AUSTIN, Texas — Texas track and field head coach Edrick Floréal is quick to note one thing about the Texas track and field team: the dreams of winning an NCAA title are not far off.
“I feel like we’re close (to competing for an NCAA title)," Floréal said Wednesday in an interview with Longhorn Network. "I just think we have a couple more people that need to make the adjustments, or make the jump, if you want to call it that, or cross that line in the sand. They’re still sort of on top of the fence, not decided, and I think once they make that decision, we can."
But before the Longhorns race for a national crown, they'll set their sights on the Big 12 Outdoor Championships, which will be held Friday through Sunday at Kansas State's R.V. Christian Track Complex in Manhattan, Kan. It will be the first time the meet has been held since 2019.
"Everyone's putting in what they need to put in and we're all hitting our marks when we're supposed to," sprinter Kynnedy Flannel said. "Hopefully we get a lot of PRs (this weekend)."
Flannel is part of a talented group of sprinters on both the men's and women's side that Floreal said has led the way for Texas the past few years and will have a good opportunity to return to Austin with Big 12 titles in tow.
"The strongest part is probably our sprints and hurdles, which have carried the torch for us in the last few years," Floreal said on LHN.
The No. 4 Texas women's team has several high-level runners who enter the weekend as favorites to compete for individual titles. That list includes Flannel and Tara Davis, each of whom has been named Big 12 Athlete of the Week this spring.
Flannel has whizzed around the track this outdoor season, never finishing lower than third in either the 100 meters or 200 meters. She won both events at the dual meet against Texas A&M, registering PRs of 11.23 in the 100 and 22.55 in the 200. The outdoor success has followed a strong showing during the indoor season that was highlighted by first-place finishes in both the 60 meters and the 200 meters at the Big 12 Indoor Championships in Lubbock.
"I've been working on trusting our race plan," Flannel said. "We go over our race plan every meet week, just trying to work the straights, and get out of the blocks on the 100. It's just trusting myself enough to run the race how coach tells me to run it. It's easy to get out there and get too nervous and do what you want, but there's a strategy to it."
Flannel's success makes her the favorite to win both the 100 and 200 in Manhattan, but that is something the junior said she tries not to think about.
"I try not to think about it, as I have a target on my back," Flannel said. "It's just me against the clock right now. I'm just worried about my race and what I can continue to do to drop my time."
Davis has been one of the names to know, not just in collegiate track and field, but on the world stage, this spring. Named May 5 to The Bowerman Award Watch List, the long jumper and hurdler not only broke the NCAA Indoor long jump record March 13 with a leap of 6.93 meters, but also became the first collegiate woman to jump at least 23 feet when she did so at the Texas Relays. Her jump of 7.14 meters (23 feet, 5-1/4 inches) broke Jackie Joyner-Kersee's collegiate record.
"I'm very excited [for Big 12s]," Flannel said. "We haven't been outdoors in a while, especially with this competitive of a competition."
Jonathan Jones is one of those sprinters who has headlined the men's team, which is ranked No. 6 in the nation by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA), the highest ranking among Big 12 teams. He finished second May 1 to Nike's Will London at the Texas Invitational, in 45.35 seconds.
As quick as that time was, it is far from where Jones said he wants to be. He broke 45 seconds at the NCAA Championships in 2019, finishing fourth in 44.64. He has not yet cracked 45 seconds in the 400 this season, but said he feels things are starting to click, having put a couple of nagging injuries behind him.
"Really it's just staying healthy," Jones said. "That's my main issue because I've had some nagging injuries come up this season. As long as I'm healthy, I know that I can run fast enough so that I can become a Big 12 champion and record a good score for my team."
Jones is also a key component of UT's 4-by-400-meter relay, which also features Jon Maas, Willington Wright and Micaiah Harris. During this outdoor season, the quartet has tallied a third-place finish at Texas Relays and a second-place showing at the Aggie Invitational. The relay's time of 3:01.28 at Texas Relays ranks fourth in the NCAA this year, and is the best time in the Big 12.
"Our 4-by-4 team is stacked now, because we have actual 400-meter runners," Jones said. "I always loved the 4-by-4, even at high school. At any track and field meet, the relays will always have a different kind of focus, because it's the last race, and everyone wants to do well and have the bragging rights. You just have to put it all out there and show up for your relay, and I am hoping that we do the same thing (this weekend) that we did at Texas Relays."
As an individual, Harris has been as prolific in the 100 meters and 200 meters as Jones has been in the 400 meters. The junior ran the fastest recorded time in the Big 12 this season in the 100 April 30, crossing the line in a wind-aided 10.20 seconds. He holds the same mark in the 200, though that time was also wind-aided. Regardless, his blistering fast times make him a frontrunner to place high in both of the short-distance sprints.
Regardless of their finishes this weekend, both Jones and Flannel attested to the fact that they, along with the rest of their teammates, are simply thankful to be back on the track, competing in the sport they love for a conference title.
"The fact that we get to run, I'm really happy about it," Jones said. "I was much more stressed and depressed not being able to compete and do what I love. I know a lot of my teammates feel the same way."
Led by Jones and Flannel, Floréal said he feels he has a "complete team" and one that, despite the challenges of Covid, injuries and unknowns, has risen to the challenge this season. This weekend's meet is just the beginning of the postseason success Floréal is anticipating from his team.
"Our coaches have done a great job developing our student-athletes in all areas, and we have a really complete team," Floréal said "not just a complete conference team, but a team that can compete at the NCAAs and at the very highest level.”