What is being called The Bahamas' strongest CARIFTA squad since the early eighties, had their first official team meeting yesterday, at the Thomas A. Robinson Track and Field Stadium.
A full 70-member squad was ratified by the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA), on Sunday, and will head to the CARIFTA Track and Field Championships in Hamilton, Bermuda, over the Easter holiday weekend. The championships are set for April 7-9 in Hamilton.
About 90 percent of the members have met the CARIFTA standard, so that right there speaks wonders about the quality of the team. In addition, four CARIFTA champions are returning from a year ago. Last year, The Bahamas finished second to the host country, Jamaica, with 31 total medals-nine gold, 11 silver and 11 bronze. Jamaica won its 26th straight CARIFTA title with 66 total medals-33 gold, 21 silver and 12 bronze. Head Coach Dianne Woodside is confident that this year's team will perform extremely well in Bermuda.
"There is no doubt that this will be a very competitive team. We're going to go there and do the best that we can, and attain some personal bests," she said yesterday."We had a strong team last year and most of those kids are back again, so I think that we are going to do extremely well. I think that we just have to stay relaxed and stay focused. The main thing is to get mentally prepared first and foremost. Once they are mentally prepared, the physical preparation will come. I think that this is one of the best teams that we have had in a very long time and I'm happy with that,"she added.
All four World Youth medalists and the Austin Sealey winner from a year ago will be a part of this very talented team heading to Hamilton. Anthonique Strachan won the Austin Sealey award in Montego Bay last year, with her double sprint title. In the 200m in particular, she tied Veronica Campbell-Brown's CARIFTA record in the heats. World Youth Champions Shaunae Miller, Latario Collie-Minns and Stephen Newbold are all on the team along with World Youth bronze medalist Lathone Collie-Minns. Miller, who holds the World Youth and World Junior title in the 400m, said that she's just grateful to be a part of the team and will be looking to represent her country very well. She false started in the 400m at last year's CARIFTA, and it is speculated that she'll concentrate on the shorter sprints at the regional meet as opposed to going after another prestigious quarter-mile title.
"This is my fourth CARIFTA team, and I'm just going to go out there and try to compete at my best for my country,"said Miller yesterday. "It's a pleasure to be back on the team. I feel that this is a very strong team that we have this year, and we will do very well. There is no pressure on us. We're just going there to have some fun and do our best,"she added.
After being disqualified in the 400m final last year, Miller said that she is motivated to make amends this year, albeit in the shorter sprints as opposed to the 400m.
"All that does is motivates me to perform well this year," she said. "I'm stronger and more mentally prepared and looking forward to doing well. I know the competition is going to be stiff but I'm prepared for it. I'm just going to do as well as I can in representing my country."
Miller isn't the only World Youth Champion who missed out on the action last year. Latario Collie-Minns suffered an untimely ankle injury and had to watch as his brother Lathone stole the show. As a result of his injury, Latario missed the trip, and Lathone returned with a silver medal.
"I'm very excited," said Latario. "I feel like I missed out on all the fun last year, so I'm glad to be back this year. I'm looking forward to some great things. I feel like I am more than ready to perform well. I feel like I'm ready to break a record. I've been jumping well this season, and I'm ready to continue that in Bermuda."
Latario said that it is always good competing alongside his twin brother because they tend to push each other during competition.
"Well, we know how to get the best out of one another," said Latario. "I feel like we could really push each other in Bermuda. We just have to go out there and execute and we'll be alright,"he added.
This year, there are 28 newcomers on the CARIFTA squad. Remarkably, all of them have met the CARIFTA qualifying standard in their respective events. Head Coach Woodside is extremely optimistic given the performances they have turned in this season.
"With the newcomers, they are all very, very talented,"she said."In the sprints, we have people like Cliff Resias who is doing extremely well in the 100m and 200m, and also there is Ian Kerr who is running very well. In the under-17 girls, there is a new kid out of Eleuthera, Jenae Ambrose. She is running extremely well. She qualified early in the season in both the 100m and 200m. There are lot of fantastic new kids. They are all very competitive and I am sure they will all do very well."
Most of the newcomers are in the under-17 divisions. With athletes like Miller, Strachan, Devynne Charlton and Katrina Seymour, the under-20 girls division is expected to be The Bahamas'strongest. Be that as it may, BAAA President Mike Sands said that collectively, the team is as strong as it has been in recent times, and they are expecting some very good performances.
"I'm very excited about the prospect of the team, simply because our standards are not the usual set of standards. We have been criticized for being very stringent, and whereas they might be very challenging, about 90 percent of the kids met the standards. That bodes very well for this team," said Sands yesterday. "This team is one of the more balanced teams that we have seen in a very long time, and I feel that it is going to do extremely well in Bermuda. I'm looking forward to great things from these kids.
"I believe that this team can match up to any team that we have had in the past. All of the areas are not as strong as we would like them to be, in terms of depth, but I feel that each and every athlete will make his or her presence felt. I think that once they would have performed at their best, that is all we could ask of them, and some surprising results will come forth."
The team is scheduled to leave for Bermuda next week Thursday and will return the following Tuesday.