In another decade or so, the University of Alabama track and field team will be the answer to an odd trivia question. In a year in which UA athletics won one national championship (in football) and played in the NCAA championship match in two more (men’s and women’s golf), name the school’s only 2017-18 Southeastern Conference champion.
That would be the men’s track team, which won the SEC Indoor Track title in February, the first time UA has claimed that championship since 1972. And while it’s a tough trivia question, there was nothing trivial at all about the 2018 season for UA. The Crimson Tide men were in the title mix at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., until the final event and wound up with a fifth-place finish, the first Top 5 National finish for the program since 1986.
“It came down to centimeters and thousandths of a second for a trophy,” Alabama coach Dan Waters said Monday.
“We felt like we had enough opportunities. We also know that we have some holes that we are working to fill. So the biggest thing about this year was gaining the experience of being in contention. That will carry over for us.”
Seven Alabama men earned first-team All-America honors in Eugene and five of those athletes are returning for the 2019 season: junior high jumper Shelby McEwen, junior discus thrower Kord Ferguson, hammer thrower Daniel Haugh and distance runners Gilbert Kigen and Vincent Kiprop, and freshman triple jumper Christian Edwards. Senior Ruebin Walters, who ran sixth in the 110-meter hurdles, also earned All-America honors.
“Shelby jumped 7-3 in the pouring rain,” Waters said of McEwen’s performance. “He was in the first group, when the rain was much worse, but I never had a doubt that he would be competitive. He just has that intensity. He loves to compete on the big stage.”
In addition to that trio, Alabama will also return Kenyan distance runners Kigen and Kiprop. Both finished in the Top 10 in the 10,000-meters (Kiprop finished second) in Eugene, although they struggled in the 5,000 meters.
“In the 10,000 (meters), Kiprop had the lead with about 180 meters to go but the little guy from Michigan (Ben Flanagan) just had perfect mechanics down the stretch,” Waters said.
“In the 5000, I thought Vincent and Gilbert were both a little tired,” Waters said. “They run the (5000/10,000) double in the SECs, the (NCAA) Regionals and then at nationals, so I think fatigue affected them.”
That core could be supplemented by a solid recruiting season.
“If recruiting goes as well as we think it has, we should be adding more points next year,” Waters said.
The Alabama women’s team, with several top performers either sitting out a redshirt season or healing from injuries, scored just three points at nationals, but Waters called the move to hold out those athletes “a tactical decision.”
First-team All-America honorees for the Tide women were freshmen Tamara Clark, Daija Lampkin and Demi Washington, as well as sophomore Symone Darius in the 4×100-meter relay.
“They performed well for such a young group and we’ve recruited even more sprinters, so we are excited about next year,” Waters said.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.