EUGENE, Oregon – It was probably asking too much for Northwestern State, in its first NCAA 4x100 meter relay national championship race in 31 years, to outsprint Houston, Ohio State and Florida Friday evening.
Especially with those heavyweights in the middle of a wet track, and the Demons stuck on the inside, Lane 1, where water pooled from a soft but constant shower in the half-hour before the race.
NSU's foursome of sophomore Kie'Ave Harry, junior Micah Larkins, senior Amir James and freshman Tre'Darius Carr locked up first-team All-America honors with a 39.63 time that earned the Demons seventh in the national final in the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at historic Hayward Field.
Houston, with three individual 100 dash finalists including champion Cameron Burrell and runner-up Elijah Hall, roared to a collegiate record 38.17 winning time. Ohio State was more than a half-second back with Florida third (38.89) as everyone but the Cougars ran significantly slower than in Wednesday's blistering semifinal round.
Yet there was not a sliver of disappointment from the Demons or their coach, just an acknowledgement of how a bad lane assignment and the track conditions proved a slight impediment Friday. In the semifinals, with ideal conditions, even in the outside lane, the second least-desired assignment, NSU roared to a school record in 38.92 but still was only the sixth-fastest qualifier to emerge from the 24 national semifinalists.
James, who like Larkins was a second-team 4x100 All-American after NSU's 15th-place at the 2016 NCAA Outdoors, was smiling as he fielded questions after the race.
"We ran fast in the semifinals, set a school record Wednesday, but today there were unfavorable weather conditions and we got a bad lane, Lane 1, where there was a lot of water on the track," said NSU's 200-meter record-holder. "It wasn't the best, but we ran what we could, and I'm proud of my team."
Larkins echoed those thoughts, adding a little more description of the track conditions.
"We've run out of bad lanes, Lane 1 at regionals and Lane 8 Wednesday night, so we're used to that, but the rain threw us off a little bit with some standing water in the inside lane," said the Demons' 100 meter dash school record-holder. "Kie'Ave mentioned how he had to dodge a couple puddles to get the stick to me and Amir said his lane was just full of water.
"Still, to rank seventh-best in the nation, we've accomplished a lot this year."
Their coach, associate head coach Adam Pennington, couldn't agree more.
"These guys came together and got better and better when it mattered most," he said. "This wasn't the foursome we had at the Texas Relays when we ran 39.45. We made adjustments in April and added Kie'Ave on the lead leg and Tre'Darius on the anchor. The progress these four guys made over the last 6-8 weeks was amazing and it showed up in our biggest meets.
"We won the Southland Conference championship in a great time, then ran 39.34 in Tampa at the East Regional to get here. Wednesday night, we still didn't run a perfect race, but we broke a 36-year-old school record in an event where a lot of great sprinters have competed for NSU since then," said Pennington. "So I'm incredibly proud of what these four men have done. They deserve to be first-team All-Americans and walk away knowing they were seventh-best in the country, out of well over 300 relay teams."
Arkansas took fourth in 39.01, followed by Florida State (39.37), Southern Mississippi (39.49) and NSU (39.63), while North Carolina A&T did not finish the race.
Carr, Harry, James and Larkins, the last first-team All-American for NSU came two years ago, when senior Emmanuel Williams finished seventh in the long jump. Justin Walker, with a third in the 200 and fourth in the 100 in 2014, was the Demons' last first-team track All-American.