NORMAN, Okla. -- Struggle in the first year as a collegiate student-athlete is normal. There are difficulties in being away from home, in keeping up with academics and your training schedule. One member of the track and field team has overcome those obstacles on her way to a stellar sophomore season.
In her second season as a Sooner, Daunicia Demerson is beginning to find her footing. In her freshman year, the sprinter competed throughout the indoor season, but wasn’t living up to her potential.
After running in the indoor 4x400-meter relay and receiving All-Big 12 honors, Demerson didn’t compete again until the following indoor season. When her sophomore season came around, her coaches weren’t sure of where she would go.
“If someone would have told me that she would improve so much in such a short period of time, I probably wouldn’t have believed them,” said sprints coach Natasha Harvey.
Demerson managed to do just that. Only one month into the indoor season, she ran a personal-best time of 56.83 in the 400-meter dash at the Texas A&M Invitational and it has continued to improve through her first Sooner outdoor season.
Demerson got her start on the track in the eighth grade after a coach saw her run the mile in gym class. She attributes her outdoor track success to growing up in Houston, Texas, where they ran outside more often than not.
“Outdoor is more natural to me," said Demerson. "In Houston, we don’t really run indoors because the only indoor tracks are on college campuses. Even during indoor season we were running outside. I’ve just always been outside.”
Once she began running collegiately, the difference in her environment made it hard for her to strive. Homesickness and a difference in philosophies with the coaching staff turned into academic struggles and less than stellar performance on the track.
Though she came to school hoping to improve on the track, she ended up staying on the same level. After the first season, that Demerson called, “Horrible,” she wondered if it was time to transfer schools. After some soul searching, the then-freshman decided to stay in Norman.
“A lot had happened and I talked to the distance coach at the time and I don’t know. I just really wanted to give it another try,” explained Demerson. “When I heard that we were getting new coaches, I decided to stick it out and try with Coach [Kevin] Tyler. I’m just so happy that I did.”
With the new coaching staff, Demerson has thrived. Her sprints coaches, Harvey and Tyler, are creating a performance culture where their student-athletes have to be willing to change on and off the track.
“I think she has made so much progress because one, she’s bought into the program,” said Harvey. “She believes what Coach Tyler and I tell her about her ability and now she’s starting to believe more and more in herself with each race.”
The coaching staff is not the only area where there has been change. Demerson has gotten rid of the homesick feeling and is embracing her team.
“My team is more of a family now,” Demerson added. “They make up for everything I’m missing from home.”
Though her performance has been improving throughout the entire season, Demerson said she knew that she was making a big change when she competed at the 2014 Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championships. She ran a 55.90 in the 400-meter dash, the first time she had ever hit the mark.
Her coaches knew that she was making a push for something new even before Big 12s, singling her out as someone on the team that was doing everything that was asked of her. She may not be OU’s top sprinter but according to Tyler, she “brings a good energy to each practice. She makes her teammates laugh and helps them get through tough days.”
Demerson understands that the difference in her performance this year comes from those practices.
“Every time I practice, I have to tell myself that I’m practicing to get better,” said Demerson. “I know that making it through a hard practice is only preparing me for my race.”
With Big 12 Outdoor Championships quickly approaching, she is on track for success. At the last Saturday’s John Jacobs Invitational, she competed in both the 200 and 400-meter dash, finishing with personal-best times in both.
Demerson may have taken time to get accustomed to being a collegiate student-athlete. According to her coaches, she is now blossoming into a reliable member of the team. As a result, it’s all success for this sophomore in place of a sophomore slump.
By Laila Wani, student intern, OU Athletics Communications office