North Carolina Central track and field head coach T.J. Walker made a slight adjustment to his 400 relay team Friday night. That small attention to detail, and the proper execution by his lone senior, led to a big day at the track for the Eagles.
Saturday at the famed Penn Relays in Philadelphia, PA., N.C. Central’s relay team of Petey Williams, Deontae Williams, Blake Hartsfield and Isaac Roberts placed second in the college finals, posting a season-best time of 40.26 seconds. That mark was the best finish at the event for the Eagles since 2008. N.C. Central finished second to UWI Mona out of Kingston, Jamaica (39.96) and ahead of Coppin State (40.57), Virginia Tech (40.77), Troy (40.80), Johnson C. Smith (40.91) and N.C. State (40.99).
After their race on Friday, Walker noticed one of his runners was leaving his mark just a tad bit too soon, so he pulled his only senior, Petey Williams, aside and pointed it out. According to Walker, he knew Petey Williams, the veteran of the bunch, could make the proper adjustment and carry it over to the track the next day. With the problem solved, the relay team shaved five to six tenths of a second of their time. The Eagles ran 40.80 seconds in the semifinals.
“He (Petey) made the adjustment and it reflected in our place and also our time,” Walker said.
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Even before the race Walker saw something in his team that led him to believe Saturday would be a good day. It was just the second week that combination ran together in the 400. Bodies had to get healthy and Walker saw things earlier in the season that made him want to get this particular four on the track as a unit. In fact, the previous week, at the Duke Invitational in Durham, was the first time all season the quartet ran together. Walker wanted to make sure they were comfortable in their exchanges and after watching them perform on Friday, he could sense the confidence among the group. Performing in front of the largest crowd of the season didn’t rattle the runners at all. In fact, the added excitement and big stage at the Penn Relays pushed the group even more, according to their coach.
“It can be very intimidating, but they handled themselves very well,” Walker said. “Three of these guys ran at the Penn Relays last year. They had the confidence. They trained hard, they believed in themselves and the chemistry is pretty organic.”
The relay team is made up of one senior, two juniors and a freshman (Hartsfield), who Walker said didn’t lack for confidence at all on the big stage. That’s a credit to the upperclassmen, who groomed Hartsfield through the process leading up to the Penn Relays, which has been known to draw 50,000 fans. Because the veterans had done well the previous season, they came into the event with confidence. With the relays in the review, the Eagles will now head to the MEAC championships this weekend in Greensboro hitting their stride. Walker recalls last season how a good showing at Penn Relays led to a good week at the MEAC finals. He hopes that happens again this season.
“As coaches we always talk about the peak periods,” Walker said. “We are very strategic with our approach throughout the entire year to make sure once we get to our peak period of our seasons that our athletes are healthy, physically and mentally, and that they are emotionally charged. That’s where we are right now.”