Southern Oregon University men and women raiders flew home from the humid state of Gulf Shores, Alabama with a grand total of ten All-American titles–seven for the men’s track and field team and three for the women. However, despite the large number of All-Americans, multiple records being broken, and raider track and field history being made the team encountered personal hardships, and unplanned unusual circumstances.
Adversity was encountered by the men’s 4 by 400 meter relay team, composed of Matthew East, Gary Fanelli, Cameron Bremner and Cedric Quartey. The team made history in their preliminary race with a time of 3:14.70 the third fastest time in SOU history.
Not expecting to make it to the finals the team was given a lane and a chance to become All-Americans as two teams were disqualified. Including their preliminary race the men’s 4 by 400 meter relay team ran personal best times consistently for six meets in a row. Ready to run another personal best the team started off with a strong first leg run from East.
At the time of the hand off from East they were seated at the top of the pack. When handing off the baton to second leg runner Fanelli running in lane one, he was cut off by Bethel College senior Conner Sowders, knocking the baton out of Fanelli’s hand. The baton flew back up the track by 20 meters back in the opposite direction.
Fanelli came to a complete stop and proceeded to run back up the track, grab the baton and resume the race. “I knew I just had to keep running, it was an instant thought. Get the baton, and go,” said Fanelli. The team placed 7th in the 4 by 400 meter race with a time of 3:24 27. “What happened was something out of our control and everything in our control we did right,” said Quartey.
Immediately following the race head cross country and track and field coach Grier Gatlin filed an official protest, which if passed would have resulted in the disqualification of Bethel College in the race and placed the men’s SOU team up by one spot. “I tried to advocate for our team and I thought we were interfered with and the meet referee didn’t think so and that’s ok too,” said Gatlin.
Filing an official protest costs 50 dollars. “It’s like lighting money on fire you almost never win,” said Gatlin.
“We might have lost the race but I think it was just a victory for us because we never gave up,” said Bremner, who had been sick and unable to eat for a majority of the trip.
SOU Junior Jessa Perkinson won her seventh All-American title in the 1,500 meter race and her ninth title with a first place win in the 5,000 meter race. “I felt okay about my 5K (5,000 meter race). I’ve been kind of fighting some depression for a while leading up to it and so I wasn’t in a super good head space before the race,” said Perkinson.
Now nine time All-American, Perkinson placed sixth in the 1,500 meter race with a time of 4:33.28 seconds. Shortly after, Perkinson was scheduled to run the 5,000 meter race. Unaware of how the race would be run Perkinson originally planned to lead the pack in the beginning of her race. “I wasn’t sure if people were going to take it out really fast or if it would be kind of a championship race in the sense that nobody wanted to take the lead,” said Perkinson.
Her plan backfired as Ellie Willging from Saint Xavier’s led majority of the race with Perkinson in second. “I just had it in my mind that I would take the lead but that didn’t end up happening anyways,” said Perkinson. With 250 meters left in her race Perkinson recovered from second and ended up taking first with a time of 17 minutes 24.55 seconds.
Up until the last mile of her race Perkinson was feeling negative and uncompetitive “I just pushed all the bad thoughts away and just said you have a mile left to make this count and I just went for it,” said Perkinson. “By the end of it I was just like ‘wow, I didn’t feel like I really deserved that but God is good to me.’”
“One of the things we try to emphasize is qualifying for nationals isn’t the goal, it’s competing well at nationals,” said Gatlin. Despite challenges and setbacks the SOU track and field athletes faced they finished the season strong. All-American titles were earned, records were broken, and history was made. “I thought Nationals was a really big positive for the SOU track and field program. A huge positive all the way around,” said Gatlin.