Trojans earn 106th NCAA title

Photo courtesy of John McGillen.

The USC women’s track and field team made history in Eugene, Ore.,  last weekend, capturing the program’s first National Championship since 2001.

The victory came down to a split second and an unthinkable comeback. To secure a win at the women’s NCAA Track & Field Outdoor Championships, USC needed to finish first in the 4x400m relay, the weekend’s final event.

After trailing in the race early on, a bobbled exchange between seniors Deanna Hill and Kendall Ellis seemed to seal the Trojans’ fate in the last leg. However, Ellis came roaring back on the final stretch, much to the disbelief of the crowd and television announcers. Ellis closed a seemingly insurmountable gap, inching out a win by .07 seconds over Purdue.

USC won the championship with 53 total points, besting Georgia, which had 52 and Stanford, which finished with 51. The triumph marks the Trojans’ 106th national championship.

Social media was lit ablaze by Ellis’s heroic efforts during the final leg of the 4x400m relay. The ESPN show SportsCenter tweeted a video of the comeback with the hashtag “SCTopTen,” and it was retweeted over 25,000 times. Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant even replied to it with a simple tweet:

“Will power.”

For the team comprised of sophomore Kyra Constantine, sophomore Anna Cockrell, Hill and Ellis, their historic comeback marked the fourth-best relay time in USC track and field history.

In addition, redshirt sophomore Angie Annelus also returns to Los Angeles as an individual national champion. She placed first in the women’s 200m with a time of 22.76, providing USC with vital points for its late title push on Saturday.

For Ellis, her contribution was not limited to her incredible efforts in the relay. She finished second in the 400m race, clocking at 50.19 seconds, both of which were school records for the NCAA championships. She was named a first-team All-American for the 400m.

USC’s 4x100m relay team also produced a positive result, finishing in third place. The team of Annelus, Ellis, Hill and freshman TeeTee Terry produced a time of 43.11 seconds, just behind hosts Oregon and LSU.

In addition, Cockrell was runner-up in the women’s 400m hurdle with a time of 55.71.

The men’s track and field team failed to capture a national title, but they did finish in fourth place with two individual national champions and one relay national championship.

Sophomore Michael Norman won the 400m final at 43.61 seconds to best a loaded group of runners. The time set a new NCAA and NCAA finals record.

Additionally, junior Raj Benjamin brought home a national title for the 400m hurdle, also setting a new college record with a time of 47.02. USC Track and Field Director Caryl Smith Gilbert was in awe of Norman and Benjamin’s record-shattering performances, which took place in spite of poor weather conditions during a rainy weekend in Oregon.

“Rai (Benjamin) and Michael’s (Norman) performances were astronomical, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Smith Gilbert said. “You knew they came in here ready to run, I’ve been preaching all year that it would be raining in Oregon.  I loved the way the team settled in and just accepted whatever adversity that came its way today. That is what we have been working on — execution under all circumstances.”

Later on Norman and Benjamin displayed their winning mentalities once again as they helped the 4x400m relay team win USC’s third men’s national championship. Benjamin, Norman, senior Ricky Morgan Jr. and freshman Zach Shinnick beat the previous NCAA record by .59 seconds en route to victory. Their success would foreshadow the Women of Troy’s success in the 4x400m relay just a day later.