Pitt sends four athletes to national meet to compete in 4x400m relay

Matt+Wilson%2C+pictured%2C+is+one+of+four+Panthers+that+will+compete+in+the+4x400m+relay+event+at+the+National+Outdoor+Track+and+Field+meet+in+Oregon+on+Wednesday.

Image via Matt Hawley, Pitt Athletics

Matt Wilson, pictured, is one of four Panthers that will compete in the 4x400m relay event at the National Outdoor Track and Field meet in Oregon on Wednesday.

By Dalton Coppola, Sports Editor

Track and field is a sport that is inherently individualized. When competing in an event, athletes are on their own. At the end of meets, teams typically earn a cumulative score but otherwise there isn’t much of a team aspect to the sport — unless they’re competing in a relay event.

Pitt track and field will compete in just one event at the National Outdoor Track and Field meet this week in Eugene, Oregon, but four Panthers are making the trip. The foursome — composed of senior Cobe Wiggins, senior Lonzell Feagin, junior Matt Wilson and senior Ade Jones-Roundtree — will compete in the 4x400m relay event on Wednesday night after qualifying for the event at the Eastern Regional about a week ago, becoming the first relay team since 2014 to earn a spot in the national meet.

For a relay team to advance from the regional to the national meet, it must finish with a top 12 time in their event at the regional meet, making qualifying for the national stage statistically one of the most difficult meets to qualify for. Wilson said the idea of enjoying the national meet, a moment they have worked for years to achieve, alongside teammates is something the relay team is incredibly grateful for.

“[Qualifying as a relay team] is 10 times better,” Wilson said. “It’s very difficult a lot of times to have all four people in a relay be at their very best on that exact same day … it just makes it that much more exciting. Plus, being able to travel and be able to be with that entire group of people is going to be great.”

There’s a lot riding on each athlete’s individual performance — if even one athlete isn’t on the top of their game that day, their teammates will lose out on the opportunity to claim a spot on the podium themselves. Wiggins echoed his teammate’s excitement about running with the relay team in Eugene, adding that he enjoys running a race for more than just himself.

“[Track and field] is pretty individualized and that’s why I love the relays,” Wiggins said. “It takes a previously individualized event and makes it a little bigger … it gives you a bigger purpose. You’re running for other people, other people are counting on you and you’re counting on other people — there’s a sort of vulnerability there.”

The group posted their season best time after clocking in at 3:06.92 and finishing No. 7 overall at the regional meet. But Wiggins said it took some time for it to set in that he and his teammates had qualified for nationals. Once it did, though, the emotions that naturally come with achieving one of the highest honors possible came rushing in.

“It took a few moments to realize we had qualified,” Wiggins said. “It finally set in after a minute or two that we did [qualify] and the first feeling was pure excitement … to be able to compete there and really test yourself and see what you got, that’s what you’re doing track for.”

But before the quartet was able to take the track, chaos ensued as the lights went out in the middle of the race prior, forcing the runners who were running at the time to finish under the illumination of spectators’ cell phone flashlights. The four Panthers were one heat away from running in, arguably, the biggest race of their lives and there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding whether the team would even get to race that night. Fortunately for the Panthers, the lights did come back on after a brief delay and when they did, the Panthers were ready.

Although the power outage was out of the norm and a brand new obstacle for the team, it didn’t hinder them much at all, according to Wilson.

“At first we weren’t sure how long it was going to take to get the power on,” Wilson said. “I think we all just did a really good job of adjusting to [the situation] and making sure we stayed in the right mindset because we knew we still had a job to do.”

 

Running a race has a large mental aspect on top of the obvious physical aspects that the delay could have impacted. Every runner has their pre-race process that oftentimes entails a very rigid schedule — stretching, listening to music, talking to coaches and even running through certain superstitious routines. Wiggins said although his routine had to be broken away from, once it was time to run, instincts took over.

“[The power outage] was definitely unexpected,” Wiggins said. “The only thing we could really think was, ‘How are we going to stay mentally prepared for our race?’ … I was preparing for the worst case scenario, that we would continue running in the dark, and we couldn’t let that affect our race — we just had to go with the flow.”

The Panthers are slated to run, barring any unforeseen power outages, at 11:18 p.m. ET on Wednesday and will compete against 23 other schools and their relay teams. The stakes are high, but according to Wiggins, he and his teammates are just going to make the trip to Oregon and perform to the best of their ability.

“No matter what meet it is, the mindset for me is the same,” Wiggins said. “[My mindset is] ‘What do I have to do to be the best I can be?’ because that’s all you can really ask for. On any given day I’m trying to be the best I can be.”

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