There have been some memorable moments on the final day of the NCAA Track and Field Championships.
Last year, Oregon came out on top after winning the final race, the 4X400 relay, in dramatic fashion. This year, seemingly insurmountable expectations of excitement were placed on the meet, which was the last at current Hayward Field. USC positioned themselves well, putting its title hopes all on that same last race.
The Trojans came out victorious thanks to an incredible final kick in the 4X400 by senior anchor Kendall Ellis, who beat Purdue’s anchor, Jahneya Mitchell, to the line by just 0.07 seconds.
— NCAA Track & Field (@NCAATrackField) June 10, 2018
Hail and rain covered the participants throughout the day. Two champions, Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer in the 5,000-meter and Boise State’s Allie Ostrander in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, repeated their wins from last year, and a Pac-12 team clinched the team title in the final race, but this time it was USC instead of Oregon.
The Trojans went into the final race trailing Georgia by nine points. Since Georgia was without a team in the race, the four Trojans, Kyra Constantine, Anna Cockrell, Deanna Hill and Ellis, knew that if they won, they would win the championship.
“I’m just so glad,” head coach Caryl Smith Gilbert said. “I didn’t know what time would come up on that board first, but man it was good to see that shield.”
Ellis said she knew they would win the race “the second she got the baton.”
“[Assistant sprints] Coach [Quincy] Watts told me before we even did the race, ‘If there is a 10-meter gap, you can close it.’” Ellis said. “Even if it’d been 20-meters, it doesn’t matter. My goal in my mind was to get our team the win.”
Although it ended in stellar fashion, the race was not perfect. Hill’s handoff to Ellis took multiple tries due to a collision with Florida’s Nikki Stephens and Taylor Sharpe. There was even controversy on whether USC should be disqualified.
“I passed it off to her and she didn’t take it the first time and the second time she put her hand out and I got it in there,” Hill said. “Two times and we got it.”
Ellis indeed got it and made up over 10-meters of spacing between the leader, earning the title for her team.
“I wanted it for the team,” Ellis said. “We wanted it so bad all season. We wanted to be national champions.”
USC did need some help, however. If Stanford’s Vanessa Fraser won the 5,000-meter, the Cardinal would have won the title. Instead Schweizer, Furman’s Allie Buchalski and Oregon’s Lilli Burdon passed her, giving USC a shot at the title. The Trojans were forced to play spectator as this race was completely out of their hands.
“I was a wreck,” Smith Gilbert said. “I said ‘All we can do is get as many points as we can where we can get them, but we have to win the mile relay.”
With it being the final race at Hayward Field in its current state, the win had a special feeling to it.
“These two days have been a real statement for USC track and field,” Ellis said. “These last two days at Hayward, at this version, I think it was all about the Trojans. That’s what we wanted to do.”
Follow Maverick Pallack on Twitter @mavpallack