Hampton University’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference women’s indoor track championship was expected. The Lady Pirates were favored, they’d won three in a row and 10 of the last 11.
The men’s title chances were far less secure. Coach Maurice Pierce was confident, despite injuries and dismissals that removed valuable points, and despite the fact that HU hadn’t won an indoor men’s championship since 2003.
But after a day of remarkable individual performances and contributions from many, Hampton swept the men’s and women’s MEAC titles last weekend at Landover, Md.
“Our goal was not to mess up the women’s meet, because we felt like we had more talent and better times coming in than anybody else,” Pierce said. “I thought we could win the men’s side, because even though our times weren’t as good as some other teams, I knew we could run faster and do better than we had so far. The goal was to be running our fastest times at the conference meet.”
Hampton U.’s women, led by Ce’aira Brown and Teiara Denmark, won their fourth consecutive indoor title, outpacing runnerup Florida A&M 147-133, with Morgan State (74) a distant third.
The Pirates’ men came from behind and edged Bethune-Cookman 114-109, with North Carolina A&T (95) third.
“It was great,” Pierce said. “For us to put everything together was very satisfying. It was a total team effort. The morale and camaraderie and support from the women’s team helped us pull it off.”
Hampton’s men and women swept the conference outdoor titles last spring, but the Pirates’ men were a very different team headed into the indoor meet. Pierce figured that the men left a potential 40 points at home, due to injuries and dismissals. HU was third, based on times and performances headed into the meet.
“I thought we’d score better than that,” Pierce said. “I told our guys that we would score, even out of the slower heats, because we were capable of running faster than some of the people competing in the faster heats.”
Versatile Je’Von Hutchison placed in three individual events – he won the 400 meters, was second in the 200, third in the 800 – and anchored the winning 4x400 relay team. Chidi Okezie won the 200 meters and ran a leg on the 4x400 relay, while Edose Ibadin was second in the 800 and ran a leg on the mile relay, as well.
The Pirates went 2-3-4-5 in the 800 meters and picked up 26 points, their biggest event of the meet.
“I think that right there got us over the hump,” Pierce said. “It opened everybody’s eyes – hey, Hampton can win this thing. I think it opened our guys’ eyes, too. They went from competing to thinking, hey, we can win this thing.”
As it turned out, the Pirates needed the win in the 4x400 relay – traditionally the final event of a meet, but not Saturday. Field events were slow to conclude, so the final event of the day in the men’s meet was the triple jump.
With its win in the mile relay, Hampton led by 17 points with the triple jump to be concluded. Bethune-Cookman had four competitors in the event, while the Pirates had just one.
In the end, Bethune-Cookman went 3-4-5 in the triple jump for 15 points, while HU’s Emmanuel Price finished sixth for three points, as HU edged the Wildcats by five.
There wasn’t nearly as much drama for the HU women. Brown, a sophomore, won the 800 meters and the mile and anchored the Lady Pirates’ winning 4x400 and distance medley relay teams. She was named the meet’s outstanding runner.
Denmark won the long jump, was second in the triple jump and pentathlon and third in the high jump. She was named the outstanding field athlete.
Le’Quisha Parker won the 200 and ran a leg on the 4x400 relay, and Malekah Holland won the 400 meters and ran a leg on the mile relay, too.
Hampton’s sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers offset a poor performance from its distance runners, who didn’t score.
“We’re disappointed that we didn’t get anything from our distance runners,” Pierce said. “Fortunately, we have enough talent in the sprints and jumps to make up for it. We need to go back and look at our training and see what we need to do to improve.”
Pierce is in his 12th year at HU second year as overall director of track and field for both men and women. He built the women into the MEAC’s premier program, with 19 indoor and outdoor team titles and four cross country championships.
He is quickly elevating the men’s program, with a second consecutive team title following last spring’s outdoor championship.
“I had to change the culture,” Pierce said. “We addressed some needs with recruits, but the most important thing was to change the culture. We’ve turned everything up. We’ve turned up the training intensity and we’ve made everyone accountable for results – athletes and coaches.
“In the past, we’ve had some coaches who were satisfied to have people win individual titles, but our goal is to win conference titles. If you’re not in agreement with that, then you need to go somewhere else or find another situation, because that’s what we’re working toward.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun