LUBBOCK, Texas – Texas Tech track and field will begin its journey to Birmingham, Ala., for the NCAA Indoor Championships on Wednesday. The Red Raiders will be entering the March 8-9 title meet with 15 entries on the men’s side – more than any other team. Tech also has three entries on the women’s side.
The trip to Birmingham comes 10 days after Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Wes Kittley’s Red Raiders put together a historic effort at the Tech-hosted Big 12 Championships. The men’s squad racked up 179 points – the most in conference history – en route to its third-straight conference title. With 70 points separating the Red Raiders and runners-up Iowa State, the victory counted as the most lopsided in the history of the Big 12.
The dominant victory came by way of a world-leading 200m run by Divine Oduduru, the school’s first conference title in the heptathlon and hordes of personal records. With it, Tech further cemented itself as the nation’s top track and field program.
“It was perfect,” Kittley said of the timing of the performances at Big 12s heading into nationals. “We’ve run with confidence all year, but when you win a championship at home it gives you a little extra boost.”
The battle for the National Championship is anticipated by most to come right down to the wire between the top-ranked Red Raiders and number-two Florida. With just a handful of points predicted to separate the two, each of Tech’s 14 entries and Florida’s 13 will be scrapping for every point they can get.
The busiest Red Raiders will be sprinters Divine Oduduru and Andrew Hudson, who will both run the 60m and 200m in addition to the 4x400. The duo will come in as the first- and second-ranked 200m runners in the country. The marks here come from Oduduru’s historic 20.08 at the Big 12 Championships, which went down in raw time as the second-fastest in collegiate history. Hudson was pushing the limit the previous night, going 20.33 in the preliminary for the fastest time of his career. Oduduru took the 60m as well with a 6.52. Hudson was hot on his heels with a 6.57, though his seed time this weekend will be the career-best 6.56 he ran at the Texas Tech Classic in January.
Providing a boost to the scoring potential of Oduduru and Hudson will be several other members of Tech’s elite sprints group. The Red Raiders will be represented twice in the 800m in the form of Vincent Crisp and Jonah Koech. Crisp and Koech ran sub-1:47 races at the Texas Tech Classic to secure their bids to the national meet. Crisp will enter ranked eighth, while Koech holds on to the ninth spot. Tyreek Mathis will travel as an integral third leg to Tech’s ninth-ranked 4x400 team. The Philadelphia native – the relay’s lone true 400m runner – will be joined by Oduduru, Hudson and Crisp for a race that could very well be the one that decides the championship.
To bolster the 4x400 team, Kittley will bring along Derrius Rodgers and Sven Cepus as alternates. Rodgers’ first season in Lubbock saw him twice land in the program top-10 for the 60m at 6.61 and 6.62. The Illinois State transfer is a versatile runner, also having competed in the 200m (in which he scored at the Big 12 Championships) and 4x400. Whereas Rodgers would be running up should he be needed in the relay, Cepus, a freshman from Croatia, would be running down. The 4x400 has been Cepus’ shortest race of the season, as he has consistently run the 600-yard and 800m. Cepus medaled in the latter at his first Big 12 Championships with a 1:49.41 in addition to helping the DMR team to a solid third-place finish.
The Red Raiders will also seek significant contributions from their top-ranked jumpers. Odaine Lewis will lead the way in the horizontal jumps, doubling in both the long and triple. Lewis will enter the fourth-ranked long jumper with a season high of 26’-2.75” (7.99m). He will be joined in the long jump by Charles Brown, who has topped at just two inches shorter this year at 7.94m. Lewis’ rank in the triple is seventh, behind fellow Red Raider Jah-Nhai Perinchief. The fifth-ranked Perinchief, an Arkansas transfer, comes in with a PR of 54’-11.5” (16.75m) which doubles as the second-furthest indoor triple jump in Tech history. Perinchief will also compete in the high jump.
Competing against the Red Raider sprinters and jumpers throughout the meet will be Florida’s Grant Holloway. A candidate for The Bowerman like Oduduru, Holloway represents the Gators’ highest point potential as he is entered in three individual events in addition to the 4x400. Holloway will head to Birmingham as the top seed in the 60m and 60m hurdles, plus the second seed in the long jump.
With a big name like Holloway going for the Gators, Kittley emphasizes the need for the Red Raiders to remain focused on themselves.
“If you look at us and Florida, we’re relatively even on paper,” Kittley said. “But we’ve just got to take care of us. We’ve got to go into this meet and be confident like we have all season. I think if we’re focused and just taking care of us, we’re going to be hard to beat.”
Packing on even more depth to Tech’s men’s squad will be Axel Hubert in the heptathlon and Drew McMichael in the pole vault. Hubert, the newest owner of the school record in the indoor multi, will come in at eighth with a season-best 5,746 points. The freshman from France went for 5,675 points at the Big 12 Championships to secure Tech’s first-ever conference title in the event.
McMichael’s contribution will come in the pole vault, for which he enters as the 10-seed after topping at a lifetime-best 18’-3.75” (5.58m) at the Big 12 Championships. This will be McMichael’s second and final go at indoor nationals after transferring from Auburn in 2017.
Tech’s women’s team, which put 108.5 points on the board at the Big 12 Championships for the second-most in their history, will send three to Birmingham.
Chinne Okoronkwo will be the lone one competing in multiple events as she is set to double in the triple jump and pole vault. The Wisconsin transfer will enter as the eight-seed in the triple, boasting a top leap of 43’-10” (13.36m). The mark came at the Texas Tech Shootout and ranks second in program history. Okoronkwo has been active in chasing down program records in the pole vault during her first year in Lubbock, too. She topped at 14’-2.5” (4.33m) at the Big 12 Championships to slide into the national top-16 and earn a trip to the Championships. The height ranks as the third-best in Tech indoor history.
While transfers like Okoronkwo have transformed the women’s team this season, the Lady Raiders’ two other national qualifiers have called Lubbock home for four years. Zarriea Willis will enter an up-for-grabs high jump field where just one inch separates the top-five competitors. Willis, whose season-best 6’-0.75” (1.85m) has her sitting third, would be poised to win the event if she could reach last year’s PR of 6’-2.25” (1.89m).
Ivy Walker will round out the group set to go in the long jump. Walker, a senior, will be making her nationals debut. The qualification was well earned after a final indoor campaign that saw her go for a career-best 20’-7” (6.27m). She placed fifth at the Big 12 Championships with a 20’-1.75” (6.14m).
The NCAA Indoor Championships will get underway Friday. Tech will be led off at noon by Hubert in the heptathlon. A full schedule can be found here.