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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Commentary

Relay wins will bring track & field team a national title


Senior Trumaine Jefferson could earn his way onto the 4x100m relay team on the third leg, as the other three have solidified their positions. | Peter Scamardo/The Cougar

 

During the outdoor track & field season, the first race after “The Star-Spangled Banner” is the 4x100m relay, arguably the most exciting and stress-inducing race in the sport.

The relay sets the tone for the entire meet. For the Cougars, it has been the tone setter for the entire season. Winning the men’s 4x100m relay national title in June raised the bar for every athlete on the squad and showed that winning on the national stage is possible.

The trickle-down effect from winning that race 10 months ago has the team to a position where it should expect to win NCAA Outdoor Championship this June.

“It’s like a domino effect,” said senior sprinter Cameron Burrell. “One good thing happens, another good thing will happen. It’s a great feeling when your teammates go out and compete well because it gives you that spark and momentum and that drive to go do better, and then from you it goes to the next person.”

Winning the 4x100m relay is a higher achievement than other events because it puts the accomplishments of a team above the individual. It requires precision, speed and passing from four athletes, not one.

Even if a relay team has a record-breaking individual, that does not guarantee success.

When the Cougars took home the 4x100m national title, it was an example of how four people can come together to accomplish something great. Not one of them took home an individual title. Burrell was the only one to come close, with a silver medal in the 100m. But they all left Oregon as national champions

The 4×1 is a stand in for the entire squad. Just as everyone has to do their part to win the relay, so to do all the pieces have to come together to win a team national championship.

“It’s never about you. It’s about the guys next to you and the university on your chest,” Burrell said. “It’s good to operate as a unit because you feel a greater sense of accomplishment because you did something together with somebody.”

Senior sprinter Elijah Hall, who won two medals at the Indoor championship, is the most recent example of the domino effect, but it has also been seen in the multi events and the distance events. Now, national media is paying attention to the goal set out by head coach Leroy Burrell: winning the national team title.

Biggest opponent

The last two seasons, the Cougars have been up against the LSU Tigers for the fastest time in the country. The Tigers won the relay national title in 2016, and the Cougars got their revenge in 2017. Already the two have faced each other this season at the Texas Relays on April 1.

In what looks to be a practice run for the NCAA Outdoor Championships, the two were separated by the thousandths of a second as the Cougars outran the Tigers 38.92s to 38.93s.

In that race the Cougars could have settled for second place. It was early in the season, and they knew they would have future opportunities. Instead they took the fight to the SEC powerhouse and earned the win.

The last three seasons the relay team has been the model of excellence for the entire team to strive toward. When it is time for the them to perform at their highest, the relay team always puts on a show.

UH has the No. 3 time on the NCAA performance list, all but assuring its spot at the national championships in Oregon.

Cream of the crop

The relay team has three athletes who have all posted top times in the country as individuals.

Burrell ran 10.01s in the 100m at the Texas Relays, the second fastest in the country under any conditions. Lewis III has a time of 10.12s in the 100m, No. 10 in the NCAA, while Hall is No. 3 in the 200m with a time of 20.11s.

“It’s spectacular,” Lewis III said. “The fact that we all train together, the fact we can push each other in practice means we’ll all be faster on the track, and when you put that together, running singular, it just means that we’re dangerous this year.”

The relay team has created the momentum necessary for them to make a run. Now that momentum has to domino toward all the other events come June.

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