NATIONAL CHAMPS: Gamecocks win NCAA women's 4x400m championship to close Indoor Nationals

NATIONAL CHAMPS: Gamecocks win NCAA women's 4x400m championship to close Indoor Nationals

From staff reports | Photo courtesy of SC Athletics

South Carolina track & field student-athletes Stephanie Davis, Aliyah Abrams, Tatyana Mills and Wadeline Jonathas won the women’s 4x400m national championship on Saturday as the 2019 NCAA Indoor Championships came to a close. Davis, Abrams, Mills and Jonathas turned in a time of 3:30.76 to edge Texas A&M (3:30.85) and Arkansas (3:30.86) for the national title.

The NCAA event title is the 47th in Carolina track & field history and the first since Jeannelle Scheper won the outdoor women’s high jump title in 2015. It’s South Carolina’s seventh national championship in the women’s 4x400m relay, including the third indoors and first in the event since 2007.

“It’s just incredible,” South Carolina head coach Curtis Frye said. “Those kids worked hard, and the coaches worked hard. The university worked hard to put us in that kind of position. I’m just thrilled to death.”

“It feels great,” Abrams said. “In the past, at NCAA meets, I feel like we’ve always finished one spot out of finals or a couple spots away from the championship, but not tonight. I’m just glad we could put it all together when it really counted at the biggest meet of the season, and it gives me the belief that we can accomplish even more before the season is over.”

Buoyed by the 10 points earned in the mile relay and the eight earned individually by Abrams, who took second in the 400m, the Gamecocks finished tied for seventh overall on the women’s side with 18 points. It’s Carolina's first NCAA top-10 team finish in the women's competition since 2007.

Overall, South Carolina picked up five first-team All-America finishes on Saturday, led by the women’s 4x400m national title and the silver-medal finish by Abrams.

On the men’s side, Quincy Hall (400m), Isaiah Moore (60m hurdles) and the 4x400m relay also earned first-team All-America status and scored for the Gamecocks.

The Gamecock men’s team finished tied for 20th, with 10 points. That’s the second-straight top-25 indoor finish for the South Carolina men and the program’s best result at the NCAA indoor meet since 2010.

“This is what we expect from our kids. We’ve got a great team. We have enthusiasm. We have good kids. I’m just thrilled to death about them. Along with lawyers and doctors and engineers, we’ve got All-Americans. We’re so proud to bring back to the University of South Carolina recognition as one of the top-10 teams in the country,” Frye said. “This is a start to where we want to be. We want to contend for championships, but first you have to take steps. You have to go up the mountain before you can stand on top of the mountain. It looks like we’re taking steps, but the commitment from the University has given us that opportunity.”

The NCAA men’s team title was won by Florida, while Arkansas was victorious in the women’s competition.

Moore was the first Gamecock in action on Saturday, running in his second-career NCAA Championships final. The redshirt-senior placed eighth in the 60m hurdles, finishing his indoor collegiate career with a time of 7.87. It’s his second first-team All-America finish, including his eighth-place result in the 2017 110mH final outdoors.

Up next was Abrams, who ran the best race of her indoor career to finish second and win silver in the women’s 400m. The Grayson, Ga. native turned on the gas as she hit the final straightaway, running a new personal best at 52.27. That’s the seventh-best indoor time in South Carolina history. Abrams is the highest Gamecock finisher in the event since Natasha Hastings won the national title in 2007.

Hall ran in one of the fastest men’s 400m heats in NCAA history and earned first-team All-America laurels with a fourth-place finish. His time of 45.25 is a new Carolina school record, and his fourth-place result is the best for South Carolina in the men's 400m since 2003, when Jonathan Fortenberry came in fourth.

Davis staked South Carolina to an early lead in the women's 4x4 with a split of 53.17 on the first leg, and Abrams kept the Gamecocks in front by running 51.89 on the second leg. The race tightened up on the third leg as Mills split 54.13, but Jonathas pulled Carolina through on the last leg, as she posted an incredible time of 51.59. The junior from Gonaives, Haiti, was in third place with just 50 meters left but passed both Texas A&M and Arkansas in the final strides of the race.

Jonathas is now a 10-time national champion counting the nine titles she won at the NCAA Division III level in two seasons with UMass Boston. Abrams is now a five-time All-American while Davis earned the honor for the second time and Mills was named All-American for the first time.

The 4x4 victory is especially sweet for the Gamecocks after two earlier losses to Texas A&M this season. South Carolina finished second to the Aggies on Feb. 9 at the Tiger Paw Invitational, as Texas A&M ran 3:29.96 to Carolina's 3:30.67. Two weeks later at the SEC Championships, the Aggies took the title with a mark of 3:29.15 while the Gamecocks ran 3:29.56. But Saturday night was Carolina's time to shine as Davis, Abrams, Mills and Jonathas cross the line first when it mattered most.

South Carolina ran in the first heat of the men’s mile relay, with Arinze Chance, Otis Jones, Hall and Ty Jaye Robbins turning in a time of 3:07.48 to finish second behind Arkansas. That remained the second-best time through the second heat, and the Gamecocks wound up fifth overall after the third and last heat. Hall came back to split 45.28 as South Carolina’s fastest leg.

For Hall and Chance, it’s the second All-America finish of the meet. Jones and Robbins are both first-time All-Americans.