June 4, 2018
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- In 2017, when she ran the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA outdoor track & field championships in Eugene, Oregon, Andrenette Knight wore the red and black of San Diego State.
She's back in Eugene this week, now wearing the blue and orange of the University of Virginia. That's not the only significant change in Knight, a native of Jamaica who's one of eight Cavaliers (five men and three women) competing at the NCAA championships.
As a San Diego State freshman last year, Knight recalled, "I was just very, very excited to be there among the best, and I think that sort of got in my head. I was focused on my race, but I was just more excited to be there, I think.
"This year I'm all about business."
At last month's NCAA East Preliminary meet in Tampa, Florida, Knight posted a career-best time of 56.94 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles to book her return trip to Eugene. Her semifinal is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.
"It's a great opportunity," Knight said. "Last year I did not make the finals [at the NCAA meet], so my objective is to be in the top eight this year, with the Cavaliers."
She smiled. "Different colors. I'm excited."
Knight's experience last year was not unusual, said Michelle Freeman, who coaches Virginia's sprinters and hurdlers.
College standouts often stumble in their first appearances in Eugene, which has been dubbed TrackTown USA, "because everything is new for them," said Freeman. "It's like, `Wow.' This is somewhere they've never been before, so they have to be ready. You can't afford to make mistakes. You have to be on your game."
Like Knight, Freeman is a Jamaican who graduated from St. Jago High, a school with a storied tradition in track & field. Freeman, a three-time Olympian, still follows the program at her alma mater closely, and Knight's success at St. Jago did not go unnoticed.
"When you're a coach, your eyes are always open," Freeman said. "That's home for me, so I'm always looking at home first [in recruiting] and then spreading my wings."
Freeman starred at Florida, where she was an eight-time All-American and won two NCAA titles (100-meter hurdles and 4x400 relay). Knight chose San Diego State, which competes in the Mountain West Conference, in large part because Freeman coached there.
"Coach Michelle and I, we have a lot in common," said Knight, who's from Morant Bay in Jamaica.
Freeman was intensely competitive and self-motivated during her career as an athlete, and Knight is the same way.
"She's a very quiet young lady, but she's very driven," said Bryan Fetzer, who directs UVA's track & field and cross country teams.
"She despises losing, and if you really want to be great, that's the kind of attitude you have to have in our sport. You have to hate losing almost as much as you like winning."
Freeman formed a strong bond with Knight's mother, Annika Robinson, during the recruiting process, and that worked to San Diego State's advantage.
"My mom was really comfortable with me being with Coach Michelle," Knight said.
Not surprisingly, then, when Freeman left for UVA last summer, Knight decided to follow her mentor to Charlottesville. Knight requested and receive her release from San Diego State.
It took longer for her to gain admission to UVA than she'd hoped -- Knight spent the fall semester back home in Jamaica while her paperwork was being reviewed -- but she enrolled in January. She received a warm welcome from her new teammates, including her friend and fellow Jamaican Jordan Scott, who'll compete in the men's triple jump in Eugene this week.
"They knew what I'd done before," Knight said, "so they were excited to have me as a part of the team."
Had she been healthy, Knight would have competed for the Wahoos in the 60-meter hurdles and 4x400 relay during the winter. But nagging injuries slowed Knight, so "we just had to skip over the indoor season and concentrate on outdoors," Freeman said.
The plan this spring was for Knight to run the 100 hurdles, 400 hurdles and 4x400 relay. "But then at a home meet she got hurt again," Freeman said, "and that was another setback. But she came around, we held it together, and here we are now, going to nationals."
Knight spent her final two years of high school at St. Jago, where her coach, Keilando Goburn, was one of Freeman's former teammates and training partners. Before transferring to St. Jago, she attended Vere Technical, where she studied the sciences, including chemistry, biology at physics.
In April 2014, as a Vere Tech student, Knight came to the United States to compete in the famed Penn Relays. At Franklin Field in Philadelphia, she won the 400-meter hurdles in the high school division.
"It was very cold, and I was not used to it," Knight said, "but it was a great experience."
Her first few months in Charlottesville were challenging too, as Knight had to brave weather dramatically different than that found in Jamaica or San Diego.
"It was a big change, to be honest," Knight said, smiling. "I'm from Jamaica, and I'm not used to the cold at all. Coach Michelle continuously motivated me, telling me I can't focus on this situation. I've just got to do what I've got to do to get where I need to get. So I kind of blocked it out for a minute and just focused on what I needed to do."
Knight, whose goal is to represent Jamaica at the Olympics, perhaps as soon as 2020, said she's always had a strong work ethic.
"I'm from a humble background," she said. "I was taught to go after every opportunity I have and just give my best shot, because it doesn't come easy for me. I have to work for what I want. So I stay working. I stay focused."
Freeman said Knight is a pleasure to coach.
"When you have kids like that, that are hungry and passionate about the sport, whatever you say do, they get the job done," Freeman said.
"With a kid like that, whatever obstacles come, she's ready to take them on. And that's why I'm here for her: to help her move through the obstacles that come along the way."
At the ACC outdoor championships in 2017, the UVA women finished eighth. They improved to sixth this year and will have virtually all of their top returners back in 2019.
Freeman is confident the impact of her sprinters and hurdlers, led by Knight, will continue to grow.
"This year was just an eye-opener for what is to come next," Freeman said.
Thompson Starts Laying GroundworkWomen's Basketball6/20/18Summer practice started Wednesday morning for the Virginia women's basketball team, which has a new head coach, Tina Thompson.Huff Looking to Make Up for Lost TimeMen's Basketball6/19/18A 7-1 forward from Durham, N.C., Jay Huff hopes to carve out a role in Virginia's frontcourt as a redshirt sophomore in 2018-19.Nus Traveling Road to RecoveryMen's Soccer6/18/18Rising senior Sergi Nus, an All-ACC defender who's recovering from a torn ACL, expects to be ready for Virginia's opener in August.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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