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Bobcats Track and Field Setting the Standard

A dynasty isn’t built overnight, Claude Toukene can attest to that. But after multiple national championships, 25 state titles and over 40 regional titles with Western Branch High School, he’s brought his incredible resume to Bryant & Stratton College’s Virginia track program.

And he’s already getting results.

Four members of the Bryant & Stratton College women's track teamIn just their second year, the Bobcats men’s and women’s teams opened the year ranked nationally in the NJCAA and each are currently ranked first in the NJCAA Atlantic regional ranking. Bryant & Stratton’s women’s program debuted at fifth in the nation while the men opened the season 16th overall. That, in addition to their significant hold on their respective regional ranking has both Bobcats sides eyeing the national meet with confidence with a keen eye on taking the next step.

“Our goal was to be in the top 10 with both teams,” Toukene said. “We are patient, we believe in working hard and we have high expectations that we’re working for. But we are nowhere near where we could possibly be.

“We are definitely heading in the right direction, but we know that in terms of our own expectations that we’re nowhere close where we expect to be.”

Even as a second-year program, Toukene has set high expectations for his team. Unsurprising for the two-time Olympian from Cameroon who notes that 2018-19 was about building a reputation and selling the program to potential recruits. Just one year later Toukene says the program is selling itself, with athletes from around the world reaching out to be part of what he’s building with the Bobcats.

That includes a 2020 Olympic hopeful, Nigeria’s Tracy Idugobe. Ranked ninth in the triple jump and top-30 in the 600, Idugobe hopes to complete in the 100, 200 and 400 meters for her country in addition to the 400-meter hurdles.

In addition to her class schedule, closing out the NJCAA indoor season and jumping into the NJCAA outdoor competition, Idugobe will also have the African Senior Championships and the Nigerian Olympic Trials in the coming months, with the Tokyo 2020 games beginning on July 24.

Other standouts include Elizabeth Taylor, who is ranked 27th in the NJCAA in the 60m hurdles while holding the nation’s number three spot in the pentathlon. Malcom Barnes and Anthony Powell are two key contributors on a strong men's side.

The Bobcats currently have 11 athletes qualified for the NJCAA indoor national championship with three more qualified on the men’s side. The men’s 4x400 relay is on the precipice of qualifying, finishing with a qualifying win just weeks ago only to see it wiped out by a disqualification.

Toukene noted that the disqualification – rendered due to a Bryant & Stratton runner stepping on the line prior to receiving the baton – is often served as just a warning, but he opted against protesting the ruling for what the lesson might serve his team down the line. It’s all part of the culture he’s building with the young program.

“It was a hard pill to swallow but to me it could be something that will help them the rest of their lives,” Toukene said. “Things are not always going to work the way you plan it. When you fall in life you don’t stay down, you keep going forward.”

It’s all part of Toukene’s approach of “coaching life” to his team.

“If you turn your student athletes into better people, they turn into better athletes,” he said.

That culture includes following the strict guidelines in terms of diet, rest and recovery and schoolwork. Toukene credits his upbringing in Cameroon for instilling the values and work ethic he’s imparting on to the student athletes at Bryant & Stratton College.

“I was raised with what is considered in America to not be much, which is why I’m always teaching our kids to appreciate everything they have,” Toukene said. “We are teaching our athletes to be successful in life so that what they do away from the track is what will make them great.”

Support away from the track includes small details such as encouraging the team to read books on exercise physiology and weight training to key factors such as on-campus support. Men’s runner Dejon Coker credits Samantha Williams for providing guidance with schoolwork while Ariane Abney has been someone who was pivotal in helping Tracy Igudobe adjust to life in Virginia.

“[Ariane] really made me feel at home,” Igudobe said. “I really missed my family the first two weeks I was here, and it was really difficult to stay in touch.”

Luckily for Igudobe (and the Bobcats), Abney and other campus staff members such as Williams, Jeff Thorud and Erik Blackwell have been lent essential guidance and support to the entire track and field program.

“[Erik Blackwell] is one of the best people you could possibly work with,” Toukene said. “When you have good leaders, you want to give 100%. As a leader, he is extremely easy to work with, supportive and attentive. Any problem we might face, he isn’t dismissive.

“I’ve worked with people before who can be very dismissive, but he will take care of any problem. He is very meticulous. When you work with those types of people you always want to give 100%.”

The support given to both the staff and student-athletes has allowed both the men’s and women’s teams to buy in on Toukene’s program culture.

“Everyone came into this season with the mindset that we had to work hard,” Coker said. “We were surprised by the ranking at first, but we only have three national qualifiers right now. We know we need to focus up.”

“Coach makes sure we have the right training and he explains the benefit of everything we are doing,” Igudobe added. “He wants results and we’re all pushing ourselves to be better.”

Results will be coming fast and furious over the coming weeks as there are just three weeks until the NJCAA indoor championships with the outdoor season beginning shortly thereafter.

The coming weeks will serve as a steppingstone for the growing program as the results of both the indoor and outdoor season will offer Toukene and his team the next pieces to build upon.





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