Like the familiar song by popular rapper Drake, Saint Augustine’s started from the bottom but finished at the top for its fifth straight men’s national crown on the final day of the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships at IMG Academy on Saturday.
The Falcons started Sunday with six points but finished with 58 to outdistance Lincoln (Mo.) University (52 points), Ashland University (50 points) and Tiffin University (50 points) for their 16th men’s outdoor title.
The SAU program has won 39 NCAA championships overall under legendary Head Coach George Williams, who has won the most NCAA track and field championships regardless of division. The five-year championship streak is the longest for the Falcons since they won seven straight between 1989 to 1995.
The Falcons claimed their latest title with seven student-athletes whom Coach Williams dubs the “Magnificent Seven”. On Saturday, five sprinters scored 52 points to complete the comeback.
Unlike last year when the Falcons won by 49 points, the outcome wasn’t decided until the last race. All four teams had a shot at winning but the Falcons beat Lincoln in the 4×400-meter relay to clinch the title. The Falcons trailed Ashland and Tiffin by two points (50-48) and led Lincoln by four points (48-44) heading into the relay.
Fittingly, Khari Herbert, Jr. (Sr./Coral Springs, FL) anchored the Falcons to victory as he blazed across the finish line well ahead of the Lincoln sprinter. Herbert is the only Falcon on this year’s team to win four consecutive championships in his career. The top-ranked 4×400 squad – which includes Shawn Rowe (Sr./West Palm Beach, FL), Shaquille Dill (So./Pembroke, Bermuda) and Adrian Kimmons (Jr./Cold Water, MS) – outran Lincoln by nearly a full second (3:06.96-3:07.98).
Rowe keyed the Falcons surge on Saturday, winning the 400-meter hurdles in 49.42 and placing second in the 110-meter hurdles in addition to running on the victorious 4×400 squad.
He ranked first in the 400 hurdles but was seeded ninth in the 110 hurdles. Omar Johnson (Sr./St. Ann, Jamaica) was also a factor as he placed second in the 400-meter dash and third in the 200-meter dash despite ranking 17th in the 200 entering the meet.
“Everybody stepped up,” Williams said. “Shawn Rowe stepped up in the hurdles and Omar Johnson stepped up in the 200. I’m proud of the young folks because they could have easily folded but they didn’t. They kept their heads up.”
The turning point for the Falcons was the 400 meters when Johnson finished second and Herbert placed third in a race which also featured two Lincoln and one Ashland sprinters.
The Falcons scored 14 points in the event to slide into second place past Lincoln (28-25) while Ashland led with 44 points. The Falcons eventually closed within two points of Ashland behind Dill’s fifth-place performance in the 800-meter dash, Rowe’s 400 hurdles win and Johnson’s high finish in the 200.
From there, the Falcons relied on their bread and butter event – the 4×400 relay. The Falcons have won 22 of the last 31 4×400 relays in the NCAA championship meet including five of the last six. To no one’s surprise, the Falcons took care of business in the 4×400 and now have another award to add in a crowded trophy case.
Other HBCU winners include double winner Cervantes Jackson, a sophomore out of Albany State who won both the high jump and the triple jump, Sedekie Edie of Lincoln who won the long jump, Juan Scott of Central State in the 110-meter hurdles and the Lincoln 4×100 meter relay team of Roberto Smith, Stephen Rose, Jakiel Daniel and Miguel Barton. In addition to his triple jump and high jump double, Jackson was fourth in the long jump.
In the 400 meters final, Joshua Cunningham of Johnson C. Smith finished fourth, Lincoln’s Faedian Royes was sixth, Lincoln’s Barton was seventh and Antonio Loclin Jr. of Benedict was eighth. Rose of Lincoln was third in the 100 meters and second in the 200 meters with Royes fourth.
Lincoln was second in the final event, the 4×400 meter relay with Kevon Robinson and Darien Hunter joining Royes and Barton.
In the women’s competition, Johnson C. Smith finished with 25 points to tie for seventh place. Saint Augustine’s was a point back (24) in ninth. Lincoln was the only other team to finish in the top 20 at 15th with 19 points. West Texas A&M won the title with 64 points.
The lone individual HBCU winner among the ladies was Tia-Adana Belle of St. Augustine’s who won her third straight national 400-meter hurdles title in a record time of 55.42 seconds to cement her status as the best women’s 400-meter hurdler in Div. II history.
Belle is the first three-time Div. II champion in the event since 2002 and the second in D2 history. She shattered the former record of 55.82 which she set at the CIAA Championships on April 23, 2016. Belle also topped the NCAA Div. II Championship record of 56.13 which she set in the NCAA Outdoor Championships on May 28, 2016. J. C. Smith’s Kianje Pollard was sixth in the event.
Belle, who ran in the Rio Olympics for her native Barbados, also placed third in the 100-meter hurdles and was a member of scoring relay teams in the 4×100 and 4×400.
St. Aug’s Shakina Brooks was seventh in the long jump and Sidney Marshall of JCSU was second in the 100 meter hurdles. Lincoln’s Kissi-Ann Brown was fourth in the 400 meters with JCSU’s Kendra Clarke fifth and Benedict’s Brianna Frazier seventh. Frazier was also eighth in the 200 meters and fourth in the triple jump. Winston-Salem State’s TyLeah Hampton was third in the 100 meters.
WSSU’s 4×100 team of Cierra Thompson, Hampton, Jessica Scherrer and Sumayma Wahi was fifth in the 4.×100 meter relay. J. C. Smith’s Sidney Marshall, Mayah Edwards, Crystal Campbell and Pollard were seventh and St. Aug’s Brooks, Leah Barker, Iris Robinson and Belle were eighth.
JCSU’s team of Pollard, Dominique Julius-Williams, Campbell and Clarke were second in the 4×400 relay, Lincoln (Shanice Clarke, Renea Ambersley, Brown and Kimberly Bailey) was third and St. Aug’s (Ade Hunter, Robinson, Barker and Belle) was fourth.
All men’s and women’s finishers in the top eight in their events are designated as NCAA Div. II Track and Field All-Americans.