Head track and field coach Lonnie Greene doesn’t care about his athletes being entertaining, he just wants them to be talented. The women’s 4x400 team is both.
The team of Taylor Dunlap, Aarin Jones, Carmiesha Cox and Symone Black set a school record this past weekend at Notre Dame. The interesting thing is they broke their own record that they set at the exact same track just two weeks prior. As with any athlete or team, these women are proud of their new record, 3:38.21, half of a second faster than their previous mark of 3:38.71.
However, Jones said, “I think the first time is a little more momentous than this previous time,” because they want to improve their time by a greater margin.
The thing about this group is how vastly different they all are. Dunlap, a sophomore, may be the only prototypical 400-meter runner. Jones is a junior, the only member of the team who predates Greene’s tenure. Cox is a sophomore from the Bahamas who began running the 4x400 after an injury to a previous teammate. Cox is also known for sprints, not distance running. And Black is a 5-foot-2-inch freshman, even though she argues she’s 5-foot-3-inches and “isn’t intimidated,” by her taller peers.
Each teammate acknowledged the differences in running an “open” 400, where you merely sprint one time to the finish line, as opposed to the relay, which involves four people passing the baton until the fourth runner crosses the finish line.
Jones enjoys the relay more so than the open 400 because of the chemistry between her and her teammates and its embodiment when they pass each other the baton.
“I think (running the 4x400) is completely different,” Jones said. “I think it’s so much easier to run the relay than to run the open 400 because something about the baton just gives us magic powers.”
The team attributes much of their success to Greene and the confidence that he has instilled across the entire squad, not just with them. Jones, someone who was recruited by and ran under the prior coaching staff, said there is an irrefutable difference between this year’s team and the squads of old.
“This is my third year here, and let’s just say that the mindset has changed a lot,” Jones said. “Coming in as a freshman, a lot of the people who were older on the squad back then were kind of like uncaring about what they did and track wasn’t important to them. Now, people care, they work hard, and track is what we do.”
Unfortunately for the four women, their goal of making it to the NCAA national tournament will require them to improve by multiple seconds over their current school record. Over the past five seasons, the average qualifying time for NCAA indoor 4x400 women’s teams is 3:35.29. Greene said this shouldn’t be that much of a hurdle considering each team member would only have to knock one second off of their times.
And even with the need to cut their times, the team’s newest member, Cox, believes they can make it to nationals because of how Greene has adjusted the team’s vision.
“I feel like everyone really believes in themselves,” Cox said. “We see the bigger picture now. We’re beyond Big Tens – we’re looking at regionals and nationals.
“Every time he talks to us, he doesn’t talk to us about back in the day when our teams would get last place or they’d be in the bottom of the pack,” Cox said. “He talks about being champs, being first, going to nationals, so I really think that helps out.”
Dunlap also commented on how Greene understands his team off the track as much as on it, which has helped enable this year’s 4x400 team to outperform every team in years past.
“He gives us a lot of encouragement; he talks to us and he personalizes messages,” Dunlap said. “He knows what motivates each individual, so he knows the mindset of his whole team.”
The four runners look to improve their times again this weekend when they host the Fred Wilt Invitational.