Occidental’s track and field team continues to make national headlines, this time courtesy of the men’s 4×100 meter relay team. A month after Sabrina Degnan (sophomore) threw a nationwide-best 135 feet and 7 inches in javelin, the team comprised of seniors Kyle Dalton and Jeh Johnson, Hugh Pegan (junior) and Keane Collins (first year) ran a nationwide-best 41 seconds and 21 milliseconds (41.21) at the third SCIAC Multi-Dual meet of the season April 15. According to sprints coach Tyler Yamaguchi, they are almost guaranteed a spot at nationals.
“Championship season comes around and things really start clicking, guys really start turning it up a notch,” Yamaguchi said. “Anything can happen at the national championship meet.”
Both Dalton and Johnson ran in Occidental’s 4×100 team the last three seasons, finishing fifth overall with Johnson running the opening leg of the race and Dalton running anchor. Pegan also has nationals experience, capturing the NCAA D-III 200m crown last season. Though Collins has never faced the level of competition that will be seen at the national meet, Yamaguchi is not worried.
“Being on the heels of some amazing athletes has been really good for [Collins], there’s a bit of a learning curve because in high school he was the best on his team, and he comes here and there are some really good athletes here at Occidental, and I think he’s learning a lot from them and it puts some pressure on him, in a good way, to show up,” Yamaguchi said.
The team’s experience and Collins’ performance provides optimism for upcoming meets.
“This is the first time that we’ve all run with Keane on the team, so this is the first time this team has been put together,” Johnson said. “It’s still undergoing some changes right now, we’re still trying to perfect a few minor details, but it’s looking positive for the future.”
While running may seem like a solo sport, like tennis or golf, team sprints do require a fair amount of chemistry to be successful. Certain aspects of team running, such as the hand-off of the baton, need to be worked on in practice before the team is meet-ready.
“In practice, you establish a rhythm with whoever’s handing off to you or if you’re handing off to someone, so getting comfortable with that is a huge part of our success as a team,” Dalton said.
However, the team has had very little time to perfect the baton pass. Even though Johnson and Dalton have been the staples of the 4×100 team for the past three seasons, Chris Rom-Toribio (sophomore) had actually been the fourth runner in place of Johnson this season. Unfortunately, Rom-Toribio was injured before the race, and the Tigers’ coaching staff asked Johnson to run in his place. Evidently, the timing did not need much work, and the team was able to set a new nation-wide best.
“We’ve actually never practiced, technically, all of us together on the same team so, to accomplish what we did, I think, shows a lot of potential in this team,” Collins said.
While the team was happy about running the best time in the country, they, and Yamaguchi, understand and embrace the fact that they are not out of the woods yet. Their main goal is recording a time below 41 seconds.
“Overall I’m very proud, but also realistic in terms of times,” Pegan said. “The number one time is going to start dropping as the nation’s teams start to taper and race more seriously in preparation for nationals, but I’m confident that extends to us as well, and we’ll maintain a high-ranking spot as we do the same.”
That sentiment is echoed by all four runners, and they all look forward to putting in the work to get faster. The team is dedicated to not letting their achievement get in the way of their success, and hope to overcome their fifth place finish from last season. The 4×100 team will run at the national meet May 25-27 in Geneva, Ohio.