Fournette, Vani prepare for upcoming NCAA tourney
As the season draws to a close, there are only two members of the Ragin’ Cajun track and field team still competing.
Senior shotputter Albert Fournette III and senior polevaulter Michael Vani, will be participating in the NCAA championships June 11-14 in Eugene, Ore.
The NCAA meet is the final tuneup for the athletes before the season concludes with the USA & Junior USA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, beginning June 25.
Fournette, a two-time All-American, has participated in the NCAA championships before, while Vani has not.
“It’s just another meet,” said Fournette. “It’s a national meet, so it’s more important than the other ones I’ve been to this year, but you just have to do what you know you can do.”
However, the two athletes have a similar mindset heading into the championships.
“I’m trying mentally not to change anything because in reality, it is just another meet,” admitted Vani. “It’s the biggest one of the year for me, so you just have to go with what feels right, and don’t change anything.”
Though the current focus is on Fournette and Vani, the men and women’s track and field teams achieved many personal accomplishments this year, under four-year head coach Lon Badeaux, with the highlight of the season occurring when the women’s team posted a fourth place finish in the conference indoor meet in February.
“I thought our teams were really good this season,” said Badeaux. “I thought this was the best women’s team that we’ve had in a while. The fourth place finish at indoor was one of their highest finishes in the last 10 years.”
Aside from the indoor meet, the success of Cajun track and field was predicated on individual accomplishments as opposed to overall team success.
“We’ve set seven or eight school records this year,” said Badeaux. “I had kids do things that I’ve never had done in my 12 years as a coach.
“It was a successful season as far as individual accomplishments,” he added, “but it didn’t transfer over into good team accomplishments at the conference level.”
Senior-laden teams such as Western Kentucky, Texas State and University of Texas at Arlington presented the greatest challenge for the younger Cajun teams this season.
Badeaux said he believes overall it was a successful season, and the success can be used as a building block for the future of the program.
“I think we did some things that will really move us into the future,” he said.
With the biggest meet of the season left, the two athletes are preparing the same way they have been since the beginning of the season.
“Really, I’m doing the same thing. Practicing and preparing myself mentally and physically,” said Fournette. “Nothing has changed.”
Fournette and Vani have had remarkable seasons, which have brought them to this stage, representing the Cajun track team.
Fournette’s best showing occurred at the regional meet in May. The senior started his series of throws at 62 feet, and his best throw was 65 feet, 3.5 inches. This score placed him in the top 6.
Vani’s breakout season reached its zenith during the regional event as well. Vani posted two personal records. His added success at the outdoor conference meet was a catalyst for his performance at the regional competition.
“The regional meet was definitely my most successful,” he said. “I had two personal records at 17 feet, 3 inches and 17 feet, 5.5 inches, and I cleared every bar on my first attempt. Outdoor conference was a big meet because it was my first conference championship. Height-wise, the regional was my most successful, but position-wise, it was the Sun Belt Conference tournament because I finally got that gold medal I’ve been chasing.”
Both athletes said they want to qualify for the USA Championships later this month, but they are not focused on that at the moment. Vani admitted that he does not feel any pressure to qualify for the USA Championships; he is just enjoying the moment.
“I don’t feel any added pressure because it’s a bonus to make it to the national meet,” he said. “I’ve been dreaming about making it to the national meet since my freshman year of college four and a half years ago, and now it’s time to just go have fun and treat it as just another meet.”