BRADENTON, Fla. - Like the familiar song by popular rapper Drake, Saint Augustine's University started from the bottom but finished at the top for its fifth straight men's national crown on the final day of the NCAA Division II Outdoor Track and Field Championships at IMG Academy on Saturday, May 27.
The Falcons started the day with six points but finished with 58 to outdistance Lincoln (Mo.) University (52 points), Ashland University (50 points) and Tiffin University (50 points) for their 16th men's outdoor title. The SAU program has won 39 NCAA championships overall under legendary Head Coach George Williams, who has won the most NCAA track and field championships regardless of division. The five-year championship streak is the longest for the Falcons since they won seven straight between 1989 to 1995.
The Falcons claimed their latest title with seven student-athletes whom Coach Williams dubs the "Magnificent Seven". On Saturday, five sprinters scored 52 points to complete the comeback.
Unlike last year when the Falcons won by 49 points, the outcome wasn't decided until the last race. All four teams had a shot at winning but the Falcons beat Lincoln in the 4x400-meter relay to clinch the title. The Falcons trailed Ashland and Tiffin by two points (50-48) and led Lincoln by four points (48-44) heading into the relay.
Fittingly, Khari Herbert, Jr. (Sr./Coral Springs, FL) anchored the Falcons to victory as he blazed across the finish line well ahead of the Lincoln sprinter. Herbert is the only Falcon on this year's team to win four consecutive championships in his career. The top-ranked 4x400 squad - which includes Shawn Rowe (Sr./West Palm Beach, FL), Shaquille Dill (So./Pembroke, Bermuda) and Adrian Kimmons (Jr./Cold Water, MS) - outran Lincoln by nearly a full second (3:06.96-3:07.98).
Rowe keyed the Falcons surge on Saturday, winning the 400-meter hurdles in 49.42 and placing second in the 110-meter hurdles in addition to running on the victorious 4x400 squad. He ranked first in the 400 hurdles but was seeded ninth in the 110 hurdles. Omar Johnson (Sr./St. Ann, Jamaica) was also a factor as he placed second in the 400-meter dash and third in the 200-meter dash despite ranking 17th in the 200 entering the meet.
"Everybody stepped up," Williams said. "Shawn Rowe stepped up in the hurdles and Omar Johnson stepped up in the 200. I'm proud of the young folks because they could have easily folded but they didn't. They kept their heads up."
The turning point for the Falcons was the 400 dash when Johnson finished second and Herbert placed third in a race which also featured two Lincoln and one Ashland sprinter. The Falcons scored 14 points in the event to slide into second place past Lincoln (28-25) while Ashland led with 44 points. The Falcons eventually closed within two points of Ashland behind Dill's fifth-place performance in the 800-meter dash, Rowe's 400 hurdles win and Johnson's high finish in the 200.
From there, the Falcons relied on their bread and butter event - the 4x400 relay. The Falcons have won 22 of the last 31 4x400 relays in the NCAA championship meet including five of the last six. To no one's surprise, the Falcons took care of business in the 4x400 and now have another award to add in a crowded trophy case.