On Saturday night, Florida State headed into the 4x400 clinging to another seven-point lead, despite a late push by UNC. All FSU needed was fifth or better to clinch the victory, and UNC needed a win.
Luckily for UNC, the Tar Heels have Steve Rubin to coach the sprinters and hurdlers. Rubin loves the 4x400.
Sophomore sprinter R.J. Alowonle said Rubin tells the team: “The 4x400 is the end of each meet, and we’re ending every meet with an exclamation point. We’re taking it home, every single time.”
UNC took home the 4x400 gold, but FSU took home the team victory after a third-place finish. Still, the victory was huge for the team, and coach Harlis Meaders and the Tar Heels walked out of Belk Track with their heads held high.
“It was a big confidence boost for our kids,” Meaders said. “It was a big moral win for the fans and to be able to do it at home was really nice for us.”
Ways just wanted to end the night on a good note.
“Losing is never a good feeling, but especially not at home,” Ways said. “We didn’t want anyone to just come in and feel like they could just take us for granted, and I think that us running for each other is what made us successful today.”
“Successful” is an understatement of what the sprinters and hurdlers were for the UNC men this weekend. “Dominant” is more appropriate.
Of the team’s 110 points, 63 came from sprints and hurdles. In fact, UNC picked up almost a quarter of its points in the 400m hurdles alone; 54 seconds, 24 points.
In the 4x400 relay, Alowonle and the Tar Heels got off to a strong start, but then FSU and Pittsburgh made their moves. By the time Lipsey snatched the baton from Donyinah’s hand for the third leg, UNC had dropped to third.
Then Lipsey went to work. A quick 46 seconds later, the baton was passed to Ways for the final leg. UNC was in first again.
Then the freshman Ways, on his third race of the day, taking on two All-American seniors with the tournament potentially on the line, outperformed each of his teammates with a leg of just 45 seconds. And he won. And the Tar Heels won.
“And the crowd,” Rubin said, “goes bananas.”