CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The University of North Carolina track and field teams capped the 2014 ACC Outdoor Track and Field Championships with a nail-biting finish. After finishing the second day of competition in fourth place with 23 points, the men's team earned 87 points today, and outscored all other teams today.
The men's championship came down to the last and final event of the meet: the 4x400. Florida State had 107 points while North Carolina had 100. UNC came into the competition with the top-seeded time, but Florida State and Pittsburgh were less than a second off. The Tar Heels would need to win the event and for Florida State to place seventh or worse for UNC to win the conference championship.
RJ Alowonle ran the first leg of the 4x400 after already competing in the 4x100 and 400-meter hurdles earlier in the day. Alwonle dropped to third place after the first 200, but had a great kick in the last 200 to give North Carolina second place during the baton exchange. Kwame Donyinah, who also competed in the 4x100 and open 400, took the baton and carried his own against 400 runners with much more experience. When Donyinah gave the baton to Javonte Lipsey, North Carolina was still in second. After Lipsey's first 200 he gained a second wind and began to will himself toward the front. Lipsey's effort eventually resulted in North Carolina obtaining first place in the exchange. Ceo Ways ran the anchor leg for the Tar Heels where he and Florida State's runner were neck and neck through most of the race. In the last 100 meters Ways was able to turn on the jets and heaved his way ahead of Florida State and narrowly edged a surging Pittsburgh team.
North Carolina ended the meet in second place on the men's side behind Florida State by a score of 113-110. That's the best finish by the North Carolina men's squad since 1999. The 4x400 team of Alowonle, Donyinah, Lipsey and Ways came in at 3:05.89, beating the second place team by 0.05 seconds and putting an exclamation mark on the meet's final event.
"I've never been a part of a group of guys that have fought that hard in that situation," sprints coach Steve Rubin said. "They just did not give up. I think it was partially the desire to win the meet; it was partially the fact that they're here on their home track and the crowd was there for them, and I think they just have a lot of pride. They knew they were a great relay and they knew that was their job to shut the door at the end of the meet. There are a lot of teams that would have said, "Ah we've run a lot today already." So to come back out at the end and put out that kind of effort in that situation is about the most inspiring and positive thing I've been a part of in my track career. It was an incredible moment."
"This 4x4 team is really special. It's really special," North Carolina head coach Harlis Meaders said. "It's a young group, but they've been tested and that's what you really like to see. The same group ran in the indoor national championship and we took them down to the Florida Relays. They ran exceptionally well against college teams and pro teams. So when it came down to the ACC Championships and the final event here, those guys have no fear. We knew we could trust on them. We had no doubt that they would be there for us."
Earlier in the meet Alowonle repeated as the 400-meter hurdle champion as he ran a new personal best 50.23 to capture the title. Javonte Lipsey, who's the ACC Champion for the event two years ago, came in second place with a new personal record at 50.65. Roy Smith finished in fourth place and also set a new PR at 51.90. Devon Carter battled through an injury to take eighth place in the event. Together the four men captured 24 team points in the 400 hurdles.
"It's a really great feeling," Alowonle said about his back-to-back championships. "I'm unbelievably blessed to have such a great training group. We have a lot of great 400 hurdlers here and that's something really advantageous knowing that everyday at practice I'm racing against top guys in the country, not just top guys on my team. It's competitive at practice but at the end of the day we all know we're wearing that Carolina Blue. We love each other and we really want to see every single one of us at national finals.
"My family came down from Minnesota so it was really cool seeing them. It was great that I was able to compete well when they were here."
Alwonle also talked about the team's performance and how close the team was to winning the conference meet.
"We have a really, really good team and you see heart all the way through. You don't just see it from the seniors. There are a lot of young guys, a lot of freshman out there carrying a lot of weight for the team and that's really inspirational. We've talked about it all year: Winning is contagious and when you see someone catch a little spark or see someone do something with a lot of heart or a lot of passion, that just gets the other guys ready to go because we're so close and we care about each other.
"It's not, 'I want to do well for myself.' it's, 'I want to do well for my team.' A lot of times you don't see that in track because track is kind of an individual sport that is also collective. The new coaching staff here really brought that it's really not individual. Not everyone is going to have their best meet at a conference championship, and we saw that today, but as a whole we had a great meet. We really fought. That's something really hard to put into words. It's such a great feeling and I'm really proud of our guys."
Smith and Carter also competed in the men's 110-meter hurdles. Smith set a new personal record at 13.98 and finished in third place. Carter finished in fifth at 14.16. Smith broke his PR in the 110 hurdles on both days he competed in the event at the ACC Championships.
Houston Summers gave the Tar Heels a kick start early in the day when he took second overall in the men's javelin. Summers was in fourth during the competition until his last throw where he threw 214-0 (65.22 meters).
Before Ways ran the 4x400, he finished second in the men's 400 after running 45.93 in the race to tie his personal best. Donyinah was also in the final and finished in eighth.
Ways continued his great meet with a 200 time of 20.53, a new personal record. He finished second in the event and barely missed on first by 0.06 seconds.
Isaac Presson finished in fourth place in the men's 1,500. The senior bolted out to the front after being in the back nearly the entire race. Presson finished at 3:50.97.
Pat Schellberg, another distance runner, finished in fourth in the men's 5,000 with a time of 14:02.78. He ran the last lap in 57 seconds and had an amazing burst after the last turn that brought him from seventh to fourth. Schellberg had competed earlier in the meet in the 10,000 and to get fourth place in the 5,000 was an impressive feat.
Cory Nicholls competed in the men's 800 where he took fifth place at 1:52.07. In the last 30 meters Nicholls went from seventh to fifth.
Austin Vegas tied his personal best in the pole vault by clearing 16-6 ¾ (5.05 meters). Vegas was down to his last attempt at 16-6 ¾ and was out of scoring position. He cleared the bar on his last attempt and went on to earn seventh with that height.
The men's 4x100 team was able to place in the top eight despite not running in the event the entire year. The squad of Smith, Donyinah, Maurice Dix, and Alowonle finished seventh at 41.45.
In just his second year at the helm, Meaders has turned the program around the men's team placed second in both indoors and outdoors with today's finish being as close as it gets. Meaders was very quick to praise his coaching staff consisting of Rubin, Josh Langley, Mark VanAlstyne, Nicole Hudson, and Angela Reckart, but he also had this to say about the team: "I don't think it's anything I've done; I think it's what the kids have done. The kids believe.
"Our whole motto is that we want to be a Better Blue and we're building our team and our training around that. The Better Blue is the blue that people expect from Carolina. When you see the Carolina Blue, you automatically expect excellence. We're trying to live up to that level of excellence and when we put the Carolina Blue on, we demand more from ourselves. It's not about me; it's about the kids; it's about the university, it's about Carolina and for us being the Blue that Carolina is capable of being, and we're going to do that."
The women's team finished the conference championship in eighth place with 55 points. The team is very young with only one senior member who scored in the meet.
Lizzy Whelan and Karley Rempel both scored in the women's 1,500-meter run. Whelan finished in second place at 4:31.10 and Rempel took sixth place with a time of 4:34.57.
Tristine Johnson took fourth in the women's triple jump in her last ACC Championship meet. She jumped 41-3 ¼ (12.58 meters), good enough for five points.
After taking fifth in the heptathlon yesterday, Emily Godwin finished fifth in the high jump today. The event was moved inside due to inclement weather, but that didn't stop Godwin from tying her PR at 5-10 (1.78 meters).
Cori Floyd took seventh in the women's 400-meter hurdles after crossing the finish line at 59.70, her first time below 1:00.00 in her career.
"You know it was a fantastic meet," We had three days of very tough competition and our kids answered the bell each day. The work that the facility's crew did to put on the championship meet... I've been going to ACC Championships for over 20 years now and this has been one of the best run competitions I've ever been to. I think Carolina really put its best foot forward in putting on a championship meet."
The Tar Heels are right back at it next week where they travel to the Penn Relays, one of the most prestigious meets in the country. The meet will start on April 24 and conclude April 26.
"It's the second half," Meaders said. "Now we're going to start making preparations for the national championships. Doing well at the conference championship is just a stepping stone for us. Our goal is to be top ten at nationals and I think we're going to do a really good job at accomplishing that this year. Both the men and women have really talented individuals who are capable of performing at the highest level. Once you get to the national championship, you don't have to have that many kids as long as they're good, and we've got good kids."
Carolina All-ACC Honorees
RJ Alowonle - 400-meter hurdles Champion • 4x400 Champions
Javonte Lipsey - 400-meter hurdles, 2nd • 4x400 Champions
Ceo Ways - 200, 2nd • 400, 2nd • 4x400 Champions
Kwame Donyinah - 4x400 Champions
Houston Summers - Javelin, 2nd
Xenia Rahn - Heptathlon, 2nd
Lizzy Whelan - 1,500, 2nd
Roy Smith - 110-meter hurdles, 3rd