Dec. 25, 2011
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By Jenna Marina
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - As a recent practice was coming to a close, track and field head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert had already wrapped up the day with the sprinters. She walked over to other side of the track just in time to hear the powerful thwop of the springboard as junior Sonnisha Williams catapulted her 6-foot frame in the air.
"We have some jumpers on this team!" Smith Gilbert exclaimed the second Williams hit the sand.
The UCF track and field team's success has largely been defined by its runners. This year, Williams plans to change all that.
"Usually when you hear about UCF, you hear about our sprinters and maybe a field eventer here or there," Williams said. "This year I feel like our entire jump squad is strong and we're progressing a lot. It's going to be an interesting season this year, and I'm looking forward to it."
Williams emerged as an indoor All American and an outdoor Conference USA champion in the long jump a year ago. With the addition of SEC champion and LSU transfer Jen Clayton, Williams now has a friendly rival on the team to push her further than ever before.
"The one word that describes their relationship and how they relate to our other two jumpers, Tomika Story and Jacquelyn Gilchrist, is synergy," jumps coach Paul Brown said. "They have a vibe where they are feeding off one another."
Williams agreed that Clayton and she have a give-and-take relationship when learning from each other's strengths. Brown has already noticed a growth in Williams compared to this time last year, which bodes well for UCF considering the year the Jacksonville native had in 2011.
Williams was named the C-USA Track and Field Athlete of the Week after breaking the indoor long jump school record for a first place finish at the Hokie Invitational. A month later, she medaled at the C-USA Championship before taking seventh place at NCAA Indoor Championship for All America recognition.
Her outdoor season was just as sweet as she finally bested her longtime competition and two-time national champion, Southern Miss' Tori Bowie, for first place in the C-USA Championships.
"Coach Caryl was right next to me and at the moment we saw the jump, we both went, `Ooooh!'" Brown said. "We knew she had it in the bag."
For all of the power and length that Williams possesses to thrive as a jumper, she is just as gifted in speed. She subbed in the 4x400 meter relay at the last minute for Afia Charles, who was sidelined with an injury, at the NCAA East Prelims. With Williams running the second leg, the squad clocked a school record-breaking time to qualify for nationals.
Ironically, Williams does not like to run, and that fact has led to infamous "battles" with her head coach.
"When I got here my freshman year, Coach Caryl and I were not the best of friends. I was so stubborn and didn't want to hear anything that she had to say. I just knew I had it all figured out, but in the end she would always win the battles," Williams said. "Now, when she tells me I need to run, I understand that it's for the team and to help my team out. We still have our battles every now and then, but I feel like they're all worth it, and it's all out of love."
The quiet strength that Williams carries herself with will be key in her quest to fulfill her goals for the season. She hopes to add an indoor conference championship to her resume in addition to repeating as the outdoor long jump champion. Williams aspires to win a national title in the long jump and above all, help her team in any way she can.
"Sonnisha has really grown into herself as a leader. I think that attitude and aura about her shows up on the runway. I'm proudest of her level of maturity," Brown said. "I'm in a blessed position because I get to coach two of the best jumpers in America, and the other two jumpers are no slouches at all. I'm just looking for the whole jumps team to really take a step forward and knock on the national door."