] quite difficult to come to a school to be a student-athlete and have your team quit.”
In the fall of 2019, Fabia McDonald stepped in as an assistant coach. McDonald was a successful sprinter at Ole Miss from 2010 to 2015, and had experience coaching as a volunteer at her alma mater and subsequently as a sprinter’s coach at Heidelberg University in Ohio.
After coming to Bradley, recruitment is one of the things McDonald has worked the hardest on.
“I recruit all the time; I recruit when I wake up, when I eat, when I sleep,” she said.
Freshman T’ya Suber said that during the recruitment process, the deciding factor in choosing Bradley was the relationship she was able to build with McDonald during her senior year of high school.
“She texted me a lot…like, a lot,” Suber said jokingly. “She would be like, ‘Hey, what did you have for dinner?’ and I would ask myself if that’s even supposed to be asked.”
This approach has already paid off in the first full season of the McDonald era at Bradley.
Just this season, the Braves brought in Suber, and freshmen classmates Kyra Koontz and Reina McMillan. This season alone, this team has set 17 top-ten and three top-three times in school history with all but one coming from freshmen. Koontz owns BU’s 60m indoor record as a rookie.
In her words, the team’s goal this year has been to “show everyone that even if we are a smaller team, we can still compete with everyone else.”
McDonald implemented a lot of changes in the daily routine of her sprinters. She changed their workout routine, put them in different groups and made sure their weaknesses were addressed.
“A motto of mine is, ‘I want to make you great where you’re good, and where you’re bad, really good,” McDonald said.
The changes in practices have been palpable, both physically and mentally.
“Track is a very mental sport,” Ivy said. “You gotta put yourself out there mentally and physically because your body can do more than you think you can.”
This season has delivered a lot of promise for the young Braves runners. Unlike previous seasons when BU relied on its long-distance runners to score points in the Valley, this year the team can rely on sprinters to do the same.
McDonald’s mindset is instilled all over her team.
“They are going to be shattering all these school records that have been there for years,” Aygei said. “We are not a big team, but we are a team that fights and I think that, in the Valley, people are starting to notice that.”
“We are going to be great,” Suber said. “There is no other way to put it.”
The goal for the Braves will be to build a complete track team in the future. McDonald talked about her desire to have athletes compete in field events in seasons to come.
“I’m opening it all the way up,” McDonald said. “I’m going to have women in the [javelin], triple jumpers, etc. It’s going to be exciting. We are coming to set this conference on fire.”
The future for Bradley’s track and field team could be bright, with rookie sprinters showing high levels of promise and the potential of having more field athletes join the program. With the long-distance running already being a strength for the Braves, Bradley could turn into a track and field team to watch in the MVC.