Alabama track and field building off SEC Championships performanceBy James Ogletree | 03/08/2018 11:13am
Ruebin Walters will compete in the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships.
By James Ogletree | Staff Reporter
Entering the final race of the 2018 SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships, Alabama had the lead. The Crimson Tide needed Arkansas to finish outside the top two to cement its first conference championship in 46 years.
As the runners rounded the final bend with Arkansas in third place, Alabama senior Daniel Haugh and his teammates had tears in their eyes.
“We’re in the stands like, ‘This is it,’” Haugh said. “This is the moment that [coach Dan] Waters has been preaching to us for years. We did it. We accomplished the goal that we set out to do eight years ago, when this coaching staff took over the program.”
Waters said the athletes may not realize it now, but they’ll be brought back to Tuscaloosa for decades and will be forever remembered as the team that broke the drought.
Haugh’s weight throw of 74 feet, 10 inches at the SECs on Feb. 24 ranked second in the conference and in Alabama history, trailing only his own mark from last year’s conference championships.
He was one of several competitors to challenge school records or finish near the top of the conference.
Junior Shelby McEwen won the high jump with a clearance of 7 feet, 4 ¼ inches, becoming Alabama’s first SEC high jump champion since 1985.
McEwen spent the first two years of his career playing basketball at Northwest Mississippi Community College, which does not have a track team. He had never competed in indoor track and field until making his Alabama debut in Nashville on Jan. 19.
Just 36 days later, he was an SEC champion.
“I actually reached out to Alabama when I was at Auburn last year jumping unattached [competing individually],” McEwen said. “I talked to [assistant] coach [Miguel] Pate, and he came on a home visit, and when I came on my visit here, I felt like I was at home. I felt like this is the family I needed to be with.”
McEwen often trains with junior Stacey Destin, the school’s record holder in women’s pentathlon and indoor high jump. Destin said McEwen encourages her when she’s not having a good day of practice, and his competitive drive pushes her to keep improving.
Destin finished third in the high jump at the SECs and fourth in the pentathlon. Her success this year has not come without adversity, however. Her uncle passed away at the start of the season and she caught the flu at a crucial point in the season.
“[Qualifying for the NCAAs] made everything worth it,” Destin said. “I didn’t think I would actually get through certain situations, so to be able to go through that and still be able to pull it off at the end … that was something very special.”
Junior Portious Warren is in her first season at Alabama after transferring from Central Arizona College, where she won two national junior college championships in shot put. Her throw of 56 feet, 3 ¼ inches at the SEC Championships set a school record, and she currently owns five of the top six women’s shot put records in Alabama history.
As Warren has seen her shot put distances increase throughout the season, she expects to turn some heads at the NCAA Championships, which begin Friday.
“I’m going in as the underdog,” Warren said. “Nobody is looking for me to even make it to the finals, but I’m going to prove everybody wrong. I just want to go out there, do everything to the best of my ability, improve the school record as much as I can, and compete like I’ve never competed before.”
Waters said he knew all along that this team could accomplish special things, even though every track coach across the country would agree that the qualifying landscape is tougher now than it has ever been.
“The guys and girls we have going are super studs,” Waters said. “They’re killers, they’re the kinds you want to go to war with. I know that they’re going to get it done this upcoming weekend. They’ll absolutely compete as they have every single weekend.”