Ramon Sparks and Andrew McDowell have been national champions before at Abilene Christian. So the talented seniors out of Raytown South High School in Kansas City know what it takes to rise to the top, and their determination to be the best has rubbed off on their teammates.

In fact, in the national poll last week, Abilene Christian was still the No. 1 team in the country in NCAA Division III.

McDowell was an indoor national champ in the 60 hurdles in 2009 and Sparks has won three national championships. He is a two-time indoor triple jump champ (2010 and 2011) and was the 2009 outdoor triple jump champion.

“Andrew and Ramon are veteran athletes who have shown a lot of leadership in our program,” Abilene Christian head coach Roosevelt Lofton said. “They both want to win another championship and so they are trying to push our other athletes to new heights.”

No doubt about it.

Nick Jones has thrown better than 60 feet in the shot put, Tyler Fleet is ranked high in the hammer throw, Amos Sang has clocked in with a 13:43 in the 5,000 meter run while Desmond Jackson has hit 10.36 in the 100 and 20.86 in the 200.

The 400 relay team has posted a time of 40.33 and is ranked third in the nation in DII while Parker Petty has been one of the top decathletes in the nation this season.

“We have seen a lot of athletes make major improvements this season,” Lofton said. “I am pleased with our efforts.”

McDowell and Sparks have made their share of strides as well. At the Texas Relays in Austin earlier this month, McDowell was second in the 110 hurdles, posting a time of 14.17 on a windy afternoon. Sparks took fourth in the triple jump with a wind-aided jump of 52-feet-10.75 inches.

The two hope to improve even more as they make their push toward the NCAA Division II national meet next month in California. Abilene Christian has won three of the last five outdoor national titles.

“Their experience and the individual national championships they have won make them great athletes,” Lofton said.

The Wildcats will be back in action Saturday when they travel to Waco, Texas, for the Michael Johnson Classic.

Kyle Devins

Need To Know
• Mount Olive won its first Conference Carolinas Championship in school history over the weekend in style. The Trojans had four champions and nine runner-up finishes as they rolled up 212 points and dominated second-place Limestone (137). 

Dalton Souza, the track athlete of the year in the conference, did his part to make the championship possible. The rookie sensation took home top honors in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, clocking in with a time of 9:50.55. Souza, who was named the best freshman in the conference as well, also placed second in the 5,000 meters, crossing the line in 16:14.42.

Joey Murphy, who was named the league’s top field athlete in 2011, won the hammer throw with a toss of 37.52 meters. Murphy was the runner-up in the discus (34.78) and shot put (12.62) as well.

Ryan Henderson won the 800 (2:00.41) and Caleb Henderson (1.98 meters) was crowned the champion in the high jump to round out the top finishers for the Trojans, who are guided by conference coach of the year Matt van Lierop.

• Kyle Devins played a pivotal role in guiding Ithaca College to its fifth consecutive Empire 8 Championship on Sunday. The league field athlete of the year won the long jump and triple jump, re-setting his own conference records in the events in the process. 

The senior standout had a leap of 7.11 meters in the high jump, which qualified him for the NCAA Division III national meet in the event, and posted a mark of 13.60 meters. His efforts helped the Bombers continue their remarkable run of dominance by winning their seventh championship in the last eight years. 

Ithaca won 10 events and finished second in six others en route to scoring 230 points, 82 more than second-place Rochester Institute of Technology.

Senior Max Orenstein was part of that stellar effort, sprinting to victory in the 100 and 200. Orenstein was first in the 100 with a time of 11.05 while crossing the line in 23.23 in the 200.

Quick Hits
• Novian Middleton turned in several strong performances and helped lead Morehouse to its sixth consecutive Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship over the weekend at Edwin Moses Track in Atlanta.

• Middleton accounted for 30 points in the final day of action, including a first-place finish in the 5,000 meter run. He was second in the 10,000 while taking third in the 1,500 and 3,000 meter steeplechase. The Maroon Tigers racked up a total of 236 points, easily out-distancing second-place Benedict College (181 points).

• York College has waited a long time to be champions of the Capital Athletic Conference again. The wait ended Sunday as the Spartans won for the first time since securing back-to-back crowns in 1991 and 1992. The victory ended a string of seven consecutive championships for Salisbury, which had to settle for second.

• Ben Edwards helped lead York to its third title in school history. He was part of the first-place1600 relay team and took the top spot in the 110 meter hurdles (17.06) and 400 hurdles (56.11).

• Ryan McNiff not only ran a personal-best in the 1,500 at the Mt. SAC relays over the weekend, but the Adams State star came through with a time good enough for the best in the nation in NCAA Division II.

• The senior clocked in with a time of 3:42.49, 3.6 seconds faster than he ran a week ago. Teammate Drew Graham, a junior, finished the 1,500 in a time of 3:45.19, which puts him at second in the country. Adams State was ranked No. 2 in the country in the poll last week.

• McMurry standout Terry Smith came through with one of the best performances of his career last week at the Texas Tech Open, registering the top time in the country in the 400 hurdles. Smith ran a 52.53, which earns him a spot in the event at the national meet. The automatic qualifying time was set at 52.65.