March 12, 2005
Fayetteville, Ark. – Day two of the NCAA Indoor Championship for South Carolina track and field was a day of both joy and pain for the Gamecocks at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark. Despite a heartbreaking injury in the team’s strongest event, USC women added six All-American honors for a total of eight to finish in fifth place overall (28 points) and a national title in the 4x400m relay. The men’s team totaled two All-Americans and finished 19th with 12 points in the championship.
“We had an excellent meet,” said USC Head Coach Curtis Frye. “All of our athletes put on a great performance. We had one misfortune, but our athletes picked it up. When one piece falls, the others pick it up.”
Starting off Saturday’s competition were two heats of the women’s 400m final, consisting of sophomore All-American and 2004 World Junior 4x400m gold medalist Stephanie Smith, senior All-American and 2004 Olympian Shevon Stoddart and 2004 World Junior 400m and 4x400m relay gold medalist Natasha Hastings. In heat one, Smith and Stoddart had an impressive performance to dominate their heat with back-to-back finishes. Smith’s season best time of 52.94 earned third place in the event, while Stoddart finished fourth with a time of 52.95. In a disappointing heat two, freshman Natasha Hastings, who went into the meet with the second-fastest time in school history and the third fastest time in the preliminary, went down in the first stretch of the 400m with a heartbreaking injury that ended her competition in the championship with the 4x400m left to run.
Despite all odds, the Gamecocks fought to remain among the top contenders in the championship and ran an unbelievable 4x400m relay that boosted them from ninth to fifth place, only one point behind Nebraska who finished fourth with 29 points overall. The quartet, which consisted of Stoddart, Smith, All-American Tiffany Ross-Williams and first-time All-American Shalonda Solomon, who replaced Hastings, ran 3:30.01 for the title- the second fastest time in school history and the sixth fastest collegiate time ever.
“Since the lost we had in New York earlier in the season, it’s been in my heart and my teammates’ hearts to win the title at nationals,” said eight-time All-American Stoddart. “Some of us felt like we didn’t have any legs, but we stuck it out and did the best that we could. What can I say, hard work pays off.”
“Shalonda Solomon ran a great anchor to replace Hastings and Tiffany Ross stepped it up today, ran a 51.50 split and led the team to the win,” said Coach Frye. But according to Ross-Williams, the win was a result of the effort by her teammates and the many who support them.
“I’m just excited that everybody stepped up big for the 4x400m relay because that’s when it counts-at nationals. I’m grateful for all the support and I’m glad that we won when it counted,” said Ross-Williams.
The men’s 4x400m also had a good performance as senior Aaron Luster, freshmen Jamil James, Keith Hinnant and first-time All-American Jason Richardson, who finished third in Friday’s 60m hurdles finals, finished ninth with a time of 3:07.04- the third fastest time in school history.
“Aaron Luster is the hero of the meet,” said Coach Frye. “Although he didn’t receive All-American honors, he had a 46-second lead-off in the 4x400m relay, he was our prayer leader and he kept both the men’s and women’s teams together. We just have a great group of athletes. This is a group I love. They have great spirits, are academically sound and just great athletes,” said Coach Frye.
Tennessee’s women team won the national title with 46 points, followed by Florida (36), Miami (32) and Nebraska (29). For the men, Arkansas won coach McDonnell’s 40th championship title with 56 points. Florida followed with 46 points, with Wisconsin at third with 43 points, Auburn with 37 points and Indiana in fifth with 30 points.
Complete results are available at www.ncaasports.com and www.uscsports.com. The Gamecocks will be back at home for the Weems Baskin Relays held March 18-19 in Columbia.
USC’s 2005 All-Americans
Rodney Martin (first-time, 3rd in the 200m)
Jason Richardson (first-time, 3rd in the 60m hurdles)
Tiffany Ross-Williams (10-time, 1st in the 4x400m relay)
Stephanie Smith (six-time, 3rd in the 400m, 1st in the 4x400m relay)
Shalonda Solomon (two-time, 5th in the 200m, 1st in the 4x400m relay)
Shevon Stoddart (8-time, fourth in the 400m, 1st in the 4x400m relay)
Erica Whipple (9-time, 6thin the 200m)