Division II NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships Day Three Full Replay:
Division II NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships Day Two Full Replay:
ALLENDALE, MI – The Firebirds' women's 4x400M Relay Team shaved nearly two seconds off of their season-best time to finish 4th in the nation at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championship Finals with a new school record time of 3:42.63 on Saturday night at host Grand Valley State University.
"We went into the meet with the 12th fastest time among 15 teams accepted, and we finished 4th overall," head coach Alton McKenzie said. "I was confident we would be in the final and once you make it to the final, anything's possible. This group went out there and competed, and they showed that they deserved to be amongst the best Division II could offer in the 4x400M. And that 4th place finish was a much a win as anyone could imagine...one of my proudest moments being at the helm of the Firebird Track & Field Program."
After already running a season-best time of 3:44.13 to finish 6th overall in last night's preliminary round, the quartet of senior Kaydian Jones, junior Jerily Benjamin, sophomore Marlena Wright and sophomore Simone Grant went out and bettered that time by 1.5 seconds to overtake two of the teams that bested them the previous night. Only powerhouses Lincoln (MO) (3:37.29), last year's reigning 4x400M Relay champions St. Augustine's (3:37.88), and Johnson C. Smith (3:40.53) finished ahead of the Firebirds.
Jones ran a terrific lead-off leg which included a brief stint where she led the pack before sliding into second as she handed off to Benjamin. Head Coach Alton McKenzie pointed out that having a senior and the team's top sprinter on the lead-off leg this season was completely by design.
"We couldn't have asked for a better lead-off runner than Kaydian," he said. "She's the leader of this team, a very confident sprinter and tough enough to ask to be lead off...I don't get a lot of volunteers for that job. But she knew her starts would set us up for what was to come the rest of the race, and this entire year, she always put us in position to, at the very least, be in the race...more of than not giving us a lead. The NCAA Championships was no different."
After Benjamin's leg, the Firebirds had fallen behind to 4th place where Wright and Grant managed to keep UDC for the remainder of the race. Both did a tremendous job to stave off New Haven (5th place in 3:42.90), Southern Connecticut St. (6th place in 3:42.91), Lindenwood (7th place in 3:43.00) and Grand Valley St. (8th place in 3:43.13), all of which finished within one second of the Firebirds.
Benjamin, who's oustanding 2nd leg helped UDC temporarily move from 3rd place into 2nd place in the NCAA Prelim, was the team's premier quartermiler, according to McKenzie.
"Jerily had a great year and was out constant on the 2nd leg. She was our top 400M runner this season, and the responsibility of ensuring she chased if we were behind or extended the lead if we were in front fell on her shoulders, and she did just that for us every time out," he said.
Wright, who was the only new addition to the group from last year's team, was an example of continued improvement, according to McKenzie.
"I was happy with how she responded to being new to the group as far as having no National experience when the other three had been to Nationals in Outdoor 2013," he said. "Marlena maintained what was usually a lead or kept us at the front of the pack throughout every race."
Grant, who has been the anchor leg the last two seasons, is someone McKenzie says he has unwavering confidence in, and time and time again, she has proven why.
"Simone is a fighter - and on the anchor leg, you need someone who will battle to the line. She has now come through in an enormous way for us both at the Indoor NCAA Championships and now at the Outdoor Championships.
McKenzie, who is known by his student-athletes to pace nervously before a race, said his confidence skyrocketed earlier this year after this group won their heat and advanced to to the Finals at Penn Relays.
"After Penn Relays, any jitters I used to have before a race disappeared," McKenzie said. "I knew they were ready to do something special after the Prelims performance at the Penn Relays. And having a strong NCAA Provisional qualifying time from the end of April was a perfect set up for us to prepare for the National Championships at the end of May. They were prepared to peak by Nationals and the timing couldn't have been any more perfect based on how we ran. As a result, we ran over 2 seconds faster than we ran at the Penn Relays...what an amazing way to end what has been a truly special season."
Friday, May 23rd, 2014
The University of the District of Columbia Women's 4x400M Relay team advanced to the Finals of the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championship with a 6th place overall finish (3rd place in Heat 2) in a season-best time of 3:44.13.
The Firebirds, who entered the event ranked No. 12 in Division II, were edged in Heat 2 only by the No. 1 4x400M relay team in the country, Lincoln (MO) and the University of Mary. Lincoln placed 2nd overall in 3:39.58 and U-Mary finished 4th overall in 3:43.55.
Senior Kaydian Jones' lead-off leg had the Firebirds in striking distance at 3rd place, opening the door for the long-striding junior Jerily Benjamin to pass Augustana early on during her 2nd leg and create a little bit of space at 2nd place. Sophomore Marlena Wright was able to keep the Firebirds in 2nd with a solid third leg before handing off to sophomore anchor Simone Grant for the final leg. Grant was nearly halfway around the track when she was overtaken by U-Mary's anchor Cassandra Jones, but the two continued to battle all the way through the finish. Ultimately, Jones won by a little over one second, but Grant held off Southern Connecticut State's Shatajah Wattely and Lindenwood's Shamela Gray, who's teams both finished within one second of the Firebirds.