June 2, 2002
COLUMBIA, S.C. – A day removed from winning the national championship in Baton Rouge, La., the South Carolina Women’s Track and Field Team came home to a packed house at Sarge Frye Field as Carolina Baseball had just won the Regional Title and celebrated with fans after the game. The Men’s and Women’s Team were introduced to the crowd as they walked onto the field holding their individual and team trophies in their hands. After the introductions, and a few words from Head Coach Curtis Frye, fans were able to walk down to the playing field and meet the National Championship Gamecocks.
“I think I remember instructing out women that we only needed six points and that’s all to win the title [going into the 4x400m relay],” said Coach Frye. “I told them to push, but not too hard. If they started to cramp, then to slow down a bit and not pull anything. But they had another don’t in mind: Don’t lose.”
“After the women won the 4x400m relay and I knew we had just won the national title, I just looked up into the sky and said “Thank you Lord. Thank you. I could believe it has all happened because we have prepared so hard for this. We have talked about this all year long. It isn’t unexpected. We almost ran a perfect track meet. It was all due to the preparation and the time that has been spent this past year working hard for this. I told them on Saturday morning ‘Let’s don’t get out of the zone like TCU did last year and like Alabama did a few years ago. Let’s stay in the zone and win this.”
“This whole thing has been a little surreal until now. When the seniors behind me stepped forward, that’s when it really hit me. As they were being introduced, I had flashbacks of those seniors coming in as freshmen and flashbacks of some of the highlights of the past few years. I think it has just hit home that not only did we just win the national title, but this is also the last time these seniors will be with us in this family, and we all are a family.”
As the Gamecock track and field team walked onto the field, they met another successful Gamecock team – the USC Baseball team, fresh from defeated North Carolina to advance to the NCAA Super Regional for the third straight year. “No doubt about it, you have to savor the atmosphere here at Sarge Frye Field,” commented Carolina Baseball Coach Ray Tanner. “We kept up with how the track teams were doing in Baton Rouge and when we heard the news Saturday night that the women had won the national title – it just made us so proud to be a part of the Athletics Department at South Carolina. All the sports are having great success at USC, but nothing compares with what they just did, winning the national title.”
“Seeing the women win the national title is a very motivating thing for us. They are in the position that we want to be in. They are the trendsetters – they are the first to win a national title at South Carolina. We [the baseball team] have won games here at Sarge Frye Field, but we haven’t won the final game and that’s what they’ve basically just done. They won the final game – the final meet – of the season. That is the goal every sports team has is to be the last one to win. The women’s track team accomplished that this year.”
“The celebration was a perfect cap to a great weekend. We have great fans here in South Carolina and it was special for them to see this, after the baseball team winning a hard fought battle, they were able to see this great celebration for the track teams. It was really a special thing here tonight.”
USCSports.com was able to talk to a few of the athletes and coaches on their recent experiences and the celebrations.
Otukile Lekote I feel great right now. This is my third or fourth national title in an individual event and it is just wonderful. It has taken a lot of work though. I believe the team we had really stuck together and had a common goal in mind. We all did our best, men and women together. We have worked for this from the beginning. Every meet we have had the goal of winning. We all believed we could do it and once we did it, it was not a surprise to us.
Demetria Washington We really believed it was possible from the beginning. Looking back, we had a great freshman class when I first came here to South Carolina and we have a great freshman class this year. This really is a blessing. I was so proud to represent South Carolina at the National Championships. I knew going into the final race, the 4x400m relay, that we could do it. I knew if we really put our minds to it and concentrated that we’d be able to pull it out. We are all very close – a big family. I know that the other girls rely on my for support and they know that I rely on them for support. We all support each other and we are all there for each other.
Jonathan Fortenberry I have to admit, it feels pretty good right now. I’m so proud the girls won the national title – they did great just like they have done all year. Prior to the men racing the 4x400m relay [which they won], I just prayed. People started to get a little scared after watching us in the prelims. My time was really bad in my leg of the prelims and I am a really superstitious guy, so I wore my uniform backwards after the prelims. I guess it worked. It hasn’t really hit home yet, but I know it will once I slip that ring on my finger.
Lashinda Demus It feels pretty good. It is all very exciting and it just makes me want to work harder to win another title. We have been finishing 1-2 and 1-2-3 all year in the 400m hurdles, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that we finished 1-2 in that event at the NCAA Championships. I ran faster than I expected in that event – I knew I would run fast but I didn’t think I’d run that fast. I should have been second and Tiffany Ross should have been first, because that’s the way we’ve finished all year, but the important thing is that we finished 1-2 and next year I hope we can finish 1-2-3. After we won the 4x400m relay, it was just a big relief. I went and ran as fast as I could and I started cramping up afterwards – I could barely walk. It hurt, but it also felt really good as well. I couldn’t even make it up on the podium but I didn’t care. We won and that’s all that mattered. I don’t have any predictions for next year but I can hope. When it comes, it comes. If it doesn’t come, then it doesn’t.
Lisa Barber This whole thing hasn’t really hit home yet, but I believe that it has happened. It’s great. I knew we could do it. We could have won it the past four years, but we have came up short those years. I didn’t realize until after we won and somebody told us that we were the first Gamecock team to ever win a national championship. It never even crossed my mind that no other team had won a national title before. It really surprised me. We have all worked very hard and we have some great coaches. Our men and women train together and I think that has benefited us greatly. If not for that, we probably wouldn’t be here tonight. A lot of men’s teams train separately from women’s teams, but being able to train with the men is a big plus for us. I’d say this is the perfect end to four years of track here at USC. We came in first in the 4x100m relay and that is a first for us. I finished second in the 400m dash and I had no idea that I’d do that. It came as a surprise as I set a personal record in that race. Coach told us we had to get six points prior to one of our races and Aleen Bailey and I went out and scored 12. The 4x400m relay team did a great job. You can’t ask for anything better than what they did. I graduate in December with a degree in Retail Management and I will hopefully be able to run track professionally. If not, then I guess I’ll find a job. If I can run professionally, I just hope that I can stay focused and be successful – you don’t have your team there at that level – but that is the way it is – it’s the next level. I hope I can stay injury free, positive, and confident.
NCAA Men’s Results
South Carolina – Tied for Sixth
Otis Harris – Eighth
Jonathan Fortenberry – Ninth
Otukile Lekote – NCAA Champion
Chris Steddum – Fourth
4x100m Relay – Fourth
Duan Barrino, Andre Totton, James Law, and Corey Taylor
Alternates: Fred Townsend and Thomas Lewis
4x400m Relay – NCAA Champion
James Law, Otukile Lekote, Otis Harris, and Jonathan Fortenberry
Alternate: Shamus Singletary
NCAA Women’s Results
South Carolina – NCAA Champion
Aleen Bailey – Second
Lisa Barber – Fifth
Lisa Barber – Second
Lashinda Demus – Third
Demetria Washington – Fourth
Tiffany Ross – Eighth
Lashinda Demus – NCAA Champion
Tiffany Ross – Second
Shevon Stoddart – Sixth
Antoinette Wilks – 13th
Tacita Bass – Third
4x100m Relay – NCAA Champion
Erica Whipple, Demetria Washington, Lisa Barber, and Aleen Bailey
Alternates: Mechelle Lewis (ran prelims), Khalilah Carpenter, and Alexis Joyce
4x400m Relay – NCAA Champion
Tiffany Ross, Demetria Washington, Tacita Bass, and Lashinda Demus
Alternates: Mechelle Lewis (ran prelims), Lisa Barber, and Shevon Stoddart