After entering the final day of the NCAA Championships in 38th place and without a single point in the tournament, the USC women’s track and field team improbably clawed its way back to a second place finish to conclude its outdoor season.
Although the Trojans tied things up with just one event to go, a costly drop of the baton in the final relay proved too big a deficit to overcome, allowing Arkansas to come away with the championship.
Saturday’s comeback effort began with a record-breaking showing from the 4×100-meter relay team. The team’s winning time of 42.21 set the school and facility records and became the fastest time ever recorded in the 4×100-meter final.
After the relay team set the tone on Saturday, USC’s other athletes stepped up to the challenge. Sophomores hurdler/sprinter Chanel Brissett and sprinter Twanisha “TeeTee” Terry shattered their personal records in the 100-meter hurdles and 100-meter dash, respectively, contributing much-needed points to the Trojan cause.
“As a sophomore, hands down one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen,” USC Director of Track and Field Caryl Smith Gilbert said of Brissett’s 12.52 in the 100-meter hurdle.
The Trojans were finally able to close the gap after Cockrell’s important victory in the 400-meter hurdles. After two seasons as the runner-up, Cockrell finally reached the top of the podium with a time of 55.23, the fastest time registered for a Trojan in the 400-meter hurdles final.
Cockrell’s performance in the event was especially impressive given the obstacles that she dealt with over the season, including the hamstring injury she sustained during the last indoor season.
“I’m still excited and proud of her because she had a lot of setbacks this year with the injury,” Gilbert said. “She accepted a lot of new challenges and ended up a national champion [with a new personal record] in the short hurdles.”
Cockrell’s hurdles title was followed by a commanding performance by redshirt junior sprinter position? Angie Annelus, who was named the NCAA Women’s Track Athlete of the Year last month. Annelus earned a second straight title in the 200m dash with a time of 22.16, setting both the school and facility record for the event.
“Angie Annelus is absolutely amazing,” Gilbert said. “It was a phenomenal feat, the way she held her composure and executed the race.”
Annelus’ win, coupled with freshman sprinter Lanae-Tava Thomas’s sixth-place finish in the event, allowed the Trojans to assume an 8-point lead over Arkansas with two events to go. After Arkansas’ junior distance runner Taylor Werner placed second in the 5000-meter race, USC and Arkansas were tied at 56 heading into the final 4×400-meter relay.
USC needed to finish before Arkansas to claim its second straight national championship. The Trojans held the lead for most of the race, but things took a dramatic turn when Cockrell appeared to get tripped up toward the end of the third leg. Once the baton fell from her grasp, hopes of the national title all but faded away for the Trojans.
“It looked like [Cockrell] may have gotten pushed or clipped from behind and tried to swing outside and it didn’t work out,” Gilbert said. “That is track and field. That is the ups and downs of it all.”
Despite the rough ending to their valiant comeback effort, the Trojans have much to be proud of. Along with their three school records on Saturday, the Trojans’ total of 57 points is their highest in the NCAA Championships since 2002.
“I thought [Saturday] we were our best,” Gilbert said. “We performed up to our abilities, we ran personal bests and we made the finals. We were even going into the final event, but in track and field things happen, you win some and you lose some.”
With many of their top performers sticking around, the Trojans look to be strong contenders for the season to come.
“Next year we do not lose anyone on the women’s side except Margaux Jones and Dior Hall,” Gilbert said. “We look to really be a force to be reckoned with.”