Canitez, Nwaba to Compete in Rio

Submitted by: Ron Smith - August 1st, 2016


Barbara Nwaba (left) and Tugce Canitez

Barbara Nwaba (left) and Tugce Canitez

With the 2016 Summer Olympics about to get under way in Rio de Janeiro later this week, Westmont fans will be paying special attention to women’s basketball and track and field and cheering on two particular athletes in their quest for an Olympic medal.

Tugce Canitez, who graduated from Westmont in 2013, will compete in the Olympics for the second time as a member of the Turkish women’s basketball team. Canitez competed at the London Games in 2012, the summer between her junior and senior years at Westmont. After her return from London to Westmont, Canitez helped lead the Warriors to the 2013 NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship.

Since her graduation, Canitez has played professionally in her home country for Fenerbahce in Istanbul. A perineal contender in the Turkish Women’s Basketball League, Fenerbahce won the 2016 championship.

Turkey has been assigned to Group A at 2016 Olympics along with France, Australia, Japan, Belarus and the home country, Brazil. Pool play begins on Saturday, August 6 and continues through Monday, August 15. The single elimination brackets begin on Tuesday, August 16 with the quarterfinals. The semifinals are scheduled for Thursday, August 18 and the medal games will be played on Saturday, August 20.

Competing in the women’s heptathlon will be Barbara Nwaba, the two-time USA champion in the event. Nwaba is a member of the Santa Barbara Track Club that trains at Westmont and is coached by Joshua Priester, a Westmont assistant track and field coach.

Since her graduation from UC Santa Barbara in 2012, Nwaba has made Westmont her home.

“Once I graduated, it was like, ‘Where am I going to go? I love Santa Barbara.’ Luckily, Westmont opened its doors to our club,” reported Nwaba. “Being out here with (Westmont head coach) Russell Smelley and the Westmont Track and Field team – being a part of their journey and their being a part of ours has been really beneficial – especially Russell. He is such an awesome coach and awesome mentor.

“Jumping in and hearing Russell speak to the (Westmont) team has been very good for me and has helped me grow as an individual. Being in his team meetings, I have learned that I do track, track is not who I am. I can take from that and build on my character. I love the community here and it has helped me to grow as a Christian too. Being at a Christian institution has been very nice.”

Smelley’s influence on Nwaba was illustrated in an experience during her first trip to the Indoor Track and Field World Championships.

“Russell had given me this note,” recalled Nwaba. “It had scripture in it, words of encouragement and quotes. That really touched my heart because it wasn’t just me out here, everyone is really praying for me. I opened up the letter before the high jump. It kept me calm and help me remember why I was there. It was really good stuff.”

The Santa Barbara Track Club consists of nine post-collegiate athletes all training for elite level multi-event competition. Four of the athletes competed in the USA Track and Field Championships earlier this month with three (including Nwaba) qualifying to represent the United States in international competitions.

This past weekend, Lindsey Lettow and Lindsey Schwartz competed at the Thorpe Cup – a competition between Germany and the United States. Lettow claimed the silver medal with 6,098 points and Schwartz the bronze with 5,962.

Nwaba expressed her gratitude for the use of the Westmont facilities, which are offered free of charge to the Santa Barbara Track Club.

“I love the track. The facilities here are awesome and everything we could possibly need is provided to us – and more. I am so grateful to Westmont for what they provided for us.

“I’m a big fan of the D.C. (Dining Commons). I pretty much don’t even buy lunch food any more, I just go straight to the cafeteria after practice. Everything is made, I don’t have to waste time. Obviously, you have to fuel yourself right after our big workouts, so having food right there has been huge for our whole team.

“The weight room has everything we need – the boxes, the MEDIballs, the platforms. It is really nice that we don’t have to go somewhere else to do that. We can go to the track, then walk a little bit to the weight room and we are right there continuing our workouts.”

There is one Westmont facility, however, that Nwaba avoids.

“I used to use the pool, but I don’t know how to swim. I try to stay on land.”

Use of the facilities keeps Nwaba and the rest of the Track Club in contact with the Westmont athletes.

“In the fall, we usually train with the ‘hepsters’, as the Westmont heptathletes call themselves,” said Nwaba. “I get to train alongside them and they are so encouraging.”

The relationship between Westmont Track and Field and the Santa Barbara Track Club has proven over the past four years to be mutually beneficial and successful on both a personal level and on the field of competition. This past May, Westmont’s Becky Collier won the national championship in the heptathlon at the NAIA Outdoor Track and Field Championship in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Nwaba will begin competing in the heptathlon on Friday, August 12 with the first day’s events including the 100 meter hurdles, the high jump, the shot put and the 200 meter dash. The heptathlon concludes on Saturday, August 13 with the long jump, javelin and 800 meter run.