May 30, 2013
"The Road to Eugene" takes a look at the individual competitors or relays that will be competing at the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore. We will review their season both indoors and outdoors, look back at TCU's history in the event, who are the top contenders that will be in Eugene and what the future holds for TCU for those athletes and in those events.
The search for the right combination of runners for a relay is a process that requires constant tinkering and analysis of performance to find the right person at that moment who can deliver the desired performance. Factor in obstacles such as injuries, sickness, meet schedules and it is a task that can take a full season to master. While the TCU coaching staff would not say they have the 4x400 mastered, they are a lot closer now than at the start of the year.
The process began all the way back at the start of the indoor season. TCU was hoping the first big breakthrough would come at the Big 12 Indoor Championships in February. However, Ronnie Baker became a last-minute scratch due to illness and the Frogs went on to finish fifth. TCU head coach Darryl Anderson took a chance the next week and took Baker, Joshua Washington, Harvey McSwain and Sam Watts to South Bend, Ind. for the Alex Wilson Invitational. While Anderson was ultimately in search of a spot in the NCAA Indoor Championships the next week, he at least left with a breakthrough as the quartet finished in 3:08.25.
The performance caught the attention of the organizers of the Texas Relays, as the Horned Frogs earned an invitation to the prestigious invite 4x400-meter relay that closes the meet. The breakthrough for the outdoor group came in Austin, but it was not until two weeks later at the Texas Invitational when the group of Washington, McSwain, Lavon Collins and Baker won in 3:07.38. The momentum carried over to the Big 12 Championships as the team of Washington, Baker, Collins and Narada Jackson finished a close second to Kansas in 3:07.68.
Going into the NCAA West Preliminaries TCU was the No. 11 seed, on paper putting them on the bubble for the 12 invites to Eugene. However, the Frogs showed their strength throughout the race as TCU was next to Arkansas, the NCAA Indoor Champion and indoor collegiate record holders in the event, coming onto the final homestretch. Though the Frogs could not overtake the Razorbacks, the ticket to Eugene was punched, a season-best mark of 3:05.94 was posted and another opportunity, or two, waits.
The team going to Eugene includes Washington, a consistent presence in the leadoff who has not run a 400-meter dash time slower than his fastest time from last season. Jackson ran the second leg at the West Preliminaries, earning the spot on the Big 12 Championships relay team due to his strong individual performances in the 200 and 400-meter dash.
To the new follower to the 2013 TCU track and field season, Collins would seem like the weak link as a primary hurdler, but that could not be any more inaccurate. He is an explosive runner who has run in all eight outdoor 4x400 relays this season for TCU. His last two performances have seen his splits comfortably in the 45-second range. Baker is the present and the future with the talent and composure he runs with. The order could change, but the pieces are all there.
History at the NCAA Championships
TCU will be in the semifinals of the men's 4x400 for the first time since 2010, when the group of Dell Guy, Clemore Henry, Mychal Dungey and Sean Zurko finished 17th in Eugene. TCU last earned All-America honors in the mile relay when the quartet of Lewis Banda, Che Chavez, Delwayne Delaney and Jackson Langat ran to runner-up honors at the 2006 NCAA Championships. The Frogs have taken part in the final seven times in program history.
In 1983, the team of Allan Ingraham, James Richard, Keith Burnett and David Walker brought home the first NCAA event title in TCU history with their first place finish in Houston. The quartets time of 3:02.09 still stands as the school record.
The 4x400 always holds a little more significance as the final event of the meet. If a team title is on the line that just puts that much more importance on what happens in the ending relay. Texas A&M comes in as the favorite with a seed time of 3:02.55, only 0.03 seconds off the Aggies' NCAA-leading time of 3:02.52 from the Penn Relays. Texas A&M, Oregon, Florida and Arkansas are all in the top-five of the 4x400 seeds, and are among the favorites for the men's team title.
The Horned Frogs will enter as the No. 9 seed, only 0.06 seconds behind Mississippi State's seed time that would lead the Frogs to the prestigious top-eight spots. Big 12 foes Kansas and Baylor are also in the top eight seeds with the Jayhawks No. 3 at 3:04.93 and Baylor No. 7 at 3:05.75.
All four of Baker, Collins, Jackson and Washington will be back next season, but the competition will be intense for spots. Raymond Bozmans and McSwain both have talent at the quarter-mile distance as does Watts, who is not competing for TCU during the outdoor season.