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Student-Athlete Feature: Washington University Track & Field Throwers Randal Walker and Daelen Morris

For Randal Walker and Daelen Morris, attending Washington University was an opportunity to pursue multiple passions, including academics, athletics, and community service.

The throwers on the Bears’ indoor and outdoor track and field programs are each pre-law majors and members of the WashU Black Pre-Law Association. For all their similarities, Walker and Morris have taken very different routes to their current path.

Randal Walker Before WashU

Walker grew up playing basketball and soccer until high school, not taking up track and field until middle school. She began playing club soccer in the seventh grade and became a goalkeeper in middle school. She continued playing soccer in high school at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas, but tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her freshman season of basketball so she limited herself to soccer and track for the remainder of her high school athletic career.

Randal played goalkeeper for her high school soccer team

“I tried running when I first went out for track and there were always competitions in practice. I tired of that after a week or two,” Walker recalled. “The coaches suggested I try throwing.”

She found success quickly in the throws, earning 6A area finalist honors for three years in the shot put and two years in the discus, qualifying for regionals as a senior in the discus. “Track was always my escape, my fun thing to do,” she recalled. “As I started getting better, I put more work into it. Soccer was very emotionally draining and physically painful for me.”

Her work ethic was evident in both athletics and academics. “In Texas, track and soccer are at the same time. We would have soccer games on Tuesday and Thursday and track meets on Thursday or Saturday,” she stated. “I was practicing all the time, going right from soccer practice to track practice.”

As a member of the National Honor Society and Science National Honor Society as well as an AP Scholar with Distinction, awarded to students who received an average score of at least 3.5 on all AP exams taken and scores of 3.0 or higher on five or more of those exams, Walker set her sights on top academic institutions.

What she didn’t realize at the time, since she chose schools based on academic rankings, was that all three NCAA Division III schools she looked at were in the same conference, the UAA. “At one time, l planned on playing soccer and going to Yale, but I really didn’t want to play soccer anymore,” she remarked. “After that opportunity fell through, I decided that even though I found track to be harder, I really liked it and wanted to pursue it.”

She already had one tie to WashU since her mother attended the school for a year while earning a PhD. “When I visited I knew it was where I wanted to go to school,” she remembered. “I could get around the city easily and it didn’t stress me out. The coaching staff was amazing and I liked all of them. Everything looked top-notch and I said to myself, ‘I can do this.’”

Walker left Hebron High School with one other distinction. “We had all these awards and the top four for each award were voted on with the whole class in the auditorium. I didn’t consider myself to be a popular person, just someone who was involved with a lot of groups and people,” she stated. “My friends and I were talking about how popularity isn’t important when one of my friends told me I was in the top four for an award. I asked, ‘What for? Best dressed?’”

As it turned out, Walker did win her category: Class Clown. “I can’t say my mom was thrilled about that one,” she laughed. “She is actually super funny and so she eventually laughed at it. Then my sister was named Class Clown in middle school!”

Daelen Morris Before WashU

Morris played various sports growing up and even in high school. His main sport was football and he had hoped to play in college, but ceased playing the sport as a senior in high school after suffering a number of concussions. His younger brother Aaron just completed his freshman season on the Bears’ football team.

L: Daelen with his brother Aaron; R: Daelen with his parents Alec and Margot

Morris concentrated on football and track at Richwoods High School in Peoria, Illinois, but also wrestled his freshman year and swam his senior year. “My freshman year, I sprinted and kept doing it even though I was putting on weight as a linebacker. I was probably a little too big to be running,” he commented.

He earned Academic All-Conference honors in football and it was one of many academic honors he received, which included scholarships from such organizations as 100 Black Men, Links, and Peoria African American Hall of Fame. “My high school was the only one in the area with an IB (International Baccalaureate) program and I got that diploma,” he relayed. “The courses were a lot different than the kind I was accustomed to. There was a lot of critical thinking and explaining all answers in writing, even in math. We needed to describe the what, why, and how of everything.”

His college choice came down to WashU and Northwestern University, where both of his parents earned their undergraduate degree,. He had not actually heard of WashU when he began his search process, “I heard about it randomly from a counselor in high school. Even though I have some family in East St. Louis, I really didn’t know about the school,” he recalled.

In the winter of his junior year, Morris’ mother brought him and Aaron to the school for a visit. “It was during winter break and there were no students,” he remarked. “I kept thinking, ‘it’s cold and no one is here.’ My mom loved it and made sure I applied.”

According to Morris, he applied for the John B. Ervin Scholars Program on a whim, and got invited back for a scholarship finalist weekend. “I got to meet others and get interviewed. The whole experience was incredible,” he said. “Being accepted into this community of like-minded young individuals committed to diversity was really important to me.”

WashU Track and Field Family

Both Walker and Morris saw track and field as an individual, rather than a team, sport in high school. “My high school team was not a team thing unless you ran on a relay,” Morris said. “I was very skeptical about the team concept when I got to WashU,” Walker added. “Track was more something you did by yourself in high school. WashU track and field is so different.”

“The track team here is like a family that supports one another and watches each other compete,” Morris remarked. “It’s like a football or basketball team with everyone cheering each other on at every event. That comes from the coaching staff, who really care about us as people, not just as athletes.”

“We lift together, bond as a team, and are together every day. A collective feeling grows that everything you do is helping the team,” Walker commented. “You doing well helps the team do well so everyone wins. The supportive environment made me realize that track is a team sport too.”

Walker and Morris as part of WashU throwers

“Randal came in having been an all-state athlete in high school. At the beginning of training each fall, we have a poster board of what marks scored at conference the previous year,” said former assistant coach Joe Stachowicz, who has since returned to Michigan to manage his father’s chiropractic business. “I said 'these are the goals we are shooting for' and Randal said, ‘oh, that’s not far.’ I saw her competitiveness right away.”

“She had a good amount of experience and success before coming to WashU and has continued to succeed here,” said assistant coach Raven Robinson. “I appreciate the natural talent she brings to the sport. What I have come to know about Randal is that she wants to be great and she is going to work to be great.”

“She had never rotated when throwing the shot put in high school,” Stachowicz continued. “She glided instead. So basically we told her, ‘you were successful before and now we are going to change everything.’ It took her a few weeks to feel the differences and then things really started to click the last couple weeks of the outdoor season. We figured it would take a year or year and a half for her to have bigger throws, but that wasn’t good enough for her.”

Walker ended her freshman season in style, winning the shot put (12.73 meters) and the discus (41.13 meters) at the 2018 UAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships hosted by Carnegie Mellon University. The self-proclaimed “huge Steelers fan” earned UAA Rookie of the Year honors in her first meet in Pittsburgh.

Walker with her UAA championship medals

“The coaches are thinking that nationals are not so far away for me,” Walker stated. “Before coming here, I had not given Division III sports much thought. Now it is so inspiring to see how dedicated these athletes are. We are competing because we love it and want to do it better. It makes you want to be successful.”

“You always need performers on your team, not individuals who outshine and stand alone, but ones who show the rest of the team what success can be and motivated team members to keep pushing forward,” Robinson said. “Randal is going to be one of those performers who motivates everyone by her ability and work ethic.”

“Randal is very talented and is just scratching the surface with so much upside,” said WashU head track and field coach Jeff Stiles. “She won the conference championships outdoors and now she wants similar success at the national level and she is more than talented enough.”

“I’m excited to see where she will be in her senior year,” Robinson said. “There are great things coming for her for sure.”

“Randal is a threat in all four throwing events,” Stachowicz said. “You don’t come across athletes like that all the time, who can compete at such a high level in multiple events.”

This fall, Walker also ran for Student Union Senate and won. This was no surprise to Stiles. “Randal is just a really good competitor who doesn’t like to lose. She is super competitive,” he stated. "Students who pick schools like those in the UAA think big. Randal is going to perform better in everything she does because she is doing things she loves and is preparing for the future. Like so many UAA student-athletes, she is not just focused on athletics.”

Stachowicz was not surprised at Walker’s successful run for senate. “Whether it is her workouts in the gym, studying, or competing, there are so many things she is good at,” he said. “She doesn’t have time to slow down or slack off so she makes the most of every minute on and off the track.”

As a walk-on sprinter, Morris essentially had to learn a new sport when he began throwing as a freshman. “I didn’t know how to do anything. Coach Stachowicz started from scratch with me,” he recalled. “He was encouraging and yet realistic, which I appreciated. The seniors on the team were really supportive and cared about me as a person.”

“Having coached multiple years in high school and at colleges, it is without fail that I will be sent an athlete who was told, ‘I think you’d be good at throwing. Go talk to Coach Joe,'” quipped Stachowicz. “The sprint coaches looked at Daelen and said he looks really strong. He is focused on improving regardless of the event and helping the team out. He wants to grab points at conference or help in training whoever is around. You can’t teach an attitude like his.”

“We started Daelen with the hammer and it just clicked,” Stachowicz continued. “It was so different than anything he had done, but speed helps more in the hammer than other throws so his strengths in sprinting and throwing complement one another. We tell new throwers that it is a two- or three-year process and that they won’t see the fruits of their labor for some time. He bought into that immediately. A coach can’t ask for a better attitude than he has.”

“I appreciate Daelen not coming from a traditional throwing background because it leaves the door open for discovering more of what he is capable of as a thrower,” Robinson remarked. “He works hard on the field and in the weight room, which is going to pay off. He is determined to always figure it out, especially in the weight and hammer throws. I have hopes and dreams of adding the shot put to the fold and the great thing is he remains open to it.”

“Daelen is a super hard worker. He’s not someone who has been in contention at a conference meet yet, but his work ethic is incredible,” Stiles said. “Without taking anything away from his school work, he is competing like he will score and I think he has the heart to do that. He has that love to do track and field, but also has the intangibles that you can’t teach someone. Intrinsic motivation is a huge factor in life and he has the ‘it factor.’ That is one of many reasons he is so great to have around.”

“I see Daelen as being a leader on our throws team,” Robinson added. “What people don’t always realize is it is not always about winning national titles or being the champion. Those are great accomplishments and possible with hard work, but what I appreciate about the WashU program is that each point matters just the same. Each individual’s personal best matters. Daelen understands this and works to get us the points we need where he can. That’s the essence of teamwork. Teams are successful because every moving part works together for the good of the team. Randal and Daelen are essential pieces of those moving parts.”

Pre-Law and Community Service

Walker has known for a long time that she wanted to be a lawyer, while Morris just recently made that decision.

“I have known I wanted to be a lawyer since elementary school,” said Walker, who is majoring in English literature and African-American studies. “My mom is a lawyer. Law always remains interesting because of current events. It is important to have representation in any field with all kinds of things happening with African-Americans in the country.”

Another draw in attending WashU for Walker was that the outskirts of St. Louis are predominantly African-American. “I want to be someone who younger black girls can look up to and say, ‘she can do it and I can do it,’” she stated.

Walker is continually seeking opportunities to learn and spent 10 days this past summer in Israel with students from Hillel to further dive into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It was eye-opening. You hear about it on the news, but to see the refugees and hospitals makes it real,” she remarked. “People are living in constant fear of the unknown. It was exhausting to see it for 10 days. We tried to see as much as possible in that time and the trip was an opportunity that I would not have turned down.”

Walker, while on a 10-day trip in Israel

Eventually, Walker would like to work in family law, custody, and divorce like her mother. She intends to apply at various law schools, including WashU, University of Texas, and her mother’s alma mater Southern Methodist University.

Morris entered WashU with the goal of becoming a cardiovascular surgeon. “I didn’t really enjoy the science courses, but ended up liking the writing courses, especially African-American history,” he said. “I enjoy learning about the history of black people in the U.S. and across the planet, the history of struggle. I want to be where I can make the most difference, especially for underrepresented people, in law.”

He is interested in all aspects of civil rights and currently has his sights set on becoming a prosecutor. “I see how young black kids and kids of any minority are often tried as adults and given harsher sentences,” he remarked. “I think having more prosecutors of color can increase empathy with young kids and help prevent some of the insane sentences that are being handed down.”

Morris is active on and off campus as a community volunteer and creative director of a WashU fashion magazine. He had modeled for Colour Magazine, a fashion magazine on campus for, and by, people of color at WashU. “One of my friends suggested I should apply to be creative director, which I did,” he stated. “Now I get to plan an entire fashion shoot, get in touch with students who want to model, and set up the photographer.”

He volunteers with a student-run group called City Faces, which operates in the Clinton Peabody neighborhood of St. Louis. “I became a mentor for a brother and sister in my freshman year and then applied to help start up the boys club division of the program in my sophomore year,” he said. “I really missed the mentoring part and so I went back to that and now mentor Maurice, who is 15, nearly every weekend.”

Morris with his mentee from City Faces program

“Randal and Daelen are a delight to have around and we are fortunate to have them both in our program,” Stiles concluded.

Created By
Timothy Farrell
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Credits:

Photos courtesy of Randal Walker, Daelen Morris, and Marco Quaroni

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