For Mainland Regional High School sprinter/hurdler Yvette Assongba, finding a college track and field program that welcomed her with open arms was very important.
The 19-year-old from Somers Point said she found exactly what she was looking for with the Rider University team. She has committed to attend Rider this fall on a partial athletic and academic scholarship.
Assongba, who was a second-team Press All-Star as a senior this past spring and in 2017 for her accomplishments in the hurdles, chose Rider, an NCAA Division I program, immediately after visiting the Lawrenceville campus and meeting with the team.
“It was so nice. Everybody was so friendly, especially the track team. That was my main focus, to join a team that I knew was friendly and open to everybody,” Assongba said.
Assongba said she initially also considered Quinnipiac, Monmouth and Lipscomb.
“I actually stopped every application and just applied to Rider,” Assongba said of her certainty Rider was the right choice.
Assongba placed second in the 100-meter hurdles at the Atlantic County Championships as a senior and won the 200 dash at the event the previous season.
She also earned the Track Athlete of the Meet Award at the West Deptford Relays, having helped the Mustangs win the 4x100-meter shuttle hurdles in 1 minute 16.98 seconds.
Assongba, Claire Pedrick, Olivia Rzemyk and Nicole Lombardo went on to break the Mainland record in the event and had the fastest time (1:02.68) in the 39-year history of the George Roland Relays at Haddon Township.
“She is a hard worker and speaks when things need to be said,” Mainland coach Mike Columbo said. “I think she’ll be really happy there. The thing about Yvette is that whenever she goes to a track meet, she knows everybody there. She is a very social person, and she’ll fit in wherever she goes.”
Columbo said Assongba showed major improvement in the hurdles during her junior season.
“My freshman year, I never went over the hurdles because I was so terrified,” Assongba said. “The end of junior year, that’s when I started getting the hang of it, and it actually became my main event, and I actually really liked it.”
Rider coach Bob Hamer led the Broncs to third place at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference indoor championships and second at the outdoor meet. Hamer has been named the MAAC Coach of the Year five times in his 10 years with the Broncs.
Assongba will major in health sciences and run the hurdles and short sprints.
“When I go there, I want to make a good impression,” Assongba said. “As I go there, I’m starting a bigger chapter with bigger goals in mind, so I’m going to make sure I achieve those goals academically and athletic-wise and at the same time also join other clubs to be a well-rounded student.”
Hamer announced this month the written commitment of 22 new members, including Assongba and Egg Harbor Township’s Ajae Alverz-Tyler, of the Rider team.
“We were very successful with our recruiting class this year,” Hamer said in a statement on the university’s website. “This coupled with our signees from November and May have really improved our overall team. We have covered many event areas with impact athletes that we expect will help us in competing for MAAC championships. Each of them has been very successful in their event areas, and we are very excited about their enthusiasm and excitement for Rider.”