PITTSBURG, KS — Surrounded by unknowns as the indoor track and field season trickled its way to the starting line in January, the South Plains College men's and women's track and field teams were determined to find their way to the starting blocks.
What would unfold over the next two months would see the Texans claw their way to the top of the national rankings, leaving their mark on the 2021 season as they ran away with the NJCAA Men's Indoor Track and Field National Championship Saturday at the Robert W. Plaster Center.
The Texans finished with 138 points, with Iowa Central taking second with 93 points. Cloud County (91.5) Barton County (87), and New Mexico Junior College (59) rounded out the top five.
The Lady Texans were nearly just as impressive, battling their way to a second place national finish with 108 points, Iowa Western won the women's title with 117 points.
"All the way until we got on the bus to get here, we were unsure if this thing was actually going to happen or not," South Plains head coach Erik Vance said. "We didn't know if we were going to compete in the indoor season at all or go to a championship meet. We didn't see an indoor track until we arrived at the national meet, but our kids persevered through it and did what they needed to do to get here, and for it to end the way it did, I couldn't ask of anything more."
Entering day two of the meet atop the team standings with 51 points, The Texans continued their push in the men's 600 meter run as sophomore Khaleb McRae was crowned national champion, posting a dazzling time of 1:17.71 to pick up 10 points. Seydi Sall notched another eight points for the Texans in the 600 meters, placing second in a time of 1:18.26. Javon-Taye Williams was crowned national champion in the 800 meters, crossing the line in a time of 1:52.13.
McRae would add another eight points to the Texan's point total in the 400-meter dash, taking second with a time of 46.71. Chris Robinson added four points in the 400 meters with his fifth place finish, running a 47.32. Sall would be crowned national champion in the men's 1000 meter run, posting a blazing time of 2:29.30. Mehdi Yanouri tallied five points for the Texans in the 1000 meters with a fourth place finish, clocking a 2:29.51.
"Khaleb has been a leader for us," Vance said. "He stepped up last year and has become a leader for this team and kind of sets the tone. What he did today is something I've never seen done, and to do it as well as he did shows what kind of kid he is. That double he ran was his idea, and he wanted to do it and come in here and win a team title. He could of won either race by itself, but what he sacrificed and did for the team today shows what he means to this group."
Yanouri would follow up with a gutsy performance in the men's mile run, earning national champion honors with his first place finish in a time of 4:16.51. The Texans added another eight points in the men's 4x800 relay as Dwight Mason, Issac Hastings, Sall, and Williams placed second in a time of 7:42.13. In the men's heptathlon, Nelvin Appiah-Konadu tacked on three points for South Plains, placing sixth with 4471 points. The Texans would cap the meet with a second place finish in the men's 4x400 relay as Robinson, Shevoie Reid, Hastings, and McRae posted a time of 3:10.18.
"To have a meet like this, you have to have kids like Mehdi go out and compete like he did," Vance said. "He walked on to our team and just went to work, and credit to coach Barker who has done an outstanding job with him. To have that gas tank and go out and do what he did, that's unbelievable."
The Texans put themselves in contention for a national crown after day one of the meet on Friday, which saw the Texans tally 21 points in the high jump, 10 coming from Sophomore Romaine Beckford who was crowned national champion with a jump of 7' 0.5". James Hampton placed third for South Plains with a jump of 6' 8.75", with Nelvin Appiah-Konadu placing fourth with a clearance of 6' 6.75".
South Plains tacked on 13 points in the pole vault, as Thomas Nieto took second, clearing the bar at 16' 6.75", while Scott Frazier was fourth with a mark of 14' 7.25". The Texans notched eight points in the long jump, as Tony McNeal placed third, soaring 23' 10", while Austin Montgomery took sixth with a mark of 23' 4.5".
"Thomas transferred in this year, and he's just a gamer," Vance said. "He's a guy who goes out and gets after it, and he's not scared of anyone or any height, he's ready to go out there and clear bars and jump high, and he set the Columbian national indoor record with his mark. Scott came back for an extra year because he wanted to a part of what we're doing. I think he has bigger things ahead for him, and he did a great job for us."
In the men's 4000 medley relay, the Texans picked up eight points with a second place finish as Williams, Mason, Isaiah Palmer, and Yanouri turned in a time of 10:12.17.
Joniar Thomas got things rolling for the Lady Texans with a fourth place finish in the high jump, clearing the bar at 5' 5.25". Genevieve Ige added two points for the Lady Texans in the shot put, placing seventh with a throw of 39' 4.5".
Sophomore All-American Onaara Obamuwagun defended her national title in the women's triple jump, earning national champion honors and 10 points with a final mark of 43' 1". South Plains added five points in the women's 60-meter hurdles as Tia Harry placed fourth with a time of 8.77. Camille Harris would add eight points in the women's 600-meter run, taking second in a time of 1:34.08.
"Onaara is a kid who works as hard as anyone we have on this team," Vance said. "She has from the moment she stepped on campus. She is the picture of what you want in an athlete. She does everything you ask her to do and is all about everyone else and just goes out and competes. I thought she had a good weekend, and she went out and did what she was supposed to do."
South Plains' Rosemary Chukwuma was crowned national champion in the women's 60 meters, turning in the top time in 7.34. Chukwuma would then add the title of women's 200-meter national champion to her resume, posting the top time in 23.78. Also scoring for the Lady Texans in the 200 meter dash was Success Umukoro who placed seventh in a time of 24.59, tacking on two points.
"Rosemary ran well last year, but just didn't have the best national meet," Vance said. "She got beat last year by a lot of the same girls who competed this weekend, and I think what I saw from her and how she approached the season and how she approached this weekend, she wasn't going to get beat. She was about business and was going to come out here and have a revenge tour from last year."
In the women's 400 meter dash, Anna-Kay Allen picked up three points with her sixth place finish, posting a time of 57.18. In the women's 800 meter run, Cemore Donald and Lexi Jackson placed fifth and seventh, respectively, as Donald posted a time of 2:20.62, while Jackson crossed the line in 2:22.50.
South Plains added 10 points to their total in the women's 4x800 relay as Jackson, Esmeralda Espinoza, Donald, and Lewis were crowned national champions in a time of 9:38.71. South Plains would cap the meet with a fourth place finish in the women's 4x400, as Allen, Jordan Brown, Keshana Page, and Umukoro posted a time of 3:46.48.
The Lady Texans entered day two in second in the team standings after a strong outing on Friday which saw Mackenzie Griffin place second in the pole vault with a clearance of 10' 7.5", picking up eight points. In the pentathlon, Thomas placed second with a total of 3397 points.
In the women's long jump, Obamuwagun placed second with a jump of 19' 9.75", totaling eight points for the Lady Texas. Thomas added three points with a sixth place finish in the long jump, turning in a final mark of 19' 0". In the 4000 medley relay, the Lady Texans placed sixth as Donald, Brown, Lewis, and Espinoza turned in a time of 12:58.54.
"Every national championship is special, but this one was special because the last couple of years we've been talking about one team. We're one team and we're all together. To have both of these groups do what they did today and go down to the wire and compete as this group did, this championship means a lot."
Full results: http://milesplit.live/meets/411314/team-scores