NCAA Men’s 4×1 — USC Reinvents Itself

Joe Fahnbulleh ran down his rivals in the 100 & 200, but couldn’t quite catch USC’s Johnnie Blockburger in the short relay. (ERROL ANDERSON/THE SPORTING IMAGE)

RARE IS THE TEAM that can lose its best sprinter a month before the NCAA but mount a comeback that leads to running a school record and winning the NCAA title. USC pulled off the remarkable feat, running 38.49 with a foursome of Kasaun James, Brendon Stewart, Ashton Allen and Johnnie Blockburger.

Davonte Burnett, the Trojans’ Indoor 60 champion and leadoff leg on the 4×1, had pulled up lame at the Pac-12 and was replaced by Allen, who took over the third leg with James moving to Burnett’s leadoff slot.

USC’s running was solid and its passing impeccable, making up ground on all challengers at each exchange. Running in lane 7, James could see Tennessee in 8, with Houston in 6 and Florida, the collegiate leaders at 38.47, in 5. James ran even with Tennessee’s long jump champion Wayne Pinnock, but with a slightly better pass Stewart was underway quicker than the other second legs. Florida’s Dedrick Vanover handed off even with the lead, but the Gators lost ground on the backstretch.

Stewart stormed the straight, putting an early lead on Tennessee’s Favour Ashe, the 100 runner-up. But Ashe closed hard, passing Stewart in the last third of the leg. The difference was the passing, as Stewart to Allen was crisp, and helped create a 2m turnaround as Ashe slowed in the zone to complete a sluggish pass to Carey McLeod. Houston was running a good 3rd, with Florida 4th.

Allen made up the staggers around the bend, and with another crisp pass, Blockburger was 2m clear of the field at the end of the last zone. Houston’s Shaun Maswanganyi was running 2nd, and his quick acceleration minimized the value of the USC passing. Tennessee was another half-meter back with Emmanuel Bynum taking the stick.

The biggest question was how much ground Florida anchor Joe Fahnbulleh could make up. Fourth at the exchange, Fahnbulleh — who would go on to win a 100/200 double — was about 4m back of Blockburger. By the time the anchors were hitting full stride, Maswanganyi had made up a half-meter on Blockburger, but could gain no more.

Fahnbulleh closed slightly at first, but as his tall frame stretched out he gobbled up the gap. With 30m to go he was even with Bynum; within another 15 he caught Maswanganyi, having quickly made up 2m. He still had 15m to go in which to make up the 1½-meter deficit to Blockburger, but fell short by 0.03, 38.49–38.52. Houston, along with USC the only schools to run season bests, hit 38.64 for 3rd, with Tennessee at 38.83.

It was a surprising upset, but what the fans in the stands could see on the track and on the scoreboard, Blockburger could not. He seemed the most stunned person in Hayward Field when he saw the result.

Said Stewart, “We were thinking, ‘Why not us?’ No one really expected us to win. Everybody was ranked ahead of us. We trusted our training, we trusted each other, we ran for Davonte Burnett.”


FINAL (June 10)

1. USC 38.49

(Kasaun James, Brendon Stewart, Ashton Allen, Johnnie Blockburger);

2. Florida 38.52

(Dedrick Vanover, Tyler Davis, PJ Austin, Joseph Fahnbulleh’);

3. Houston 38.64

(Jordan Booker, Dylan Brown, Edward Sumer, Shaun Maswanganyi’);

4. Tennessee 38.83

(Wayne Pinnock’, Favour Ashe’, Carey McLeod’, Emmanuel Bynum);

5. Baylor 38.99

(Laurenz Colbert, Isaiah Cunningham, Kamden Jackson, De’montray Callis);

6. Texas 39.06

(Daniel Garland, Caleb Hulbin, Marcellus Moore, Micaiah Harris);

7. TCU 39.08

(Bryson Stubblefield, Tinotenda Matiyenga’, Kundai Maguranyanga’, Robert Gregory);

8. North Carolina A&T 39.35

(Tavarius Wright, Randolph Ross, Malcolm McFadden, Javonte Harding);

9. Clemson 39.44

(Giano Roberts, Cameron Rose, Guinove Joanus’, Fabian Hewitt).

(best-ever mark-for-place: 9; best-ever mark-for-NCAA-place: 8–9)

SEMIS (June 08)

I–1. Florida 38.94; 2. TCU 38.95; 3. Virginia Tech 38.99 (Tillmon, Walker, Harrison, Beck); 4. Liberty 39.08 (Letts, McClinton, Lyon, Griffin); 5. Oklahoma 39.21 (Kowalchuk, Bour, Smith, Robinson); 6. Texas Tech 39.22 (Clayton, Lindsey, O’Conner, Shelton); 7. Princeton 39.98 (Ndhlovu, Reynolds, Duncan, Sholars); 8. BYU 40.10 (Davis, Draper, Maxfield, Yardley).

II–1. Houston 38.66; 2. Tennessee 38.80; 3. Texas 38.91 (Garland, Wright, Moore, Harris); 4. North Carolina A&T 38.98; 5. Kentucky 39.23 (Lang, St. Hillaire, Smith, Heath); 6. Iowa 39.31 (Johnson, Kresley, Reed, Jefferson); 7. South Carolina 39.46 (Lewis, Miller, Greenhow, Dutton); 8. Texas State 39.69 (Pierre, Yancy, Harold, Callahan).

III–1. USC 38.83; 2. Baylor 38.99; 3. Clemson 38.99; 4. Oregon 39.00 (Mulholland, Williams, Daniel, Nairne); 5. Florida State 39.09 (Banks, Willis, Swint, Martin); 6. Ohio State 39.11 (Ramsey, Harrison, James, Olatoke); 7. Stephen F. Austin 39.62 (Harding, Curry, Allen, Mattar); 8. Purdue 39.65 (Harris, Mitchell, Becker, Morrow). ◻︎