Last season the Cougars ran a wind-assisted 38.44s in the men’s 4x100m relay at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships. The Cougars would have been national champions had the Louisiana State University Tigers not ran just a bit faster: 38.42s.
Retaining most of their respective squads from last year, the Cougars and Tigers have consistently been two of the best relay teams in the country. Their first race against each other since the national championships came in on April 13 at the Mt. SAC Relays in Torrance, California. There they ran the top two times this season.
Again, only two hundredths of a second separated them: 38.57s to 38.59s.
Both teams are already running at a championship caliber with a month left before the NCAA Championships. The way the two teams are running, all signs point to a rematch in Oregon this June.
Picking the right team
The Cougars competed in Mt. SAC just after the team received a DNF in the final at the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays. The team had qualified with the fourth-fastest time overall and was going up against teams from Texas, Texas A&M and LSU among others. Faltering in that final meant they missed out on a great chance to improve their time.
But at Mt. SAC, the Cougars made two key changes. Senior Cameron Burrell was moved from the anchor leg to the first leg, and junior Eli Hall-Thompson was put on the squad for the first time to run in the anchor leg.
The coaches saw that with slight adjustments, they would certainly be competing for a national title in June.
World class talent
Hall-Thompson did more than just replace the hole left by former Cougar LeShon Collins — he gave the squad a third Olympic-caliber athlete. Hall-Thompson had originally signed with the Cougars in 2013, but he transferred to Butler Community College due to poor grades.
At Butler he won two national titles and earned a trip to the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer. And though he and Burrell missed out on a trip to Rio, their experiences at the trials helped the two athletes bring immediate success at the collegiate level.
Hall-Thompson won the 100m at the Penn Relays with a time of 10.00s. His time is currently No. 6 in the NCAA and No. 1 in the West Division.
Burke, meanwhile, has spent the last two summers representing his home nation of Barbados at the U-20 level. He recently earned a silver medal at the IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas, helping Barbados qualify for the World Championships in London this August.
His 100m time of 10.17s at the Penn Relays is currently No. 13 in the NCAA.
Martin has also come into his own individually. In the 200m, he and Hall-Thompson rank No. 18 in the NCAA West with a time of 20.75s.
Expectations were high for the team going into the 123rd Penn Relays. The men had not won a relay at Penn since 1989, when current head coach Leroy Burrell ran in the 4x100m. An end to the drought appeared inevitable: The Cougars qualified with the fastest preliminary time at 39.10s.
However, the Cougars again received a DNF on the day of the final. They were the only team to do so. And though the men did go on to win the 4x200m relay, they missed out on a chance to improve their time by a wide margin.
The Cougars appear to be fixed at No. 2 in the nation as they prepare for the Outdoor Conference Championships. Expect the 4x100m final to be their last chance to prep before the NCAA West Regional.