Sirena Williams is used to it.
The UC Davis track athlete possesses a name with unavoidable semblance to that of Serena Williams, the eight-time Grand Slam women’s tennis champion.
“Normally I introduce myself saying, ‘Hi, my name is Sirena Williams. I don’t play tennis but I do run track,‘” Williams said. “It’s an ice-breaker for everyone because I know they want to ask, ‘Do you play tennis?’ so I am cool with it.“
Now, Williams is doing plenty to make a name for herself in her sophomore campaign.
The Fresno, Calif. native has been hurdling her way to the top of the UC Davis record book. Coming off a redshirt season, Williams has twice broken the school record in the 100-meter hurdles.
“I was coming off an injury my freshman year,” Williams said. “I used my sophomore year to get back into the groove of things. I didn’t want to just jump right into it so I red-shirted that year so I could use my junior and senior year to shine.“
On Apr. 12, Williams moved to first place all-time in the 100 hurdles with a recorded time of 14.06 at the UCLA Invitational, passing prior school record holder Emily Azevedo.
Williams then broke her own record with a 13.96 run the very next week when UC Davis hosted the Woody Wilson Classic.
Twice more she appeared to re-break her record, but errors in the winds caused her records not to be counted.
“It was very exciting,” Williams said of her Woody Wilson run. “But the following two times after I broke the original record – one was an illegal wind and the second one there was no wind submitted at all. Basically what happened was that race – my 13.8 race – no one pressed the wind gauge so there is no wind and it didn’t count. The second time was an illegal wind.“
But for Williams there’s no use worrying about that as she focuses on the NCAA Division I West Region Championships on May 30 and 31.
“Heading into regionals I want to have a smooth race,” Williams said. “[This] is what I am looking forward to doing instead of [running] a choppy one.“
Williams is also seeing success in a second event.
“Long jump has always been an interest for me since high school,” Williams said. “I came here and told them I was interested in jumping and they tried me out a little bit my freshman and sophomore year just for training purposes, and I jumped in a few meets just to get the feel of it. But then I really didn’t focus in on it until this year.“
Despite limited experience in the long jump, Williams looked like a natural at the Woody Wilson Invitational on Apr. 19, tying for second with an 18-06.50 mark.
Still, Williams has had to work for her accomplishments.
“I take care of myself more,” Williams said. “I eat better. I was always organized but I notice now I am just super organized. I know when I have my down time now versus freshman year. I converse more with the team. It is hard being injured. You are involved but you are not going on those trips so you don’t make those bonds with people. That’s was really hard freshman year and a little bit of sophomore year. But now I talk to everyone. We all joke. I feel we are all part of a family versus before.“
And Williams has one person in particular that she attributes her recent growth to – hurdles coach and UC Davis alumnus, Byron Talley.
“[Byron] is my hurdles coach and the one I talk to the most,” Williams said. “He is always there for any of his athletes – no matter what. If you need him, you can just call him and he will talk to you. That’s probably who’s motivated me and kept me straight throughout my three years here so far.“
Talley also returns Williams‘ praise.
“When Sirena comes out to practice, everybody around can tell she’s focused,” Talley said. “She’s here for one reason – to get her work done and then go do her studies. For that reason, for two years of coming out, being that focused, understanding what is expected of her and wanting to be where she’s at, she’s found her success.“
If Williams has her way, more success is on the horizon.
By the end of her senior year, she is hoping to have recorded a long jump of 20 feet. She would be just the second Aggie woman to ever do so and first since Teri Serrano jumped 20 feet and 10 inches in 1982.
In the hurdles, she is looking to build on her school record by running a 13.5 in her junior year and a 13.2 as a senior.
And while she may share a name, Williams is not willing to let anyone stand in the way of accomplishing those goals.
“She is not afraid of competition,” head coach Deanne Vochatzer said. “And that’s what you have to have – somebody that’s willing to go out and lay it on the line. I have just seen more and more that her confidence has grown and she has things she wants to get done and she’s not worried about who else is out there.“
MAX ROSENBLUM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX