June 2, 2006
Tallahassee, Fla. – The Florida State women’s track and field team is quietly putting together a great season. A large part of their success can be attributed to hard work, excellent leadership and national level experience.
At the center of this group is senior captain Evelyne Cynthia Niako (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson). She is not very loud or boisterous and if you ask her about her success, she tends to shy away from the limelight.
But anyone following the women’s program knows that she is among the fastest women to ever don Garnet and Gold and one of the top sprinters for the Seminoles this decade. Giving up the 400m dash for the 100m and 200m events this year, Niako has cracked the top five on FSU’s all-time performers list in both short sprint areas, a feat accomplished by only two women since the late 1980s and early 1990s, days when FSU sprinters routinely won national titles.
Success hasn’t come easy, though. In fact, she has endured an injury ever year in college. Her first came during her senior year in high school and continued into her freshman year when she had to sit out the first few weeks. She attributes her success to her teammates but specifically to the team’s athletic trainer, Eunice Hernandez, who helped her remain positive and push through her grueling rehab.
“I knew I had to come back to my teammates because they look up to me,” explained the three-time All-ACC honoree. “Knowing they needed me helped me hurry up and get my rehab done so I could come back and run track.”
Despite the injuries, Niako had an impressive freshman start. She was one of two women on the 2003 team that earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. The group ran the tenth fastest time in FSU school history, clocking 3:34.32 during the preliminary race of the 1600m-relay at nationals. The quartet had the seventh fastest time in the final to earn All-American accolades.
“(That year) I was new to the team and felt I was an underdog so I knew I had to go through some extra things to prove myself,” said Niako. “It worked out for the best. Hard work and dedication helped me get there.”
She adds, “When I put my mind to something, I really have to do it, because I’m my biggest critic.”
This year, Niako should be satisfied with her performances. As one of the top runners in the league and region, she qualified in the 100m, 200m and both relays. She ran a lifetime-best and all-time top ten FSU performers’ mark of 22.99 at the NCAA East Regional Championships to secure a return to nationals for the first time since her All-American performance. She added an 11.34 clip in the 100m at the regional meet for a career-best and at-large berth in a second individual event. Although she has the 16th fastest time in the nation, she will focus on the 200m and 4x400m relay.
“I always have a time I put down that I want to run for the year and it’s always faster than the year before. My 200m goal is to run 22-seconds. I don’t run the 400m anymore, but I’ve taken on a new race which is the 100m, so my goal for that is to run fast. I think it’s fun coming down from a 400m to a 100m. I want to do well at Regionals so I can make it to Nationals and also help my teammates get to Nationals in the 4x100m and the 4x400m relays so I can be part of that.”
Prior to the regional championships, the All-ACC honoree moved into fifth all-time with her 23.15 performance at the Seminole Twilight. The last female athlete to crack the top ten was Keya Crutchfield in 2000. Prior to that only one other Tribe runner since 1992 had put together a faster performance.
“I’m a senior and am motivated to do better,” she explained. “My training is completely different since we have new coaches. TThe trainer works towards how my body reacts to the workout, so I think that’s helped me a lot. I’m also big on motivating my teammates to do better. Being a co-captain, I figure if I do better, then that will motivate them to do better.”
The quiet-voiced, student-athlete from just outside of Atlanta is often looked upon as a leader on the team. With her impressive performances and quiet demeanor, her actions truly speak louder than her words and can help carry a team full of talent that wants to compete at the highest level possible.
“I’m the type of person who learns from example,” she continued. “So I feel like if I do good, maybe they’ll look at that and say, `If she can do it, then I can do it’. One thing too, is to make sure they can come and talk to me because I feel like I’m a pretty good listener.”
This may be what makes the team such close friends, too.
“Even though we’re teammates, I feel like there’s a friendship there and we talk to each other outside of track,” Niako said of the sprint and jumps group. “I think we know more about each other this year than we have throughout other years.”
It helps that Niako is especially close with her relay members.
The same relay that did what only one other group has done this century — crack the top ten 4x400m relay performances. Twice this year, Niako anchored 1600m-relays that ran the seventh and tenth fastest times. The most recent performance came on the legs of Niako, leadoff leg Alycia Williams, India Pettus and Kandia Batchelor who ran 3:31.43 for third at regionals and seventh on the all-time list. The other time was recorded at one of the most competitive meets of the season, the Texas Relays.
To anyone who watches the group together at practice or during team outings, you can see the true bond formed through the season and over the last four years.
“We all have the same goal which is to run to the best of our ability. I think everybody wants to give it their best so the other person will be proud of them and so we don’t let anyone else down.”
Niako’s focus is on making this team better, not only on the track but as people which is what matters in the end. Something she learned from one of her life coaches – her mother.
“Even though she (her mom) knows nothing about track and field, she’s always helping me out and giving me good advice. Even though she doesn’t relate it to track and field, it works out.”
Watch Niako and the rest of the 2006 Seminole squad at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The final day of competition will air at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS.