LEVELLAND — The South Plains College men’s and women’s track and field teams will kick off their 2018 outdoor campaign this weekend when they travel to Abilene for the Wes Kittley Invitational Friday and Saturday at Elmer Gray Stadium on the campus of Abilene Christian University.

South Plains will be one of two junior college programs making the trip to Abilene, competing against the likes of Texas Tech, Oral Roberts, Angelo State, West Texas A&M, Tarleton State, Wayland Baptist and Western Texas College.

The two-day meet will get underway at 1:30 p.m. Friday with the decathlon 100-meter dash followed by the heptathlon 100-meter hurdles at 2:10 p.m.

The Texans enter the weekend as the 11-time defending outdoor national champions and captured the 2018 NJCAA Men’s Indoor National Championship on March 3 in Lubbock. Second-year head coach Erik Vance says his teams are excited to get back on the track and wants to see both groups go out and compete early in the season.

“It’s nice to be back outdoors and both of our teams are feeling good,” Vance said. “We’re trying to make sure everyone is healthy and ready to go, but we are definitely ready to get back at it and open things up. I want to see us go out and compete, and this is a great meet to go to early in the season and see where we’re at. There are some great teams that will be out there, so we want to see our kids get after it and get some things done before we go to the Texas Relays in Austin next week.”

The Texans return several key pieces including sophomore Fabian Edoki who was crowned a national champion in the long jump as a freshman in 2016 with a mark of 25′ 11.5″. Edoki sat out last season and will look to help the Texans stay atop the national ranks in 2018. Also returning for the Texans is Rayan Holmes, a sophomore from Jamaica who placed second a season ago at nationals in the men’s 400-meter hurdles with a time of 52.49.

Coach Vance and company will also look to a pair of freshmen in Asani Hylton and Holland Martin to play a pivotal role for the Texans this season. Hylton earned a third-place national finish at the indoor national meet with 5326 points. Martin made the most of his opportunity at the national meet, earning national champion honors and set a new personal best in the men’s triple jump with a mark of 52′ 8.25″.

“Rayan Holmes is coming back for us in the hurdles and the outdoor season is kind of where he lives and really does well,” Vance said. “Myles Scott who was a good utility guy for us did everything we asked of him, and he was one of the 10 hurdlers in the NJCAA last year and wasn’t able to run at the national meet because we had four guys ahead of him. We have a good core group of guys returning and some new athletes who we expect big things from this season.”

The Lady Texans enter the outdoor season fresh off a second place finish at the indoor national meet and finished sixth a year ago at outdoor nationals in Kansas. The Lady Texans return the 2017 outdoor 400-meter outdoor national champion in sophomore Natassha McDonald who posted a time of 52.52 at the 2017 outdoor national meet. McDonald was also the anchor on the Lady Texans’ 4×400 relay team as a freshman, joined by teammate Agnes Abrocquah, who lead the Lady Texans to a second-place overall finish a year ago with a time of 3:44.74.

The Lady Texans also return Amarillo native Seselia Dala, a sophomore long distance specialist who placed third at outdoor nationals last season in the women’s 10k with a time of 37:51.26. Dala also placed third at the 2018 indoor national meet in the women’s mile run with a time of 5:13.89, and was joined on the winner’s stand by teammate Leslie Romero, who placed sixth at the indoor national meet in the women’s mile run with a 5:16.26.

“Our women’s team works extremely hard and do everything we ask of them and more,” Vance said. “I think they’re ready to get out and compete and do some great things during the outdoor season. This women’s team goes out every day and competes and works as hard as anyone, and we know what they’re capable of doing and we’re excited to get out this weekend and see what they can do for us.”