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COMMENT: Top Nigerian NCAA athletes to watch out for in 2023

As the indoor season is set to begin in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) circuit, there are several Nigerian athletes to pay attention to who would hope to build on their foundational success in 2022.

Some of the best Nigerian athletes in the NCAA

The beginning of a new year signifies the start of a new active athletics season at the collegiate, professional and international levels.

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As the indoor season is set to begin in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) circuit, there are several Nigerian athletes to pay attention to who would hope to build on their foundational success in 2022, while others will begin their sojourn in the college circuit.

Rivalries will be rekindled, and record-breakers will continue to push boundaries in their respective disciplines, to earn bragging rights for their universities.

With so many expectations on what the NCAA will produce this season, here is a look at the top Nigerian athletes to watch out for in the NCAA this year.

After having a breakout freshman season competing for the University of Tennessee (UT) by winning the NCAA 100m Silver medal, and indoor 60m Bronze medal, then ran a wind-aided 9.79s (+3.0) - the fifth-fastest all-conditions time in NCAA history and fastest in Nigerian history. He won the 100m title at the South Eastern Conference (SEC) Championships, so he is one of the sprinters eyes will be on in 2023.

Now transferred to Auburn University, Ashe will gun to surpass his UT form to prove his Freshman year was not a fluke.

There were speculations on the talented sprinter turning professional after her fantastic season last year with Louisiana State University (LSU) and internationally for Nigeria. However, the 20-year-old decided to stay another year in college, targeting more records and titles for her school.

In 2022, she ran an indoor 200m African Record (AR) and was unbeaten outdoors before the NCAA Championships, running record-breaking times as she won the 100m and 200m titles at the SEC Outdoor Championships.

Afterward, she ran a then 200m Collegiate Record (CR) of 21.96s a few weeks later, becoming the first college, Nigerian, and second African athlete to run under the 22s mark. She also ran a PB of 10.93s in the 100m plus won a 200m Silver medal at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, clocking an outstanding 22.05s.

The spotlight will be on the LSU junior student this season as the next big star in the NCAA sprints in the absence of her biggest rival, Abby Steiner, who turned professional last year.

The Texas Tech University senior student won several BIG 12 Conference medals and titles for her school in 2022 and ran a wind-aided 10.82s (2.6) back in May, which was the fastest by a Nigerian female athlete in all conditions.

She clocked a 100m PB of 10.99s at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and narrowly missed a podium placement with a fourth-place finish in the final. While in the 200m, she ran a PB of 22.33s, both times sitting sixth on the Nigerian all-time.

This year will be Chukwuma’s last season in the NCAA, so she will aim to make it memorable by running record-breaking times in the sprints and relays, winning medals and titles for her school.

Studying at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU), he had a clean sweep by winning the 2022 Conference-USA (C-USA) 60m title in 6.72s and the 200m title in an indoor PB of 20.72s, thereby breaking the MTSU SR that stood for seventeen years. The double feat earned the speedster the 'Freshman of the Meet Award'.

Moving outdoors, Akintola did the sprints double sweep again at the C-USA Championships, taking the 100m in a PB of 10.04s, which qualified him for the World Championships, and won the 200m in 20.36s. He would later lower this time to 20.26s at the NCAA West Preliminaries to compete at the NCAA Championships.

Now fully acclimatized to competing in college, the sophomore student will have his targets set on dropping these times further and rising to the position of being one of the best sprinters this season.

Another standout college performer last year, Onwuzuruike, churned out record-breaking performances that catapulted him to be the best sprinter in his school's history. He became Stanford University’s leading light in the 100m and 200m and broke long-standing School Records (SR) in the 60m, 100m, and 200m.

Indoors, the 19-year-old clocked a 60m SR of 6.67s, while outdoors he broke Stanford’s 100m record three times and 200m record twice. His current SRs at both events are 10.03s and 20.08s, which are also Nigerian U20 Records.

These performances made him become the first Stanford male athlete to advance to the NCAA Championships in the sprints and reach the NCAA 200m final since 1963, eventually winning the 200m Bronze medal in 20.15s.

Having had a successful freshman year, we can expect more from the youngster in 2023.

When the teen sensation ran a then PB of 11.25s in the 100m semifinals at the African Championships in Mauritius and then further took it down to a Nigerian U20 Record of 11.09s at the World Junior Championships in Cali, evidently, college coaches were going to be at her beck and call to sign for their school.

Eventually, she chose LSU, where she will join Ella Onojuvwevwo with both on the roster for the 2023 season, and they will hope to build on the laid-down success of Ofili.

After signing the letter of intent with LSU’s track and field program, the University coach, Dennis Shaver, was full of praise for the 18-year-old. “Tima is a great talent and someone who will immediately have an impact on our team. She has exceptional sprint performances for her young age,” he said.

In a short while, Godbless will announce herself in the NCAA scene, gunning to prove her exceptional sprint ability.

He is one athlete athletics enthusiasts should anticipate having another fantastic season, barring unforeseen circumstances or injuries.

Nathaniel’s brilliant highlight last year was winning the Big12 Championship 400m Hurdles title for Baylor University, clocking a jaw-dropping time of 48.42s, which smashed the SR and Henry Amike's long-standing Nigerian Record (NR) set in 1987.

Then at the NCAA Championships, he finished a close fourth outside the medal zone, not without making a statement of being an immense talent and one to look out for with incredible performances this year.

Another high point performer for Baylor last year, Chinecherem also won the BIG12 Championship title, smashing Pius Bazighe's long-standing Javelin NR of 81.08m set in 1999, with a new 81.22m, thereby becoming the second Nigerian thrower in history over the 80m mark.

His brilliant performances last season have brought more international attention to the event in Nigeria, and many expect to see much more from his gifted throwing hand in 2023.

The third of the Baylor Nigerian recruits, Uko started her season brightly last year but was plagued by injuries on most occasions which affected her consistency in churning out fantastic performances.

However, the highly rated 400m runner still gave an impressive peak of the season by running a massive PB of 51.24s, which qualified her for the World Championships in Oregon. She was also part of the school's 4x400m relay quartet running a SR while winning the BIG12 Championship title.

With her injury woes behind her this season, the highly rated quarter-miler will want to prove her worth as one of the best 400m runners in the NCAA.

At just 17 years, the 400m phenomenon has represented Nigeria at the junior and senior level, becoming a two-time relay World U20 Champion, African Championship Silver medallist, and Commonwealth Games finalist.

She dropped her PB from 54.71s to 52.59s in a year, a significant reason so many colleges came calling to offer her a scholarship, and she eventually chose LSU.

Onojuvwevwo is on the roster for the 2023 season, and considering how talented she is, the NCAA should get ready to witness another incredible Nigerian athlete in their meets. Also, it will be great to watch the battle between her and Uko.

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