TEXAS RELAYS PREVIEW: Relay Events

TEXAS RELAYS PREVIEW: Relay Events

Between the three NCAA divisions and NJCAA Division I, there are twenty-four relay squads at this weekend’s Texas Relays that qualified for the national championship final last year.  With only three exceptions—the DIII women’s 4×1 and 4×4, and the DII women’s 4×4—at least one finalist from every 2014 outdoor relay national championship is competing in Austin this weekend.

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For a preview of the individual events at the Texas Relays, click here.

The highlight of those races is the men’s 4×400. Much of the meet schedule is rolling, but the men’s invitational 4×4—blessedly final-only—is the ninth of ten sections of 4x400s that begin Saturday at 4:05 Central, meaning that, give or take ten minutes, you can expect the race to go off around 5:00 PM Central on Saturday.

Florida and LSU facing off in the “No Lost Love Invitational” is but one of the juicy subplots in this race.  Outdoor 4x4s are a little less physical than indoor ones, reducing the likelihood of spectacular meltdowns, but still: the last time these two squads faced off, LSU’s Cyril Grayson essentially threw Florida’s Eric Futch (who’s no stranger to bad luck at championships) off of the track, nearly launching an infield brawl between the two teams. The Tigers have Grayson listed in their relay entries, and the Gators don’t have Futch listed in theirs.

Both will be chasing one of the greatest relay quartets in college history: the Texas A&M men.  The Aggies have Deon Lendore listed on the 4×1, 4×2, and 4×4 this weekend—an aggressive presumption of health with nearly three months between now and outdoor nationals. (Maybe I should defer to Pat “Give Me Lendore or Give Me Death” Henry’s judgment here.) Lendore is joined by his fellow indoor college record holders Shavez Hart, Bralon Taplin, and Greg Coleman on Saturday’s 4×4.

Last year in Austin, Florida ran 3:01.26 with Texas A&M crashing out of the race.  With all four men back and entered from last year’s Florida team (Najee Glass, Arman Hall, Hugh Graham Jr., Dedric Dukes) and the Aggie record holders coming in hot, plus near-perfect weather forecast for Saturday, we could see the 3:00.45 meet record set by TAMU four years ago go down.

And if we’re considering three-flat realistic, then the decade-old collegiate record is on the table too.  LSU ran 2:59.59 in 2005, and Texas A&M (with a slightly different lineup than they have this year) missed that time by a hundredth of a second in Eugene last June.

If Lendore and company break the collegiate record this weekend, that would mean that both college 4×4 records were set at the Texas Relays.  The host Texas women, anchored by the then-Sanya Richards, ran 3:23.75 in 2004; the meet closes with a women’s 4×4 (that should go off around 5:10 Central) that could see that record get broken.

The 2014 Longhorn quartet of Briana Nelson-Morolake Akinosun-Kendall Baisden-Courtney Okolo is already the second fastest 4×4 in NCAA history.  With 2012-13 outdoor champ and 2015 indoor third-placer Ashley Spencer in for Nelson (Spencer, Baisden, Okolo, and Akinosun are all listed as running the 4×4 for Texas), Tonja Buford Bailey’s women have a real shot at the CR.

They’re joined in the straight final 4×4 by indoor runners-up Arkansas and perennial relay scorers Florida and Texas A&M.

Several lesser-division powerhouses are competing in earlier sections of the 4×4.  The men of West Texas and South Plains went 1-2 at juco outdoors last year, and the South Plainswomen are the defending NJCAA outdoor 4×4 champs. Returning DII men’s finalists Angelo State, Tarleton State, and Texas A&M Commerce are all entered, as is Augustana (Ill.)—the DIII indoor champs making the trek to Austin from Rock Island, Illinois.

The medleys are not quite as good as they could be: we’ll have to hope for a matchup in Philly or Des Moines involving a loaded Florida men’s SMR or Arkansas women’s DMR, for example.  But both sprint medleys should be watchable.  BYU and Texas A&M are the men’s favorites, though not by a huge margin.  And the Arkansas and Florida women have very strong lineups entered: indoor 200 champ Kyra Jefferson is listed for the Gators and Taylor Ellis-Watson and Chrishuna Williams (second in the 400 and fourth in the 800, respectively) are listed for the Razorbacks.  Tennessee’s collegiate SMR record is extremely strong: 3:41.78 works out to roughly 45 second for the 200 legs, 51 for the 400, and 2:04/5 for the 800.  But the meet record of 3:43.79 (run by an LSU team containing twice-convicted doper Semoy Hackett) could be in danger.

Both races are Friday evening, with the men’s race at 5:20 Central and the women’s race immediately after.

It’s the same cast of characters facing off in the 4×100 (men followed by women starting Saturday at 1:30 Central) and 4×200 (men followed by women starting Saturday at noon).

Texas A&M and LSU were 2-3 behind Florida in the men’s 4×1 at last year’s NCAA outdoor meet.  The Gators aren’t entered in the 4×1 this weekend, but the Tigers and Aggies are.  Those two schools are joined by Texas in a loaded women’s 4×1.

The strengths of the teams involved—and the fact that the longer race is first—might mean that the 4x2s overshadow the 4x1s this weekend.  Arkansas-Texas-TAMU headline the women’s race, and Florida-LSU are the two best teams and the two best friends in the men’s race.  The college records are brutal, with the men’s standing at 1:19.67 and the women’s at 1:29.42.  But these will be most of the nation’s very best sprint relays facing off at full strength in good weather.  That’s enough reason to pay attention.