AZUSA, Calif. -- The Azusa Pacific track and field program has added Bryan Clay and J.T. Thiesen as assistant coaches to help lead a talented class of newcomers to the team.
“Adding both of these men to the program certainly raises the bar as a coaching staff,” said Azusa Pacific director of track and field Mike Barnett. “These two represent the excellence we’re trying to implement throughout our entire program.”
Clay won the Olympic decathlon gold medal in Beijing in 2008 after claiming the silver medal four years earlier in Athens, and he now joins the coaching staff of his alma mater, where he was a 23-time NAIA All-American from 1999-2002.
“It’s a huge blessing to have somebody that has reached the height of athletic achievement be able to impact our program in a unique way,” Barnett said. “He’s going to raise the level of everything that we do. He is very excited to be out there, and you can tell that he’s itching to give back. The success he had as an athlete will now be handed down to the athletes as he coaches them.”
Thiesen joins Azusa Pacific after 10 years at Fresno Pacific University, where the athletes he mentored set 32 of Fresno Pacific’s 42 indoor and outdoor records. He has coached over 80 NAIA championship qualifiers, of which 64 went on to earn All-American honors, including Ethan DeJongh, a triple jumper who became Fresno Pacific’s first-ever U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier. He also coached 2013 PacWest Track and Field Scholar Athlete of the Year and Capital One Academic All-American of the Year Milika Tuivanuavou, who set Fiji’s national record in the women’s triple jump.
“What J.T. adds beyond his proven coaching ability is a character and faith that are going to be a huge plus for our program,” Barnett said. “We’re looking forward to having his leadership, and what he brings to our jumps program is evident in the success he’s had at Fresno Pacific. We can’t wait to see how his knowledge impacts our athletes.”
Clay and Thiesen are joined by several talented newcomers who will begin competing for Azusa Pacific this upcoming year.
“We’re very encouraged by this year’s type of student-athlete that we recruited, not just for how we believe they will perform, but for the type of character they possess that will add to our unique team atmosphere,” Barnett said. “We were very intentional in finding people who would be able to excel individually in their respective events while also fitting into the profile of our program.”
Leading the list of newcomers to women’s track and field is Allison Updike, a javelin thrower who transfers to Azusa Pacific after competing for one year at the Division I level for the University of Georgia. As a freshman there, she finished one spot out of scoring at the NCAA Championships but still earned NCAA All-American second team honors. In high school, Updike was a junior national champion, and she competed at the 2010 Junior World Championships.
Joining Updike in the throws are Amber Panapa, a junior college All-American hammer thrower who transfers from Ventura College, and Kaylee Fink, who is a true freshman who prepped at nearby Glendora High.
Teyana Poole is a freshman from Yucca Valley High School, where she was a state finalist in the triple jump. The Cougars also add one of the top high school sprinters from the state of Hawai‘i in Kanoe Yadao, who will compete in sprints and hurdles at Azusa Pacific. Ayzha Aipiu was a two-time all-league performer in the shot put at Oaks Christian High School, although she will compete in hurdles for the Cougars.
Santana Alford is a high jumper who transfers in from Antelope Valley College after competing for two years and twice placing in the top-seven of the state junior college championship. Zoe Wilkens is a pole vaulter from Maranatha High School, while Erin Fisher is a transfer who from De Anza College who will compete in the multi-events. Kami Zoller, who will compete in hurdles and jumps, was a two-sport star at Mountain Ridge High School in Arizona, earning team MVP honors in both volleyball and track and field.
In the distances, where newcomers are already making their impact for the Cougars in the current cross country season, newcomers include Kylie Betts, a true freshman with great potential to contribute as she gains mileage at the collegiate level, and junior transfer Elizabeth Lyons, who joins the program after two years at Pasadena City College.
Betts is one of several quality additions to the Cougars in the middle distances. Leslie Graciano is a former sprinter currently making the transition to medium distances like the 800 meters, which is another spot where newcomers like junior college transfer Melissa Leyva can provide instant production to the team in track and field. Azusa Pacific also added Jocelyn Orozco, who will also contribute in the 800 while gaining experience in cross country this fall.
Matt Kenney is a hurdler who set the school 110-meter hurdles record at Carlsbad High, winning the Avocado League and qualifying for CIF in both the sprint and intermediate hurdles events (110-meter and 300-meter), and he is part of a talented, deep pool of sprinters and jumpers who join the men’s program. Darren Geenen was a league champion in the long jump and triple jump for Trabuco Hills High School, qualifying for CIF championship meets in both events. Geenen is joined in the jumps by James Kim, a 2013 graduate of Serrano High School.
The Cougars have also added a decathlete to the men’s program. Davy Mellado is a decathlete who transfers into Azusa Pacific after spending his 2013 season at Judson College in Illinois, where he was a National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national qualifier for the indoor championships in the pole vault and heptathlon.
Another transfer, Las Vegas, Nev. native Jacek Lawrynowicz, is one of several sprinters who join the team. He’s joined by freshmen Benjamin Byer, an All-CIF 100 meter and 4x400 meter relay performer for Maranatha High School, and Andrew Ramos, who was a CIF finalist in the 4x100 meter relay for Charter Oak High School. Matt Scott graduated from Santa Margarita Catholic High School, where he ran the 100 and 200 meters.
Again, the cross country program is already reaping the benefits of several talented newcomers, including Kyle Bueckert, who was the cross country state runner-up in California as a high school junior. Junior college transfer Danny Guerrero is a potential All-American in the middle distances who is building on his limited past exposure to cross country.