HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - One of the major questions for Southern Miss track and field entering 2020 is how they would replace the production of McKinely West and John Warren – who hold a combined seven school records.
Seniors Eric Richards and Sandra Szpott have stepped up to the challenge three meets into the indoor season.
Richards has dominated all three meets with three first-place finishes. His high jump of 7’4.5” at the Houston Invitational currently ranks third in the NCAA and 11th in the world.
“I think I can go higher, that’s the goal,” said Richards, a two-time Conference USA Male Field Athlete of the Week. “I’m going to go out, do what I can do. My coach pushes me, my teammates.”
There’s no reason to think Richards can’t improve his mark since that’s all he’s done since arriving at Southern Miss from Hinds Community College in 2019.
He began last season with a personal-best of 7’2.5” and finished the year with a jump of 7’4.25” to place fifth at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Richards remains the only male high jumper on the team which forces him to self-motivate during practice.
“I just tell myself every day, compete with yourself,” Richards said. “If I do good yesterday, I have to come out today and be even better.”
Szpott added a couple of program records and first-place finishes to her resume as well this season.
She ran a personal and Southern Miss-best 4:45.37 in the mile at the Houston Invitational to finish second-place.
A couple weeks prior, Szpott took first in the 3000m (9:44.26) at the Samford Invite. She opened the indoor season by winning the 1000m at the Blazer Invite with a school-record time of 2:52.73.
The senior from Wyrzysk, Poland has been running since she was 8-years-old, making her way to the United States by way of the New Mexico Military Institute and Garden City Community College.
Her third stop at Southern Miss has allowed Szpott to take her progress to another level.
“We run together every single day, every single morning,” Szpott said. “We work hard, we cheer together. So, that’s really what makes me happy to be on the team here.”
USM travels to Vanderbilt for the Music City Invitational on February 14 before the C-USA Indoor Championships begin on February 22.