The start of the 400-meter hurdles race made Elon University head women’s track and field coach Mark Elliston pace around the field at the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Track & Field Championships Saturday afternoon.
The 10-year coach at Elon mumbled, “This is big,” knowing that Elon held just a five-point lead over James Madison University entering the race. But Elon was considered the heavy favorite, with sophomore Lydia Laws and seniors Jen Esposito and Samantha Brown earning the top three seeds in the preliminary races Friday.
The three came through for Elon, sweeping the top three spots and giving Elon a 23-point boost in the race, leading the Phoenix to its second-straight CAA track and field championship.
“We just have such a good group, we knew we could do it if we were all on,” Esposito said. “We’ve been working so hard together and pushing each other at each and every practice. To execute and for that to happen today, it was amazing.”
Esposito won the race and set a new conference record with a time of 58.50, with Laws following close behind for second place at 1:00.63.
But it was Brown who stole the show, speeding ahead of Towson University junior Megan Kelly after the final hurdle to take third place and finish the sweep. Her time of 1:01.22 was just four-hundredths of a second ahead of Kelly's.
“I always try and focus on one person I know I can get to,” Brown said. “I just saw that girl, and I could tell I was coming in strong. I knew I could get her, and I said, ‘If you keep that form, and let your body do it, it’s going to happen.’ And it did.”
Sophomore Emily Dixon — who won the heptathlon — added that she “liked how sneaky [Brown] was,” and was a part of the group that collapsed on top of Brown just past the finish line. Dixon embraced Brown — who was crying tears of joy — and said she loves watching that race.
“400-[meter] hurdles is such a difficult event — it is one of the hardest events to do,” Dixon said. “For us to not just come 1-2-3 but rank 1-2-3, and for it to actually come into place, it was the happiest thing ever. That’s one of the most exciting races, and because we’re so good at it, I just enjoy watching Elon beat everyone.”
While the 400-meter hurdles race was the point that shot Elon to the top, the standout individual performer was senior Sydney Griffin. The sprinter placed in the top two in all four of her races, claiming a CAA title in three of them. She won the 200-meter dash (24.69) and the 100-meter hurdles (13.81), and was the anchor for the 4x100-meter relay (45.91).
“Coach and I had this crazy idea that if we really work hard this season, we could take over a lot,” Griffin said. “I’m just so happy that we can really make things happen and that I can contribute so much to this team.”
Griffin was awarded the Most Outstanding Performer of the Meet by the coaches, and is expected to race at the NCAA East Regionals in Jacksonville May 26.
Elliston heaped praise on the graduating captain.
“We’re really going to miss Sydney,” Elliston said. “We’re going to miss all of those seniors, but Sydney did something very special [Saturday], and that is very hard to duplicate. She pretty much ruled the sprints, and she took no prisoners.”
And Elliston noted that Elon won both the 4x100-meter relay to start the day’s races and the 4x400-meter relay to conclude the championship, which he called “really impressive.” It also gives the Phoenix two championships in its two years in the CAA.
“We’ve been thinking about this every day since October, to the point that it’s not exactly a surprise anymore,” Griffin said. “To some degree, we expected this to happen. It’s just amazing because no one can ever take that from you. No one can take these medals from me or my teammates. This is a very special day.”
And the realization of the accomplished goal didn’t seem to hit Elon right away, as the team held up one finger up — missing an opportunity to hold up two fingers. An hour after the end of the meet, Dixon still felt the win sinking in.
“It keeps on hitting me,” Dixon said. “Every five minutes, I’m like ‘Oh.’ Like, we get rings. I’m excited again about that.”