May 30, 2009
Rome, Ga. - A national champion, 17 All-Americans and a pair of top-10 finishes - all told, the 2009 outdoor track season resulted in some lofty honors for the Shorter College track team.
For head coach Scott Byrd, that is more than enough of a silver lining in what the Hawks and Lady Hawks could have considered a dark cloud in the wake of this year's NAIA National Track Championships, one in which athletes and coaches began with the greatest of expectations in the form of a national team championship.
"It's hard to be disappointed with a fifth and a seventh place finish," Byrd said as he looked back on the respective performance of the men and women's squads at the national meet. "If a couple of events had gone a few points the other way, there we are. But we moved up five spots in the final men's standings and eight spots on the women's side."
"They knew how close we were," he added. "They understand how track works. You've got to evaluate, but at the same time congratulate."
Considering that the track program just completed its third year of competition, what Shorter accomplished is remarkable.
While the Azusa Pacific men and Wayland Baptist women each repeated as national champions, the Hawks' fifth place finish was just 5.5 points behind third place and the Lady Hawks could have moved into the top five had they secured one more point.
Shorter freshman Justyna Mudy certainly went above and beyond the call for the women's team, as she became the first Lady Hawk to be crowned a national champion when she won the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a dominating performance.
Having already made her mark in cross country last fall by earning All-America honors, the runner from Poland became the only athlete - male or female - to break an NAIA record when she broke the tape in 10:12.30, six seconds better than the mark set by Dallon Williams of Cal State San Marcos, who finished nearly 30 seconds behind Mudy this year.
"She just crushed it," Byrd said.
The effort wound up giving Mudy the honor of being named the meet's Most Outstanding Performer.
Naturally, Mudy's time also set a Shorter school record in the event and was one of five new school marks set at the national meet.
The Lady Hawks' 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams added their names to the record books, as did sophomore Ashlie Stewartson in the long jump.
Stewartson, who opted to join the track team this spring after emerging as a standout for Shorter's volleyball team, was one of two Lady Hawks who earned All-America status in four events after finishing second in the 400, fourth in the long jump and serving as a member of the two relay teams.
"Ashlie was a machine," Byrd said.
Joining Stewartson on the podium four times was senior K'Ianca Dupree, who closed out her brief career at Shorter as the school's most decorated track athlete.
Having already earned All-America honors in 2008 when she doubled in the national indoor and outdoor meets, Dupree finished fifth in the 100 and fourth in the 200 this year while running the anchor leg for the two relay teams that finished third.
"She has set the standard here as far as female athletes go," Byrd said of Dupree. "She did everything we asked her to do and matured into the leadership role we needed, there's no question.
"She came into a program that didn't exist and wound up being a great example of what a Shorter student-athlete is all about."
First-year athletes Charnita McIntosh and Brittany Sewell joined Dupree and Stewartson to finish with a time of 46.58 in the 4x100, and Mia Jones and Tia Moreland teamed up with Stewartson and Dupree in the 4x400 to post a time of 3:45.90.
While the women made their charge into the top-10, the Hawks made sure they were noticed with a solid performance that included three runner-up finishes.
Junior Nick Dodson finished second in the 400 hurdles for the second straight year with a time of 51.97, sophomore Montagious Brown took second in the long jump clearing the bar at 7 feet, 1 inch and the Hawks' 4x100 relay team posted a 40.37 mark to finish second.
Huntley also finished eighth in 100 and Valentine fifth in the 200 to garner All-American laurels, while in the final competition of their careers at Shorter, seniors Jared Carson and Martin Hernandez scored valuable points for the Hawks.
Carson placed sixth in the 10,000-meter run while Hernandez finished fourth in the men's marathon with a time of 2:34:02.
Rounding out the All-American efforts for Shorter was Nate Scott, who took fourth place in 110 hurdles with a new school record, and Shorter's 4x400 relay team consisting on Terrence Scruggs, Valentine, Dodson and Herring.
The Hawks can only imagine what could have been had the team's 800 runners matched the pre-meet hype they carried into the event.
Byrd truly believed that the 800 and 4x800 were Shorter's best chances to secure points, but the Hawks came away from both events empty-handed.
"If you told me we wouldn't get any points by our 800 guys, I'd have said you were crazy," Byrd said. "They all had good times and I figured in the worst case scenario, we'd get at least eight points from the two events they were in.
"They just had a bad run. It's got to be looked at because you don't want to make the same mistake again, and that is my responsibility."
Still, Byrd knows that minor disappointments will not overshadow what the team achieved.
"You have to congratulate them on an unbelievable season," said Byrd. "That is three incredible years in which we have had 30 outdoor and indoor All-Americans.
"They laid out their hearts for three brutal days out there. All of us wanted to win the national championship, but we did a lot of things right, that's for sure."