CAROLINA: Project 28 Track and Field
Release: 02/16/2014

This article originally appeared in the CAROLINA magazine on Jan 28.

By Michael Melvin


The Meet

The Tar Heels served as the host to several local North Carolina schools this weekend at the Dick Taylor Challenge, including Duke, East Carolina, Western Carolina, and UNC Wilmington. The women's side finished second behind Duke with a score of 131.5 and the men's side finished third to East Carolina and Duke with 103 points. "Overall I'm really happy with the Carolina Cup. It's a great concept," said head coach Harlis Meaders. "The teams came in and competed really hard."

            The second half of the meet on Friday featured an array of running events as well as a majority of the field events. Junior Roy Smith had a standout performance in the men's 60-meter hurdles with the school's third best time of 7.87. Senior Tristine Johnson also had a strong meet with a personal record in the long jump at 19-6 3/4 to win and another victory in the triple jump.

            There were also a number of other first-place finishers, including Elizabeth Whalen's NCAA-fastest time this year in the 800 meters of 2:06.91. The men's 4x400 relay also claimed a top finish, along with Sarah Howard on the shot put, Annie LeHardy in the mile, and Sean Sutton in the 400-meter dash.

            While Carolina did not claim victories as a team in either the men's or women's competition, it is worth noting that a few of the student-athletes were rested in order to prepare for the strenuous track season ahead.

            Some other notable performances from Friday included second place finishes from Cameron Overstreet on the pole vault, A.J. Hicks in the shot put, Avana Story in the weight throw, and O'Neal Wanliss in the 800.

            Carolina's indoor season continues on the road next weekend in Winston-Salem and will last through the NCAA Championships, which take place in March.

The Experience

Carolina's track & field home resides in Eddie Smith Field House during the cold months after the new year through the beginning of the warm Chapel Hill spring. The indoor dome holds a 200-meter loop track (half the size of a typical outdoor track), areas for field competition inside of the track, and all of it is made of a rubber material. Field-length artificial turf rolls lay on one end of the field house, as programs like football often use this same facility with the turf during their seasons if weather conditions move them indoors.          

            On one side of the indoor arena there are doors that lead to the outdoor track around Fetzer Field and on the other side there are open walkways with rails on the second and third floor, where the Carolina Track & Field offices are located. Several coaches, athletes and staff lean over the elevated rails for an aerial view of the different events.

            One helpful tip to note is that there is a giant interlocking NC logo in the middle of the field, and anyone in that area should be well advised to avoid standing directly on top of it. Several athletes and coaches not familiar with the superstitions, respect, or whatever particular importance the logo has that requires it to remain unwalked-upon received a good scolding for their actions from UNC coaches. For those who plan on attending an indoor meet in the field house, you have been warned.

            If you've never been to an indoor track competition, it is certainly worth stopping by to experience the closeness of the fast action. Benches are lined around the two main straightaways for families, friends, fans, and teams to sit and cheer on competitors. On the shorter curves there are flags and rope to signify barriers to spectators that allow room for walking by, leaning against the wall, or standing to enjoy the action. With the shot of the gun to signal each race's start, runners blaze around this nearly half-size traffic surface as if they were human torpedoes. In the speed races it is possible to feel the breeze of wind whip across your face from the velocity and closeness of the speedsters.

            With the cold weather still hanging around for the remainder of the winter (it was 22 degrees outside on Friday night), the indoor track offers warmth and refuge from brisk Chapel Hill nights. However, some athletes braved the cold for an added wake-up call for their pre-event warm-ups. Several groups of distance runners from different schools competing in the 3000-meter braved the cold outdoors to do a short leg warm-up prior to their event, but it can't be said that any fans thought it worthwhile to follow.

            Fans attending the indoor track meet predominantly consisted of athletes not competing in the events that day, families, and a handful of friends for support. Unlike other sports that have been covered in this series, there were hardly any fans there in support of the sport in a general sense-everyone there had a direct connection to an athlete. For that reason, many fans would leave after their friend or family member had finished his or her event, which caused a constant shuffle of fans in and out of the building.

            The most exciting events of the entire meet were the two of the few final events. The 4x400 relays to close out the racing side of the meet certainly brought alive all the energy in the building. The Tar Heel men's 4x400 team blazed ahead of the competition from start to finish, but the whoops and hollers of fans rooting them on echoed and carried throughout the field house. It almost appeared as though the fans were doing the wave, as they would stand and sit as the passing runners approached and passed their area of the track.

            Women's shot put was the other final exciting event, as UNC's Sarah Howard claimed the top spot with the help of her rowdy teammates and coaches. Since all of the track events had finished, all Carolina competitors gathered around the shot put area and created a general ruckus that propelled and aided Howard's throwing attempts.

It was a sight to behold an entire group of athletes, so diverse in talent, rallying around and encouraging a single teammate. Outside of the finish to the 4x400, Howard's longest toss certainly got the biggest ovation of the night from fans and teammates alike. Moments like these not only set track & field meets apart from other venues, but they are exactly what define this alternative experience of Carolina athletics.

UNC North Carolina Track & Field

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