Randall Williams | Sports Editor
HamptonPirates.com | Todd Drexler
After winning the Big South Conference Championship indoor track meet this past Saturday, the Hampton University Men and Women’s Track & Field teams are now champions.
This, despite practice problems, as well as a near tragedy that threatened to knock them off track – or worse.
For the women, even though there were nine teams competing, the meet turned out to be a two-team race. The Lady Pirates dueled with High Point University for most of the competition and ultimately edged them out by 3.5 points.
The men had a similar victory, defeating second-place Campbell University by 9 and third-place High Point by 39.
HU senior track star Brenen Garrett, leader of the men’s team, was ecstatic after the win.
“It feels good,” he said. “It feels like what it’s supposed to feel like. We’re champions.
“We’ve been patient, but we stayed consistent with our work.”
Lady Pirates junior Jaelen Leonard felt similar.
“We’ve been through so much as a team, and we deserved to win this,” she said.
Earlier this season, the team had to practice outdoors while its Boo Williams training facility underwent renovations.
“Running in the cold was harmful for us,” HU junior Geoff McCollough said. “Our muscles got tight, and we couldn’t wait to go inside.”
On top of not having a facility, the team also escaped an enormous bus fire three weeks ago in which equipment, valuables and belongings were torched in the flames. Still, when Crystal Eley, the captain of the women’s track team, was asked about these unfortunate events, she shared a different perspective.
“The series of events that our team has overcome are simply evidence that blessings and miracles are real,” she said. “These were not setbacks. They were steppingstones to prepare us for the victories God had in store.”
Jaelen Williams, a junior on the men’s team, doesn’t see the bus fire as true hindrance either.
“I think it was motivation for us,” he said. “We overcame not having uniforms and equipment. … That anger we had turned into energy to go out and compete.”
Williams, who has competed on a national scale individually, says it feels good to finally win as a team.
“I’ve been able to get [my wins] on my own, but being able to share success with a team is a differently feeling,” he said. “Celebrating with both the men and the women was amazing.”
This season was the inaugural year for the Pirates in the Big South. Hampton’s move to the conference was questioned by some when the shift was announced in November 2017. Everyone from alumni to students wondered the same thing: Could Hampton successfully transition into a new conference? It was even a shock to the athletes.
“When we first heard the news, it was weird to imagine not competing against other HBCUs,” Jerrick Powell said. “But we always had the work ethic to compete.
“We were newcomers in the Big South, but we wanted to make our presence known early on. I think we all had the goal to set the tone and let [the Big South] know that with our arrival, things are going to change.”
Powell, who scored a career high 34 points and won Outstanding Field Performer of the meet, credited Garrett with inspiring him.
“[He] kept telling me that my teammates are looking up to me, it’s time to show out,” Powell said. “At that point, I told myself we weren’t leaving with anything but first place.”
Garrett’s teammates describe his leadership style as unique and crafty.
“Brenen has that voice where despite how tough times are, [he] can influence the team in any situation,” McCollough said.
An example of this is when Garrett went down with an injury earlier this year.
“Him being who he is, his presence was enough for us to not get discouraged,” McCollough said. “When he couldn’t step up as an athlete, he became a cheerleader, motivator and even a coach at times.”
This was on display during the last race of the meet, the 4x400m relay. The stakes were high for the Lady Pirates. If they placed first or second, they’d secure their championship. If not, the title would have fallen into a competitor’s hands.
According to his teammates, Garrett was sprinting around the facility, ecstatically cheering on his team.
“It was a fight all the way till the last 120 meters,” Eley said. “[But] that’s when all the magic happened. My teammates left their hearts out on the track, end of story.”
“Hampton women’s track and field has always had a rich legacy for winning the MEAC … but we hadn’t won a title since the indoor season in 2016,” Eley continued. “Now, as a senior to win this championship title means more to me than words can explain … we not only won but we made history and that’s the beautiful part.”
To add to the Pirates success, Maurice Pierce was named Coach of the Year for the first time in the Big South. Pierce has now won 15 conference awards.
With the indoor season now having come to a close one question remains for both Hampton Track teams, what’s next?
Garrett has the answer.
“Outdoor [season], we’re trying to go back to back and sweep the Big South,” he said. “With more events to showcase, we’re definitely going to break some records. Everybody needs to expect greatness and to get ready to follow the Hampton track team.”