Last week at historic Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, Pitt senior Desmond Palmer asserted himself as one of the greatest hurdlers in program history.
The stage was the NCAA Outdoor Championships, a place not unfamiliar to Palmer. He has now been to the Championships four times in his career, qualifying for both the 400m hurdles and 110m hurdles at last week’s NCAA East Preliminary Rounds.
Palmer made the trip with six other Panthers — including sophomore distance runner Gillian Schriever and junior thrower Andin Fosam — with the goal of making the finals of the 400m hurdles.
Wednesday, Palmer did more than that, qualifying for the finals in both his events. First, he had a career best time in the 110m hurdles at 13.50 — good enough to squeeze into the finals.
Later in the night, he ran a 49.42 in the 400m hurdles to qualify, beating out 2016 olympian Byron Robinson of Texas in the process. In doing so, he became the first Panther to compete in two individual finals at the NCAA Championships since 2002. Head coach Alonzo Webb pointed out Palmer’s hard-working attitude as one of the reasons he has achieved so much.
“This was an absolutely remarkable achievement by Desmond tonight … ” Webb said in a press release. “His goal at the beginning of the season was to final at NCAAs in both events, so it was special to see him achieve that goal after witnessing all of the hard work he has put in over the last four years.”
Palmer then competed Friday in the championships of both events. In the 110m hurdles, he ran a time of 14.00, earning him a seventh-place finish. He fared better in the 400m hurdles, finishing fifth with a time of 49.63 — his highest finish in the event at the NCAA Championships.
Both performances earned Palmer first team All-America honors, the second and third such honors of his career. He ends his time with the Panthers as one of the school’s best athletes in recent history and currently holds the team’s all-time 400m hurdles record at 49.17.
He had mixed feeling about leaving Pitt, describing the moment as “‘bittersweet” before adding, “It’s been an honor to run for Pitt, and I’m glad to finish my career as an All-American.”
Elsewhere on the track, sophomore Gillian Schriever ran well in the women’s 10k Thursday, breaking a 25-year-old school record with a time of 33:50.03. The performance was good for 13th place, earning her second team All-American honors.
“Gillian had nothing to lose and she ran with a purpose tonight,” women’s distance coach Adam Bray said in a press release. “She was with the pack for the majority of the race, letting others drop off towards the end after the faster pace at the start. At that later stage in the race, it’s survival mode for everyone, and she showed her toughness by passing several runners and finishing well inside the top-15.”
Other athletes in the Championships included the women’s 4×400 relay team and junior thrower Andin Fosam. The relay team of first-year Danielle Leaks, senior Desiree Garland, and juniors Morgan Harvey and Quadaisha Newkirk finished 24th with a time of 3:41.92, making them Honorable Mention All-Americans.
Fosam — the only field athlete to make the championships — had a disappointing day, finishing tied for 23rd in the women’s hammer throw after fouling on each of her attempts. Even so, she was also named an Honorable Mention All-American.
With the conclusion of the Championships, the season officially came to an end for the Pitt track and field team. The loss of Palmer is tough to handle for Webb, and it will be challenging for him to replace him next season.
“Desmond has meant so much to the program over the last four years,” Webb said. “He did everything we asked of him and was always doing whatever it took to help the team. He certainly left his mark on the program.”