THE FLATS – Miami likes to boast about it’s hot night life.
It can get pretty hot during the day, too.
It was exceptionally hot, and sticky, all weekend long in Miami this past weekend, as Cobb Stadium hosted the 2018 ACC Track and Field Championships. But a little heat wasn’t going to keep Georgia Tech track and field down.
The Yellow Jackets came out of the weekend with a pair of championships (Jeanine Williams in the 100-meter high hurdles, Avery Bartlett in the 800), seven All-ACC finishes (Williams and Bartlett, were first team, Benjamin Jean (400), Daniel Pietsch (400), Andres Littig (800), Preston Smith (Triple Jump), and Hailey Gollnick (3,000 steeplechase), were second team) and six personal bests (Anthony Steets, 53.63 in the 400m hurdles, Haley Anderson, 4:28.37 in the 1,500, Hana Herndon, 4:29.32 also in the 1,500, Gollnick, 10:24.99, Dasia Smith, 11.50 meters in the Women’s Triple Jump and Smith, 15.67.
“It was very exciting. There were a lot of people who did well,” said Gollnick. “Sometimes the heat kind of got some people, like it really affected the 5K-ers, but a lot of people still ran really well. Avery (Bartlett) won the 800, which was really cool, and Jeanine (Williams) won the 100 hurdles, which was really cool.”
Finding ANYTHING cool was difficult, but several Jackets showed cool under pressure.
None were cooler than Williams, who came in having already won the 60 highs at ACC Indoors and was looking become the fastest woman hurdler both indoors and outdoors. The Kingston, Jamaica, native, shook off an admittedly shaky Friday prelim, then clipping the final hurdle in the final, to take home the gold, with a 12.83.
“I never realized I hit the hurdle until I was watching the video after,” she said. “I guess I was so into finishing that I didn’t realize that I hit the last hurdle. I’m just glad it didn’t throw me off as bad as hitting the hurdle can.”
Williams is only the seventh student-athlete ever to earn the double – it was the eighth time it had been done – and second Yellow Jacket to accomplish the feat (Andria King did it in 1999). She would have had a school-record but the wind was deemed too strong to officially declare it a record. Her time still stands as the best in the ACC, fourth in the East and 8th in the country. She put the school record on notice.
“I know that I can get that time again and am able to break the school record, maybe at the Regionals or at Nationals itself,” she said. “I’ll have an opportunity to break the record.”
Bartlett didn’t break a record, but he did break the mold in how he ran his race and put on one of the most dramatic finishes of the weekend.
“From the start, I knew I had to get off pretty fast,” he said. “I kind of learned my lesson in indoor earlier this year where I was racing (Clemson’s) John Lewis, he went out fast and I gave him a bit too much of a lead so I couldn’t quite catch him with my kick. The plan was to get a little closer so when I put on that big kick I could capitalize on it and win. I think I followed that plan to a T.”
Bartlett put himself in perfect position to blow past the field, winning with a 1:48.56 – Vincent Ciattei of Virginia Tech was next at 1:49.22, Lewis third, at 1:49.39.
While Williams and Bartlett were the only Jackets to claim gold, they weren’t the only ones to put on great finishes and strong performances.
One of the best finishes came in the Men’s 400, where three Jackets finish in the top seven, with Jean finishing fourth, just edging out Pietsch, while freshman Ty Brooks took seventh.
“I knew from the fall that we had a really good group with a really great work ethic coming in,” said Jean. “To see them put the times down and all three of us go to finals and score points for our team was a really great feeling.”
Jean and Pietsch continuing their neck-and-neck finishes also added some fun and motivation to the final.
“Dan and I always have a really good time,” Jean said. “We joke a lot about that because our times are always back and forth. We had a similar situation at Indoor. We were a couple of 1/100ths of a second off of each other. We’re really competitive about it. It’s fun.”
“Just from training together every day, we each want to beat the other one in important races,” said Pietsch. “Any time either of us sees the other ahead with less than half the race to go, the last stretch, it’s always super motivating for both of us. I think we both think that we can beat the other one. Seeing the other person ahead, it’s just motivating.”
Jean and Pietsch showed they could work together, as well, running the third and anchor legs of the 4×400 relay, which finished fourth, missing a medal by .38. Brooks and Bartlett ran the first and second legs.
“That’s always an exciting race in important meets. Just coming down to it as the last event,” Pietsch said. “Ben outran a few people and it was really close at the end. I know, running anchor, with 200 to go, the whole pack, we were all really close. That’s super-unusual for the last leg of a 4×4. It was definitely exciting.”
Senior Andres Littig ran well in the 800, coming in sixth at 1:49.60, but admitted he wished there’d been a little less drama at the end. While not feeling his best, he ran craftily, drafting behind a Virginia Tech runner to fight off the wind, and sticking right up at the top until the very end.
“I’ll say it was unique in that towards the end of the final, in the last 100 meters or so, I had visions of finishing in the top 3 before I got passed by several people,” said Littig, who competed in his eighth ACC Championships. “It was definitely different in that because it is the last ACCs that I’ll ever run in and I knew I had to run fast to make it to Regionals. I ran fast enough in the final, hopefully, to make it to Regionals but I lost several places in the last 40 meters or so, which is a bummer. But I’m happy with second-team all-ACC and I’ve extended my career by a meet. That’s good, too. The issue at play, in my mind, was either run fast enough to make it Regionals or your career ends here. That’s, obviously, a LARGE motivating factor. ”
Gollnick found that motivation similarly large and similarly stepped up, finishing sixth in the 3,000 Steeplechase.
“That was a PR for me,” she said. “I had a really bad race at Penn (Relays) so this was really nice to have a really good one to hopefully qualify me for Regionals. I really, really wanted to go to Regionals so I had to set my mind that I wanted to run around that time and, thankfully, everything worked out and I did.”
Preston Smith found his motivation in the excitement of watching his teammates.
“Just before I was about to step on the runway they were finishing the 800, so Avery and Andres were coming around the last lap,” he said. “Just seeing them both in second and third and seeing Avery take it home really inspired me to go out and do well. So I went out there and felt like I put a good jump forward and had great success.”
Smith went for a career-best 15.67 meters, adding 0.08 to his previous best. He drew motivation from Bartlett and Littig and also felt – and heard – the encouragement of the entire team.
“The team was on the back-stretch of the track, there were some bleachers kind of close to the tent,” he said. “So the whole team, that final day, they were all there together cheering. They supported me throughout my jumps and they were supporting all the running events. It was just a good environment that they had going.”
Smith admitted he loved the environment and didn’t even mind the heat – something the coaches got the team used to by heading down there on Monday. Instead, he used it to his advantage.
“I’m from South Georgia so I grew up with it,” he said. “When I first got out there, it kind of hit me but after a day or two I kind of got used to it. I actually think it helped me a little bit, The track was kind of bouncy with the heat. So when it’s that humid, the first couple of jumps, the track was really giving a lot back the more you put into it to start with the triple jump. That was beneficial for me.”
Now that the Jackets showed they could compete in those elements many will – and several more hope to – get another chance to do so in two weeks at NCAA Regionals, being held in Tampa.
“It will definitely help because we know how humid it’s going to be and we can know how windy it can get,” said Williams. “I’m excited. I’m going to go and have fun and do what I can to get to Nationals as I did last year.”
“(Qualifying) is only half the battle,” said Bartlett. “Of course, it is great knowing you’ll get to compete but the quarterfinals, around there, it’s a big stage. It feels good but I’m not by any means satisfied.”