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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Sports

Historic Texas Relays act as test run for national championship


Senior sprinter Elijah Hall will be running in the 200m and the 4x100m relay as the Cougars look to continue their tear through the track & field hierarchy. | Peter Scamardo/The Cougar

Every first weekend of April, what seems like the whole of the track and field community descends on Austin for the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays. It’s dubbed “the Circus.”

Originally started in 1925, the Texas Relays is one of the oldest track and field meets in the country. Athletes from high school, collegiate and professional ranks all compete together over the four days. For the collegiate athletes, Texas acts as a test run for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, as many of the same teams appear at both.

The Texas Relays is the first real test for the Cougars of UH track & field for that very reason. For instance, Olympic gold medalists Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell both won the long jump competitions in 1980 and 1989 respectively. The two would go on to win national titles in the long jump those same years.

While some teams from the northeast will compete at Texas, the majority will be from the south central region. In addition to the hosting Texas Longhorns, the Texas A&M Aggies, Georgia Bulldogs and Texas Tech Red Raiders will also be in attendance.

Those teams are No. 2, No. 5 and No. 8 in the country, according to the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

Last year, coaches heavily emphasized the 4x100m relay event, hoping to prepare the team for the NCAA Championships. One year later, the focus is now on the men’s team as a whole. The Cougars are sending 15 athletes and five relay teams to Texas. If they score well, they can get a head start on building their national championship squad.

Of course, failure to win at Texas is not the end of the world. Failure to pass the baton in time resulted in the 4×1 receiving a DNF in the final, and senior sprinter Cameron Burrell was scrapped from the men’s 100m invitational for unknown reasons. But the relay team went on to win the NCAA title, and Burrell took silver in the 100m.

However, winning at Texas sends a statement to the track & field community. Several media outlets are already predicting a top three finish for the Cougars, something reflected in their No. 3 ranking by USTFCCCA.

Getting the stick around

Three of the four sprinters who took gold at the NCAA Championships last summer returned and seem to be ready to defend their title. The team of juniors Mario Burke and John Lewis III and senior Elijah Hall and Burrell won the 4x100m relay at the Prairie View A&M Relays on Saturday, posting a time of 38.95s and beating Team USA. Their time is No. 3 in the country.

If they can put it together at Texas, it will be their fifth 4x100m title at the Texas Relays, their first since 1994.

In addition, the Cougars own the world’s fastest time in the men’s 4x200m relay (1:21.19), which they also ran at Prairie View. Plus they are the defending champions in the men’s 4x400m relay. All three sprinting relays will be in action at Texas.

Individually, Lewis III is No. 2 in the men’s 100m at 10.13s. He will be competing in the collegiate 100m at Texas alongside Burke, while Burrell will be running against professional sprinters in the 100m invitational.

Hall, hot off his dual championships at NCAA Indoors, will be competing in the 200m invitational. This will be his first individual race of the outdoor season.

Rounding out the squad

But the Cougars are more than just sprinters. Field and distance athletes that complement the sprinters round out the squad and contribute heavily to the squad’s top rating.

The return of senior thrower Jack Thomas and senior distance runner Brian Barraza is a testament to that depth. After missing last season due to injury, Thomas returned at the Cougar Spring Break Invitational to throw 71.58m in the javelin, the No. 5 mark in the NCAA.

Barraza redshirted the outdoor season last year and returned to focus on the 3000m steeplechase.

In his first race at the Victor Lopez Classic, he won the event in eight minutes, 41.57s, breaking the school record and setting the No. 1 time in the country.

The UH track & field team has never won an NCAA team title in its nearly 70-year history. The Texas Relays are just the first step toward that.

Texas Relays starts at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin and goes through Saturday.

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