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Stan Becton | | April 20, 2022

5 track and field programs that could be the next first-time national champion

2022 midseason superlatives for women's outdoor track and field

In women's outdoor track and field, the last instance of a first-time national champion occurred six years ago when Arkansas won the 2016 title. However, during the 2022 indoor track and field season, both the men's and women's team champions — Texas and Florida, respectively — won indoor titles for the first time in program history. 

Could 2022's trend of teams making a title-level breakthrough continue? Here are five programs that could be the next first-time national champion.

5 potential first-time women's outdoor track and field national champions

Alabama (finished T-4th at the 2021 championships)

Alabama moved up three spots from seventh to fourth from the 2019 championships to the 2021 championships. A similar progression will have the Tide bringing a title back to Tuscaloosa.

Yes, Alabama won't have Tamara Clark this season after she scored 14 of 31 points for the Tide in their fourth-place finish in last year's championships.

That's a big loss, but Alabama still scored points in four other events that Clark didn't participate in individually. The Tide still has Mercy Chelangat, one of the best long-distance runners in the country, who should be an early favorite to win the 10,000-meter crown.

👀: 7 storylines to know ahead of the 2022 women's outdoor track and field season

North Carolina A&T (finished T-4th at the 2021 championships)

Similar to Alabama, North Carolina A&T loses a top point-getter in Cambrea Sturgis entering this season. As a freshman before going pro, Sturgis scored 20 of 31 points for the Aggies, with two first-place finishes in the 100 and 200 meters. However, even with Sturgis gone, a talented Aggies team remains.

The Aggies bring back three sprinters from their sixth-place 4x100 meter relay team, including Kamaya Debose-Epps and Symone Darius. Each has the potential to score points in 2022. Throw in Jonah Ross — she'll only improve from a stellar freshman campaign — and North Carolina A&T's sprinters won't miss a step.

Outside of the sprints, Paula Salmon is an elite hurdler with the potential to score more points in the 2022 NCAA championships than the five combined from two Aggie hurdlers in the 2021 championships. Likewise, Kenady Wilson was an honorable mention All-American in the high jump last season and could improve, adding needed points to the Aggies' total.

North Carolina A&T has been one of the rising programs in track and field over the past few years, finishing 15th in 2019 before a fourth-place finish at the podium in 2021. A title is all that is missing to cement the Aggies as a power in the sport.

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Florida (finished 7th at the 2021 championships)

Florida won the 2022 women's indoor national championship for its first in program history. The outdoor title could be next.

The Gators were loaded last year when they finished seventh at the championships. Then they added Jasmine Moore and Anna Hall from SEC rival Georgia. If Moore and Hall were on the Gators in 2021, Florida would have gained 15.5 points to its total, placing it at a distant third in the final tally. Now, with Moore and Hall in the fold, Florida may be the most popular pick from this group of teams to win the 2022 title.

The two transfers join an elite Florida cast featuring Grace Stark, Talitha Diggs, Gabriell Wilkinson, Claire Bryant, Taylor Manson and Natricia Hooper; those six Gators were finalists in five events last year. That doesn't include Florida's fourth-place 4x400 meter relay team.

So if you're keeping count, that's 2021 finalists in six events from returning Gators plus three events from the two transfers. If you add in the potential of Hall to perform well in the heptathlon, that's 10 events that the Gators have a good chance to qualify for at the very least.

Watch out for Florida as a potential outdoor title run looms, with the Gators looking to become the 15th team in NCAA history to sweep the women's track and field titles in the same calendar year.

BIG NAMES: 40 names you should know before the 2022 women’s outdoor track season

BYU (finished 10th at the 2021 championships)

BYU has what it takes to win a championship. The Cougars were named the 2021 NCAA Division I Terry Crawford Women's Program of the Year after all. In 2022, BYU could again impress by picking up major points in the outdoor championship's mid-distance/distance events. 

While the Cougars won't have Anna Camp this season, they will have Courtney Wayment, a Bowerman candidate and a reigning First-Team All-American, in the steeplechase. Wayment is joined by Claire Seymour, another 2021 All-American. 

The rest of the roster features several runners who could qualify for the 2022 championships like talented freshman Meghan Hunter. With a few first-place finishes — potentially three or more — BYU could score enough points to stand atop the podium at the end of the season.

🗓: Here's when the 2022 outdoor track and field season starts

Kentucky (finished 21st at the 2021 championships)

From 21st to first? Can Kentucky do it? The Wildcats sure have the talent to do so. 

Keep in mind Kentucky finished 14th in 2019. Last year should be an aberration from Kentucky's higher finishes.

This year, the Wildcats have the athletes to score points in multiple events. Masai Russell has been one of the nation's most consistent hurdlers and will likely find herself in the 400-meter hurdles yet again. Megan Moss and Alexis Holmes have the potential to score in individual events and each should contribute to Kentucky's relay teams; the 4x100 and 4x400 meter relays each earned All-American honors last year.

That's a lot of talent. Yet, an elite talent is missing from that group.

The missing person is none other than sprinter Abby Steiner; she's coming off one of the best indoor seasons of anyone in the sport, breaking records in the 200 and 300 meters. Steiner will make her outdoor return this year after missing most of last season due to an Achilles injury. The Bowerman candidate has the potential to give Kentucky the boost needed for a title run.

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