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Yellow Jacket Year in Review: Track and Field

Well we sent a few to NCAAs, but what’s up with the rest of the team?

I could make another hurdle pun but I blew through it last week.
Georgia Tech Athletics/Danny Karnik

METZ, FRANCE - The Yellow Jacket sports season is done for the academic year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep talking about it. Starting with our last team in action, Track and Field, Yellow Jacket Roundup is going to take a look at each of the non-revenue programs to see the state of the program in each. Before we know it, the year starts anew with football, volleyball, and cross country.

If we’re looking at the current state of track, it would be a mistake to look much further than this past weekend, when a handful of Yellow Jackets headed out to Eugene, Oregon for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships. Neither the men nor the women competing for Tech scored points, so the Jackets placed somewhere ambiguously lower than about 66th place in both the men’s and women’s field. Avery Bartlett finished 11th overall in the men’s 800m run, landing him his third second team All-America honor, having previously garnered that accolade in the 2017 outdoor and 2018 indoor national championships. Meanwhile, also on the men’s side, Nahom Solomon placed 19th in the 10K race. Bartlett will return for his senior season, while Solomon, who graduated in the spring, has another indoor season of eligibility remaining. On the women’s side, Jeanine Williams finished in 13th in the 100m hurdles, also earning her second team All-America honors. Williams, a junior, also boats another year of eligibility and figures once again to be the cornerstone of the women’s track and field team. Williams was just the second person in the history of the conference to win both the 60m (indoor) and 100m (outdoor) hurdles events in the same year.

But what does the program as a whole look like? Well, top-to-bottom, we don’t really have a ton of depth. Once again, the Jackets sent a handful of athletes to nationals, as they did this winter for the indoor national championships, but the stars of the team still didn’t score a single point. More glaringly, there were no Georgia Tech relays at nationals. In my experience with relays, having good relays means one of two things: either there is a transcendent star that carries the entire team to greatness, or the team has a solid base depth and, as a whole, runs very well. Of course, usually the truth lies in the middle. Since it gets harder and harder to do the former as competition gets stiffer and stiffer, college teams that still retain depth across four athletes tend to have better relays. With just three athletes qualifying for the national meet, there seems to be not an overwhelming amount of either. The Jackets have some good pieces, don’t get me wrong. Any All-American has worked to get one of the premier awards in sport, but they need more to build the base. With how we finished in head-to-head competition with our peers in the region, I’d say that search is still ongoing. Whether it is losing to mid-majors in local events, or generally relying on half a dozen kids to carry the team in the regular season, Georgia Tech track does not yet have the depth to win championships. Some of the difference lies in recruiting. Some lies in funding. And the rest lies in development.

The facts about recruiting can be seen quite clearly, to our collective chagrin, when looking at the men’s 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Champions up in Athens. There are 38 athletes on the school in Athens’ roster. 25 hail from the state of Georgia. The rest are primarily from Europe or California, but the vast majority of that team comes from within our state borders, and a lot of that is a stone’s throw from us in metropolitan Atlanta. There is tremendous track and field talent in our area, it just needs to get to Tech.

Since Tech funds both swimming and diving and track and field scholarships at just the in-state level, another flaw that the Athletics Initiative 2020 is attempting to fix, the program already recruits fairly heavily in-state. We recruit nearly the same proportion of our men’s team inside the state as the school out east, but there’s a lot of demand for the kids in our backyard. Just like football, there are a lot of other programs that covet Atlanta-area recruits. Keeping the most elite talent home proves to be a challenge. That said, we do get a lot of kids who come to Tech because they are really passionate about Tech itself. They value the education, community, and resources they get at Tech, and that’s as good of a reason as any to go to a school. We have an acclaimed school and a solid athletics department that is grooming and maintaining an ethos people are proud to be a part of. Commitment like that builds athletes who are dedicated alumni, and that’s a good thing for any program to have. That said, recruiting and scholarship funding both need to see improvements if we want a program like the school in Athens has.

There’s also the issue of development. It’s worth noting that none of our three best athletes ran their best times at the big, end-of-season meet. Bartlett didn’t touch his school record, and Williams came within a hairs breadth of the record a few weeks ago - if only it were wind legal. No amount of funding or recruiting can fix that. Sometimes, for whatever reasons, athletes don’t run their best in the biggest race. If it’s not a coaching issue, then there’s not much that can be done about it. As much of a non-explanation as this sounds, sometimes you just have to run the race the best you can. Our coaching staff is solid - they’ve done some great work, most notably with our three NCAA qualifiers. Now we just need to find some more of those gems and polish them up.

Oh, were you wondering about the results of the NCAA Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships? I was getting to that. The Athenians placed second, after losing out on the final relay by .07 seconds. Granted, their roster was only about half native Georgians, but they certainly built that team in our neighborhood. Of course, all this comparison to the folks who add a third column to their arch doesn’t even mention Clemson, Florida, and other powerhouses around us. The moral of the story is that we need to get our claws into some of the elite talent that stays home, because it exists and it’s in our backyard. At the same time, we have to not lose sight of the things that makes our team great - kids in the program who have bought in to being great athletes that represent Tech well. And we have to support them. Sure, this could turn into a pitch supporting the aforementioned Athletics Initiative 2020, but I’m not a shill. You could do that anyways, be you a fan of football, golf, or what have you, not because I told you to support track and field. Investing in the department as a whole is never bad. What I am, however, is a fan of non-revenue sports, and I hope Yellow Jacket Roundup has helped foster that connection for you, too. Supporting our Jackets, be it by turning out for one of their spring invitationals, donating, or watching along when they’re on ESPN or the ACC Network, is palpable. Heck, even just writing about track in particular for the past year has made me feel invested in a sport I didn’t particularly care much for in the past. Reading, in your case, or writing, in my case, the paragraph in Yellow Jacket Roundup each week is just another way we tacitly support another pair of the seventeen varsity teams representing us - the fans, alumni, students, and family of the Georgia Institute of Technology - every time they take the field. Go Jackets.

Coming up next week: Men’s and Women’s Cross Country

Stay tuned for more investigation into the state of non-revenue sports, mild soapbox editorializing, and, hopefully, some productive discourse to get us through the summer. As always, fell free to leave any questions, comments, and feedback below.