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MCGILL: Herd Track Star Mitchell Builds Confidence, Sets Records

Safiyyah Mitchell, center.
Safiyyah Mitchell, center.
Feb. 13, 2018

By Chuck McGill

Confidence was once the biggest hurdle for Marshall University track star Safiyyah Mitchell.

“I thought I was about average,” Mitchell said of her abilities. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to run in college.”

Mitchell, a sophomore from Huntington, West Virginia, has shown she is more than able. She is a school record-holder who has the top time in Conference USA in the 60-meter hurdles this season. Mitchell established a new school record on Feb. 3 at the Darius Dixon Memorial Invitational at Liberty University, finishing the 60 hurdles in 8.38 seconds. That bested the top time in MU history, 8.42 seconds, set by Asia Bange in 2016.

Mitchell returns to the C-USA Indoor Championships this weekend in Birmingham, Alabama, after finishing the 60 hurdles in 8.54 seconds at the event a year ago, a time that placed her on the C-USA all-conference second team. She has whittled away at her personal record over the past 12 months, and assistant coach Don Yentes believes the speedy second-year runner has more to accomplish.



“She has gotten herself more physically fit and she works extremely hard at everything she does,” said Yentes, who coaches the sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers at Marshall. “The littlest things she attacks full on, and that’s why she’s good. She’s fast, but she’s going to become even faster as she becomes more powerful and stronger.”

Mitchell first started participating in track at Enslow Middle School, eventually developing into a state champion at Huntington High. She tried other sports, like basketball, but felt like she was too uncoordinated. Somehow, hurdles became a perfect match.

“They’re a challenge,” Mitchell said. “I like pushing myself. I wanted the school record really bad, so I got that. Now that I have (the record) I have to keep pushing myself. I want to run to the best of my ability while I can.”

Mitchell scored 38 of Huntington’s 58 team points at the 2016 state track meet, finishing first in the 200, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles. At Marshall, 60 hurdles became a fit.

“She was the best hurdler in the state in high school,” Yentes said. “She came about it late in her career, which I felt gave her upside as she learned the tricks she could use down the road.”

Mitchell started training for hurdles late in her junior season in high school. She didn’t start running short hurdles until her senior season.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing,” she said.

Now, however, it is clear the Chemistry major and future pharmacist is long past experimenting. She holds the Jeff Small Track record in the 60 hurdles at 8.41 seconds, which she set during the preliminaries at the Chipotle Marshall Invitational last weekend. The performance is also the best time in that meet’s history, and beat the facility record she set at the Thundering Herd Invitational in late January.

Her time of 8.38 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles is far ahead of any other C-USA challenger. UTSA’s Victoria Rausch is second at 8.53 seconds, which makes Mitchell the favorite for a conference championship.

It turns out, Mitchell has been her own biggest obstacle all along.

“Getting the record made me feel happy because now I know I can do it,” she said. “When I set that record, it was better than girls from the SEC and places like that. It made me feel like the little girl from Marshall could beat the big dogs. Now I believe I can compete with anyone.”