Track and Field: Pitt takes momentum into outdoor season

By Kelly Flanigan

The men’s and women’s track and field teams named seven All-American athletes, had… The men’s and women’s track and field teams named seven All-American athletes, had impressive showings at the Big East Championship, brought home team honors from the NCAA championship and shattered several long-standing Pitt and national racing records. And that was just the indoor season.

The men’s team placed third overall in the Big East Tournament in late February, which featured a record-breaking performance by sophomore Brycen Spratling in the 500-meter dash. He earned the title by setting the fastest time not only in the American collegiate category, but also in the world, at 1:00.63.

“I was very happy with the men’s team performance in the Big East tournament. We finished eighth or ninth the year before, so it was a big improvement,” head coach Alonzo Webb said.

Spratling was named the Big East Most Outstanding Male Track Athlete, won the 200-meter dash crown and participated in the 4×400 meter relay team that earned All-Big East Honors with teammates Reginald Steele IV, Jermaine Lowery and Daniel O’Toole. Spratling was also named first team All-American at the Indoor Championships.

“Brycen leads by example,” Webb said. “He’s a hard worker and a tremendous kid. He learns from Jermaine and Jerome Lowery because they have the experience. He looks up to them for a lot, especially when you get to the meets — how to carry yourself and warm up properly.”

Spratling has been named to the watch list for the Bowerman trophy presented to the most outsanding male and female track and field athletes in the entire collegiate sport.

“Being in the running for this award is a big honor,” Spratling said in a statement. “It was unexpected to hear I was nominated.”

As only a sophomore, he finished second in the 400-meter events at the NCAA Indoor National Championships and fourth overall at the USATF National Championships. In addition, Webb says that Spratling brings something unique to the men’s team.

“He has the competitive spirit that brings a lot to the team,” he said. “The older guys are helping him go through the ropes too.”

The men’s team also had three other athletes qualify for the NCAA Indoor National Championships, including the relay team of Micah Murray, Dontave Cowsette and Lowery. The relay team was awarded second team All-American status.

The women’s team, which finished eighth overall in the Big East Championships, sent senior Cambrya Jones and freshman Taylor Ellis-Watson to represent the team in the NCAA Indoor Championships for the 200-meter and 400-meter dashes, respectively.

“Our goal for the women’s team is to finish in the top three of the Big East during the outdoor season,” Webb said.

Ellis-Watson qualified with a time of 52.75 seconds, the sixth fastest time in the country. She also broke a 21-year-old Pitt record. Ellis-Watson won the gold medal in the 400-meter dash at the Big East Indoor Championships.

She was named a first team All-American but later sustained an injury.

“I wasn’t expecting to be named to the list and was ecstatic when I got the news from Coach Webb,” Ellis-Watson said in a statement.

“We don’t know what the extent of Taylor’s injury is,” Webb said. “It’s not going to be anything really bad. She’s already moving a lot better than she was when it first happened. It’s kind of encouraging.”

Jones qualified for the 200-meter with a time of 23.47, the 12th fastest time in the nation. She won a gold medal in the event at the Big East Championships while setting a new school record. She was also named a second team All American.

Now it is time for the team’s outdoor season, which Webb cites as the team’s strength.

“We’re a better outdoor team generally because we don’t have events indoors that we excel at,” Webb said.

The team’s schedule will change a bit now, but it remains as busy as ever.

“Typically, we train four days a week and travel and compete on the weekends,” Webb said. “We’re leaving for North Carolina for a meet that starts on Friday this week.”

Webb cites the team’s lack of an outdoor facility in which to host meets as a roadblock to competition and a major reason the team must travel so much.

“We’re on the road a lot. It makes it tough on the kids, but they’ve been pretty resilient. It is way different than most schools with facilities that don’t have to travel every weekend,” he said.

“The goal for the men’s team is to win an outdoor Big East Championship and qualify as many athletes as possible for the NCAA championship,” Webb added. “We have seven All-Americans this season. That is the most All-Americans in the history of Pitt on the men’s side, and we want to try to improve on that as well.”

The many accolades the team has earned do not come without a price. The team is on the road nearly every weekend for the rest of the semester. Pitt will compete in the 49er Classic this weekend. After that, the team will compete everywhere from Virginia, Philadelphia and Florida to Texas, Tennessee and Maryland.

Webb seems confident that the team’s hard work and dedication will soon pay off.

“We want to get the program to a national level, and we’re starting to do that right now,” Webb said.