Track and field looks to build on a successful season

Sophomore jumper Earnest Sears earned All-America honors at the NCAA Championships by placing seventh in the high jump. (Photo courtesy of John McGillen/USC Athletics)

The Trojan track and field teams return to action this Friday when they compete in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M.

Last season saw the Women of Troy secure their place as the best unit in the country — they clinched the national championship title. Kendall Ellis’ effort in the final leg of the 4×400 gave the Trojan women an improbable come-from-behind victory, and with it, their second national title. The men’s team also had an incredible season, finishing fourth in the nation with a record-breaking performance in the 4×400 relay.

Both the men’s and women’s teams will have to cope with the departure of their best performers from last year, as sprinters Kendall Ellis and Michael Norman have moved on from the team. Both were crucial in 2018, securing numerous individual victories and leading the Trojans to great team success.

Norman was arguably the best athlete in collegiate track and field last year. He was rewarded with the prestigious Bowerman trophy, an award that is presented annually to the best performer in the sport. Norman was a force all year long, dominating in the 400-meter dash as well as in the 4×400-meter relay.

He broke the indoor world record for the 400-meter dash early in the season, reaching a blistering time of 44.52 seconds, and his dominance in the event carried through every meet of the season. Norman went on to win first place in the 400-meter dash at the NCAA Outdoor Championships with a time of 43.61 — a collegiate record — also helping the men’s 4×400 team win the event with a time of 2:59:00, another collegiate record. Norman made the decision to go pro in July, though he will continue his studies at USC to complete his degree.

Ellis’ departure is also a huge blow to the team, as she was a Bowerman semifinalist herself. Along with her remarkable performance in the 4×400, Ellis took second place in the women’s 400-meter dash with a time of 50.19 and was named a first-team outdoor All-American for the second time. She set a USA indoor record in the women’s 400-meter dash in her first-place finish, running an incredible 50.34 to secure her title. Ellis also won an outdoor Pac-12 title in the 400-meter dash.

The departures of Ellis and Norman, along with other members of last year’s team like Bowerman finalist Rai Benjamin, will undoubtedly hurt. However, the Trojans still have a roster loaded with talented athletes.

Redshirt senior All-American high jumper Randall Cunningham will return for his final season after winning the 2018 indoor high jump title with a clearance of 7-foot-6. A fractured tibia cut Cunningham’s season short and held him out for the season’s outdoor half.

Sophomore All-American sprinter Twanisha Terry will also look to improve on a tremendous freshman season, in which she set a USC record in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.99. Named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year in 2018, Terry also earned First Team All-American honors in both the 100-meter dash and the 4×100 relay.