The Texas Tech men had an underwhelming start to the NCAA outdoor track and field championships Wednesday in Eugene, Oregon. The Red Raiders rallied to make it a memorable finish.
Led by an individual national title from Divine Oduduru in the 200 meters and another strong showing from jumper Odaine Lewis, Tech came back to tie for fifth on Friday's final day of the men's competition at Hayward Field.
"My goodness, what a difference a day makes, from Wednesday to today," Tech coach Wes Kittley said.
Oduduru won the 200 meters in a wind-legal 20.28 seconds, Lewis took second in the triple jump with a personal best of 54 feet, 10 3/4 inches and senior Trey Culver capped his career by getting fourth in the high jump at 7-3.
Those finishes were good for 23 of the 33 points the Red Raiders scored in the national meet. Senior Duke Kicinski threw the discus 185-6 for ninth place, one place short of scoring points.
As strong a finish as Tech produced, the Red Raiders had to wonder about what could have been. Georgia won the national championship with 52 points, followed by pre-meet favorite Florida with 42. Then came Houston with 35, Southern California with 34 and Texas Tech and Alabama with 33.
The Tech men had athletes in four events miss by one spot making it out of the West Regional to national. Then the Red Raiders had three athletes ranked in the top eight at the NCAA outdoor miss making the finals. They could have easily finished third, or even second.
"I cannot lie: It's hard to take," Kittley said. "We've been fifth several times, and this is a lot better team. With the misses we had on Wednesday, it hurt us.
"But really proud of how we competed and came back after being kind of down. Shows a lot of heart out of this group."
To make up for the misses, Tech needed someone to provide the 10 points that come with first-place finishes, and Oduduru delivered to become Tech's first NCAA champion at 200 meters. The 2016 Olympian from Nigeria won by one one-hundredth of a second over former South Plains College sprinter Andre Ewers (20.29), now of Florida State. He also held off Georgia's Kendal Williams (20.32) and LSU's Jaron Flournoy (20.43).
"His race setup was really good," Kittley said. "He ran the curve really well and just kept it together coming down the homestretch."
Two days before, Oduduru finished only third in the first heat and had to sweat out two more semifinals heats after his to make the finals as a time qualifier. That put him outside in lane 8, normally not an ideal spot, for the finals.
"Today the track was rainy," Kittley said. "It was slick, and I think it was kind of a blessing for him today, because you get off the curve quickly and then you've got this long straight, whereas being on the inside lanes, you've got a lot more turn to run."
Lewis, the first-semester transfer from Iowa Central, was Tech's high-point scorer. He followed up his third place on Wednesday in the long jump by being runner-up in the triple jump.
Texas A&M's Tahar Triki won with a 55-1, but Lewis edged three-time NCAA champion KeAndre Bates from Florida and TCU's Scotty Newton, who swept this year's Big 12 indoor and outdoor titles.
"My goodness, Odaine Lewis is just an unbelievable competitor," Kittley said.
The meet concludes Saturday with the final day of the women's competition. Tech has Zarriea Willis and Cyre Virgo in the high jump and Kaylee Hinton in the heptathlon.