Cougars set sights on first outdoor NCAA team title
What does 70 years mean to you? To the University of Houston Track & Field program, 70 years is a history filled with countless accolades, but not an NCAA team title.
The Cougars will look to change history and win the team title in the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore. starting this Wednesday.
The UH track & field team will send 11 individuals and the men’s 4x100m and 4x400m relay to participate in the championship.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Cougars are returning to the tournament, as this will be their third consecutive year attempting to bring home a team title.
Last year, the men’s 4x100m relay team brought home an NCAA championship by running a blistering time of 38.34s to claim victory.
While the men’s relay teams are the favorites to secure that title again, head coach Leroy Burrell is keeping the team on its toes.
“Anything can happen on a competition day,” said coach Burrell. “But there’s no doubt that we have guys who are talented enough to get it done.”
Notable athletes include senior Elijah Hall, junior Mario Burke and senior Cameron Burrell, son of coach Burrell, who each have multiple conference and national indoor and outdoor championships.
This year, the Cougars are a more well-rounded team, sending almost double the number of athletes across almost triple the number of events to Eugene than last year.
“In order to win team titles, you can’t just stack one event,” said Cameron Burrell. “The objective is to score in as many events as we possibly can, and right now we’re set up to do so.”
The 3000m steeplechase, a demanding race that includes barriers and a water jump, is one of those events. Senior Brian Barraza will be attempting the race for the Cougars.
“Physically, it’s the exact same [as a normal race]. We just add a little bit of trying to figure out exactly what you’re doing over the barriers because you can eat it hard, really easily,” said Barraza. “Mentally it’s the same approach I take into any race. I’ve run enough races for long enough to know what I need to do to get the most out of my body.”
Sophomore Samiyah Samuels will be participating in the long jump. This specialty event is more mental than physical, according to Samuels.
“I just try to think about what I want to do mentally before I get on the runway and then execute it once I’m out there,” said Samuels, who will be making her first appearance on the national stage this upcoming week.
Both the steeplechase and long jump are events the Cougars did not qualify for last year, which expands their chances of winning the team title this year.
“What better way to end my collegiate career than with a national title,” said Cameron Burrell, heading into his last race as a Cougar. “It would mean the world to the University, and it would be a real honor to those who have come before us like my dad and Carl [Lewis] as UH alumni.”
With athletes across so many events, the Cougars might finally prove to everyone what Speed City is all about.