Friday, February 22, 2013

Charles Puts Team First; JU Reaps the Rewards

Jacksonville senior Charlene Charles started competition in her fourth and final Atlantic Sun Conference Indoor Track & Field Championship today at ETSU.

Her team has claimed seven straight A-Sun track & field team titles, and her individual accomplishments are impressive, to say the least. Her highlights include selection once as a second-team All-American, and she has qualified twice for the NCAA Championships and three times for NCAA preliminary rounds. She is an eight-time A-Sun individual champion, an 18-time all-conference honoree and has posted the top scores in conference meets 23 times.

There are some things, however few in number, that Charles still wants to accomplish before her collegiate career comes to an end. They begin with this weekend.

“My only goal is to score as many points for my team as I can,” says Charles. “Hopefully it won’t be my last indoor meet of the spring, as I want to be able to qualify for the NCAA indoor championships as well.”

Charles has enjoyed many memorable moments throughout her career, but the one memory that stands out and that serves to continually motivate her is one that was a far cry from her best. As a freshman at the A-Sun Championship, Charles was on target to potentially claim an individual title in the pentathlon. However, three fouls in the shotput for a total of zero points cost her the opportunity, and it was a moment that she and her coach Ron Grigg say helped shape her career.

“I remember that moment, I can still see her sitting in the hallway at ETSU just sobbing,” said Grigg. “It was devastating, like her entire life had ended. I went to her and we talked about how she had a decision to make. She had to choose between pity and becoming a team player. She went on to have a phenomenal long jump and to finish well.”

Charles was named the Most Valuable Performer, the Most Outstanding Field Performer and the Most Outstanding Freshman Performer at the conference meet after winning the long jump (19’8”), placing second in the 60-meter (7.66), finishing third in the pentathlon (3,431 points) and taking fourth in the 200-meter (25.00).

Since that meet she has garnered five additional most outstanding or most valuable honors, broken several school records and claimed numerous individual and meet titles.

It is that kind of spirit, that type of character and personality that Head Coach Ron Grigg says has enabled Jacksonville to enjoy unparalleled success in A-Sun women’s track & field.

“It all begins with recruiting. There is a certain character that we look for when we look at student-athletes, and of course JU has its own filters as well. But Charlene has that character, and she typifies what we look for in our student-athletes.

“For us it is also important to have versatile athletes who can do more than one thing because we are such a small squad,” Grigg continues. “We have to have people who we not only field in events but who can compete to win in those events.

“To have the success that we have enjoyed over the last several years, I think for us it comes down to what makes a team versus a program. We certainly have student-athletes who are excelling as individuals that help the team win, but who also understand that there are times when the team is the most important thing. Having that kind of commitment over the long term is how you develop the successful program. And it goes back to the types of people, like Charlene Charles and others, that you bring into the program.”

Surprisingly, Charles says that her Dolphins don’t expect to go out and win every meet. They do, however, prepare to do so. That, she says, is why they are seven-time A-Sun champions.

“We don’t just go out and expect to win, but we want to win just like everyone else,” she said. “What we do is try to do our best and prepare for that. We definitely want to win our eighth consecutive title. Everyone may expect us to win, and certainly to us not winning is not an option.

“Our work ethic and passion for the sport I think is what has led us to the success that we have. I am so proud of my teammates, because they give 100 percent every day at practice. Plus, I have the best coach here at JU that I have ever had, and I have been around some very good ones. Even down to the trainers and everyone in the athletic department, the commitment to us is obvious and that is very encouraging.”

Grigg will be the first to admit that he and his squad are very blessed to get along as well as they do. Grigg hasn’t had to do a lot of team building with this championship squad, because they truly do enjoy each other.

“We have been blessed to have this kind of team,” said Grigg. “They enjoy hanging out together, the way they interact with each other shows you that they enjoy each other. They are a small group, and that has been one component of our success that has just happened naturally.”

Competing in her last A-Sun Indoor Championship, Charles is prepared to go out on top, but not at the expense of enjoying her last season with her JU teammates.

“Obviously this is my last season, and so this will be my last chance to compete with my team for the A-Sun Indoor title,” said Charles. “This is the beginning of a new chapter for me, and as a senior I am trying to enjoy each moment.”

“Charlene has enjoyed great growth since arriving at JU,” said Grigg. “She came from Europe, and the athletes and their teams are usually more individually based. She had to learn quickly that he can excel individually and also as a team member, particularly at the conference championships.

Grigg also adds that Charles is a great example for his team academically, and it excites him that she has taken full advantage of allowing her athletic gifts to benefit her academically.

“She had to overcome a language barrier but still was able to not only succeed but excel in the classroom,” said Grigg. “I am so proud of her for her ability to take advantage of the educational opportunities that were afforded her. Last year instead of going home to France for the summer like most foreign students, she stayed and worked on an internship. It is tough to be away from family for that long of a period, but she has been doing everything she can to excel off the track as well. She does all of the extra things, no matter what she is doing.”

Charles will not compete in the pentathlon this weekend at the A-Sun Championship, a gamble that she and Grigg hope pays off in the long run as she continues to push to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships.

“First and foremost I certainly want to win an eighth-consecutive A-Sun team championship. Then individually, I am really trying to qualify to go to the national indoors, and I am excited about that possibility. I am shooting for All-American status, so I can leave on top.”

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