NORMAN – In his fourth year as the head track and field coach at the University of Oklahoma, Jim VanHootegem and his staff have signed one of the largest classes in school history. It also has the potential of being one of the most talented overall, according to the Sooner coach.
The list of student-athletes who signed with the Sooners during the NCAA’s early signing period includes 17 future Sooners. There will be one mid-year transfer and the remaining 16 will join the OU program in the fall of 2017. OU hopes to have a few more signees in the traditional spring signing period.
VanHootegem had ample praise for his staff who helped bring this talented class together.
“First, we are fortunate to have assistant coaches who work very hard to identify talented student-athletes and get them excited about the University of Oklahoma.,” he praised. “We want our recruiting process to be very open and honest. We talk about what our expectations are for our program and invite prospective students to think about whether this is something that excites them or perhaps doesn’t feel right for them.
“There are some outstanding athletes who would fit really well at OU, but they can only choose one school. When we lose those people, it stings a bit. However, most of the time we feel okay with someone choosing someplace else and, in turn, feel all that much more excited about the ones who knew that being a Sooner was the right choice for them,” he continued.
The Sooner head man provided a quick summary of the men’s and women’s signees.
“The most disappointing area of our program over the last several years has been our lack of presence at the NCAA Outdoor Championships,” VanHootegem opened. “This group of men looks to be very capable of helping to change that.
“First, we want the best in Oklahoma to stay in-state and come to the University of Oklahoma. Vernon (Turner) and Brock (Appiah) are the best in Oklahoma and we are beyond thrilled that they enthusiastically wanted to come to OU.”
The 6A Champion in the 200 meters, Appiah of Edmond North is one of the top 10 seniors in the country. VanHootegem believes he has the ability to be a tremendous 200-meter sprinter because “he reminds of several of the all-time greats who had the same smoothness in their running as well as the ability to run the 100 and the 400. That, of course, makes him a valuable relay man as well.”
Turner of Yukon High School is the nation’s best, according to VanHootegem. He will join Dexter Neboh to give OU two consecutive recruiting classes with an All-USA first team jumper. “He possesses a quiet confidence which is a really great quality. I think that, as talented as he is, he will also be someone who is humble. When he comes to Coach (Jerell) Langley’s practices, he will arrive with a desire to get better. Coach Ritter and the rest of the coaches at Yukon have done a great job with him, both with his development and with seeing a bigger picture. He has sent a message that the best in Oklahoma become Sooners.”
The Sooners picked up eight signatures from Texas high school student-athletes. “We felt really good about our success recruiting across the Red River last year. We continue that trend by bringing in two of the best this year,” VanHootegem praised.
Joseph Sheffield is the top returner in Texas in the 100 meters and is one of the top four nationally. He is also one of the best in the 200 meters as well. He ran some fast times last spring, but really solidified himself as a force in the event with a runner-up finish at the State 6A meet. “Joseph is unique in that he really does a lot of self-coaching,” VanHootegem continues. “The positive side of this is that he has developed mindfulness skills that he can take into his practices with Coach Ronnye Harrison and Coach Katherine Hoskins.
Cooper Cambell is one of the top three returnees in Texas in the shot put. He competed a lot against current OU freshman Bradley Daboub in the Houston area. “The thing that really stood out to me about Cooper is that he can create his own energy. I think Coach Colin Boevers is great at the mental side of competing, so he will really be able to help Cooper hone that energy. Another thing that we loved about Cooper was that he is at the top of the list in his enthusiasm to become a part of Sooner Nation,” the OU head man said.
Papay Glaywulu joins current Sooners, Greg Vann and Dexter Neboh, to be part of the third consecutive year that one of the nation’s best horizontal jumpers chose OU. “I have been fortunate to work with a lot of great triple jumpers and 50-5.5 as a junior in high school is an outstanding mark. With his energy and excitement, the sky is the limit for him. Plus, he will bring those qualities to practice every day so all of the jumpers can feed off each other.”
Of the 17 signees, 12 are women who make up a diverse group of competitors in a wide variety of events.
“We set a school record for placing and points scored at last year’s Big 12 Outdoor Championships. We have done the same in cross country for the past three years,” said VanHootegem. “Looking at this group, you can see how they will help us continue to build a program that will always be in a position to be competitive at the top of the Big 12 Conference.
“First, we have balance by signing two athletes from each of the sprint/hurdles, throws and jumps groups. Then, we added six more to our distance runners that will provide crucial depth and critical mass that group,” he continued.
“One particular event that stands out is the steeplechase. This is an event which we have had great success in on the men’s side and are starting to build on the women’s side. Emma Dahl, who will join the Sooners in January, is someone who has already showed that she can get it done at the collegiate level. Coach (Milton) Williams at UALR spoke very highly of her and I feel comfortable that she will be able to step right in and be a leader on our team. On the other end, we think Natalie O’Brien is someone who can come in and grow and become successful in the event like we’ve seen the last few years with current Sooners Bryce Perry and Sarah Scott.”
“Twins Laura and Camilla Broman just came off very solid performances at the Texas State Cross Country Championships to lead Seven Lake High to a fifth-place finish in the 6A division. That shows that they are big-meet performances who are interested in helping their team. Both Audrey Springer and Khloe Pointer are people we think have the spirit and enthusiasm to come into our program and have a “get better every day” mentality that will allow them to really grow as athletes.”
In the jumps, Falyn Reaugh and Nura Muhammad have dedicated a great deal of their time in high school to the sport of volleyball and now will focus that attention on track and field. “We like that they were two-sport athletes who will now be fully concentrating on track,” VanHootegem added. “This will allow us to take those broad athletic skills and spend more time on the nuances of their events.
The Sooners also added two of the best discus throwers in the nation, Lauren Jones and Alyssa Miller. “We think both Lauren and Alyssa are going to be great additions to our great tradition in the women’s throws. We continually preach that you must really love the sport to be able to dedicate yourself fully. These two young ladies really demonstrate that passion. One or both of them may also take a liking to the hammer throw which would be a welcome bonus,” VanHootegem praised.
In the sprints, OU signed Evette Blanks, who comes to OU from Hightower High School in Fresno, Texas. Her high school team leads the nation in the 4x400-meter relay. OU is the defending Big 12 outdoor champion in the relay and qualified for the NCAA meet. “We want to continue to have success in the relays and Evette will play a big role in that. She is also versatile enough to run the 4x100 Meter Relay and is highly motivated in her individual events as well.”
The final signee will be called upon to help build a strong Sooner tradition of scoring at Big 12 in the hurdles. “We have great depth in the hurdles at this point, but two are seniors. Camri Austin will be a big part of helping to build a tradition at OU in scoring well at the Big 12s. We went third and fourth last year and we have a couple of newcomers on our team this year. Camri’s determination to be better will serve her well in her tutelage under Coach Harrison,” VanHootegem said.
“Over the last two years, we have had some great accomplishments as a program as we continue to build our culture and create our identity as a track and field program,” VanHootegem said. “We have an outstanding group of newcomers who are doing very well in their first fall of training with our coaches. The members of this early signing class are people we think will help us continue to build the momentum that we have going with our program.”
Bios for 2017 Early Signees
Emma Dahl- University of Arkansas-Little Rock; Gothenburg, Sweden; 3,000-meter steeplechase - 10:15.20; 3000 meter - 9:41.76; 5000 meter- 16:48.94
2016 Sun Belt Conference Champion in 3,000-meter steeplechase … Indoor champion at 3000m and mile … Two-time NCAA West prelim qualifier.
Coach Ondrasek says: “A crafty veteran with unfinished business. I sincerely can't wait to watch her earn her spotlight on the national level this year.”
Brock Appiah - Edmond North HS; Edmond, Okla.; 100 meter - 10.51; 200 meter 21.13; 400 meter 48.09
The 12th-ranked 200-meter runner in the Class of 2017 … A four-time state champion … The 2016 Central Oklahoma Athletic Conference Sprinter of the
Coach Harrison says: “Brock is an impactful, versatile sprinter. His 200/400-meter experience and untapped 60/100-meter potential make him an all-purpose threat in the Big 12 Conference in both the open events and relays.
Cooper Campbell - Katy Seven Lakes HS; Katy, Texas; Shot Put- 61-5; Discus- 171-3
2016 AAU Junior Olympic All-American … Texas Region 3-6A shot put champion
Coach Boevers says: “Cooper embodies what it means to be a Sooner. He is an extremely hard worker, he is strong, and is a tenacious competitor. He is a natural fit for our team and our athletes are excited for him to join the OU family. I believe he will make an immediate impact and we should see him on the national level before long."
Papay Glaywulu- Park Hill HS; Kansas City, Mo.; Triple Jump: 50-5; Long Jump: 22-9.5
Ranks second in the Class of 2017 in the triple Jump … 2016 USATF National Junior Olympic Championship runner-up
Coach VanHootegem says: “Everyone who met Papay on his visit was really touched by him. We think he is going to be a guy who will have a galvanizing effect on his teammates. He was really an on-the-rise guy during his junior year at Park Hill High School, then took his game to new levels during the summer season. He jumped a great PR at the region meet, then really came on to the national scene with a great performance at the national meet with a close, runner-up finish to an outstanding senior. Seeing him compete there really showed me that he is a guy who loves the big stage. That said, he also demonstrated that he will also be a humble person who comes to practice each day with the desire to be better at all the little things. We are thrilled for Papay Glaywulu to join Sooner Nation.”
Joseph Sheffield - Rowlett HS; Garland, Texas; 60 meter - 6.89; 100 meter - 10.40; 200 meter - 21.03
Ranked eighth in the US Class of 2017 in the 100 meter ... US #10 class of 2017 in the 200 meter … 2016 USATF National Junior Olympic Champion … 2016 UIL 6A state runner-up.
Coach Harrison says: “Joseph's intimidating stature and powerful, force-producing stride length makes him an immediate threat as a short sprinter finalist. He will be a factor in the Big 12 conference as well as at the national level.
Vernon Turner- Yukon High School; Yukon, Okla.; High Jump- 7-4.5
The top-ranked US returning high jumper … 2016 US Olympic Trials Participant … Oklahoma State record holder … Gatorade Oklahoma Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year 2016 … two-time state champion.
Coach Langley says: ““We couldn’t be happier that Vernon chose to stay at home and represent his home state at OU. It isn’t often that Oklahoma has a US#1 athlete, so of course when talent like that pops up in our state, we want to seal the borders. Vernon is just beginning to realize his potential in the high jump and Coach Ritter at Yukon expects even bigger jumps to come during his senior season at Yukon. Vernon’s support group has done a great job bringing him along, not only as a great athlete but as a great person. He is extremely humble and a fierce competitor. That demeanor will lead to great things and we can’t wait to see what he does in a Sooner uniform.”
Camri Austin - Uplift Hampton Preparatory; Dallas, Texas; 100-meter hurdles- 14.49
Finished fifth at 2016 UIL 4A State Championships
Coach Harrison says: “Camri is an exciting developmental hurdler whose explosiveness, intensity, and speed will surprise the Big 12 Conference in both the short hurdles and sprints. She is also a solid relay choice.
Evette Blanks - Ft. Bend Hightower HS; Fresno, Texas; 200 meter - 24.24
Finished third at 2016 Region 3-6A Meet in 200 … Won 2016 district 23-6A championship.
Coach Harrison says: “Evette is a tenacious and solid short sprint specialist. A definite conference contender, she also has the range to be a very competitive leg on both the short and long relays.”
Camilla Broman - Katy Seven Lakes HS; Katy, Texas; 800 meter- 2:17; 5k (XC) - 18:54
Finished ninth at 2016 UIL 6A-Region 3 XC Championship … Signed with her twin sister, Laura
Coach Ondrasek says: “"I watched Camilla literally push her teammate forward during the state meet in an attempt to help her during the race. She has shown that she has lots of untapped ability through her current PRs. Between those two things, it's hard not to get excited about what she's going to accomplish."
Laura Broman- Katy Seven Lakes HS; Katy, Texas; 800 - 2:17.98; Mile - 5:06; 5k (XC) -18:09
2016 UIL 6A Region 3 XC Championship runner-up … Signed with her twin sister, Camilla
Coach Ondrasek says: “Laura is coming from a familiar training philosophy within a historically strong HS cross country program. I love getting recruits that know what it means to work hard and where winning is the expectation. She can be as good as she wants to be."
Lauren Jones- Garfield HS; Garrettsville, Ohio; Discus- 160-11; Shot- 42-1.5
Ranked fifth in the US Class of 2017 in discus ... New Balance Outdoor Nationals finalist … Two-time OHSAA state champion.
Coach Boevers says: “Lauren is a very talented multi-sport athlete, homecoming queen, state champion and high school All-American in the discus. More importantly, she is a great person. She will be an immediate impact in our program in the ring and out. Coming from a very competitive high school track state in Ohio, she has competed against some of the best high school athletes. It will be fun to watch her compete in the NCAA in a Sooner uniform."
Allyssa Miller- Hill City HS; Hill City, Kan.; Discus- 158-0; Shot- 40-0.5
Ranked seventh in the US Class of 2017 in the discus ... Three-time Kansas state champion.
Coach Boevers says: “Allyssa may be from Kansas but she bleeds Sooner blood. She was raised by an OU fan and we are excited that she will be sporting the crimson and cream for the next four years. As a junior in high school, she was the Kansas 2A state champion and is ranked #7 among returning US high school discus throwers. I believe Allyssa has just started to see her potential in the throws. Along with the discus, I think she will be a significant contributor in the shot put, hammer and the weight throw as well.”
Nura Muhammad - Mountain Pointe HS; Phoeniz, Arizona; Triple Jump - 41-0; Long Jump – 18-0.25
Ranked fifth in the US Class of 2017 as a triple jumper … 76th Chandler (Ariz.) Rotary champion … Finished fifth at USATF National Junior Olympic Championships.
Coach VanHootegem says: “I am extremely excited to welcome Nura to the Sooner family. She joins former OU NCAA champion Will Claye as a great triple jumper out of Mountain Pointe High School to choose Oklahoma. After seeing the video of her performance at the prestigious Nike Chandler Rotary meet, I knew she was a ‘no-brainer’ from an athletic standpoint. She fit very well with what I’m looking for in a young triple jumper. Then, after learning more about her and getting to spend time with her, we were even more convinced that she is a great fit for our program. The sense I get from her is that she is a very determined individual. There is nothing more powerful than someone who comes out every day with the intention of being great. As a bonus, she comes from the tutelage of Larry Todd who belongs among the top list of great youth coaches in America. I think the philosophy and principles that characterize Coach Todd’s program will carry over very well when she arrives in Norman. We are very fortunate to have a person of Nura’s caliber joining our program.”
Natalie O’Brien- Flintridge Preparatory; Flintridge, Calif.; 3200 - 11:06; 5k (XC) - 18:35
Finished eighth at 2015 CIF California State XC Championships.
Coach Ondrasek says: “Natalie is coming from one of the most competitive running communities in the country. She's seen what it takes to be great and has proven it on several occasions. We are excited to have her line it up in the Big 12.”
Khloe Pointer- Maggie Walker HS; Richmond, Va.; 800 meter - 2:18; 5k (XC) -18:01
Two-time VHSL Sstate champion … Nine-time VHSL state runner-up … Finished fourth at 2014 USATF National Junior Olympic XC Championships.
Coach Ondrasek says: “Khloe fit in to the Sooner family from the beginning. Her solid marks, combined with her competitive mindset, make us believe that she's got the ability to do great things at the Division 1 level.”
Falyn Reaugh - Highland Park HS; Dallas, Texas; High Jump: 5-10
Ranked third returning US in high jump … 2016 AAU Junior Olympic Games Champion … 2016 USATF National Junior Olympic Championship runner-up … Finished first at 2016 TTFCA Meet of Champions.
Coach Langley says: ““Falyn is an outstanding volleyball player who had the opportunity to play at the top level in DI. We are extremely happy she chose her true passion in track as well as OU. She has a lot of room to grow in this sport now that her focus belongs to track. She comes from an amazing family. She also has a fantastic personality that will bring a lot of positivity to the team. We are excited for Falyn to get to Norman and think the sky is the limit for her.”
Audrey Springer- Sanger HS; Sanger, Texas; Mile - 5:20; 5k (XC) - 19:10
Finished 10th at 2015 UIL State XC Championships
Coach Ondrasek says: “Audrey is largely underdeveloped as far as her training age. Paired with her clean mechanics off the ground, we see her as a potential contributor with some quality training under her belt."