In the years before Wes Kittley was hired as head coach, Texas Tech’s athletics budget often made it hard to compete in track and field outside of its individual standouts.
Two decades later, with a lot of accomplishments and some letdowns along the way, the Red Raiders made it to the top of the mountain.
The Texas Tech men won the national championship Friday night in Austin with another dazzling performance by Olympic sprinter Divine Oduduru and contributions across the board. The Red Raiders joined the 1993 Lady Raiders basketball team as Tech’s only NCAA champion teams in intercollegiate sports.
“It’s been a long journey, and didn’t happen as fast as I wanted it to,” Kittley said. “Our greatest quality, I’ve just stayed with it. Just kept plugging and kept recruiting a better athlete, believing a better athlete would come to Texas Tech and selling Texas Tech, that we’re the greatest place on earth.
“We got the right type kids that wanted to come and work and believed in our system and our culture and we got it done.”
In the NCAA outdoor championships that started Wednesday at Mike A. Myers Stadium, 11 Red Raiders scored in eight individual events, plus the 400-meter relay, as Tech piled up 60 points. Florida, led by two meet records from star Grant Holloway, was runner-up with 50 points and Houston was next with 40.
“We just kept putting everything together,” Kittley said. “It takes that. You’ve got to have the depth, and you’ve got to have the horses.”
Oduduru won the 100 meters and the 200 meters, both with the second-fastest times ever run by a collegian, and senior Duke Kicinski clinched the team title with a victory in the discus.
As for rising up at the right time: The Red Raiders got school-record performances by Brandon Bray and Drew McMichael in the pole vault, by Oduduru in the 100 and the 200 meters, by Norman Grimes in the 400-meter hurdles and by the 400-meter relay team of Keion Sutton, Oduduru, Andrew Hudson and Jacolby Shelton.
Oduduru easily won the 100 meters in 9.86 seconds, then about 45 minutes later came back and repeated as the NCAA outdoor champion at 200 meters in 19.73, both times wind legal. The collegiate records in those events are 9.82 by Christian Coleman from Tennessee and 19.69 by Walter Dix from Florida State, both of whom became global medalists as pros.
What a way to finish for a strong group of seniors who helped Tech sweep the Big 12 team titles both indoors and outdoors each of the past two years.
In years past, Tech failed to meet high expectations at the NCAA championships, never cracking the top four places that get a team trophy.
Now the Red Raiders get to bring home the trophy.
“We’ve been building this team for years,” Kittley said. “That senior group, man, they just got tired of failing. We went and failed. We went and failed. We kept picking ourselves up. Our greatest quality was, man, we just wouldn’t quit.
“We finally learned how to win, and in, I think, the greatest meet of all-time. This is like the Olympic games here. You’ve got to be so good to win this meet.”
Tech began the final day of the men’s competition with eight points, but with most of its big guns still to be pulled from the holster. The Red Raiders started the Friday night card with the sprint relay running 38.45 seconds for third place.
After Oduduru’s win in the 100, the Red Raiders added three points in the 800 with a seventh place from Jonah Koech (1 minute, 47.28 seconds) and eighth from Vincent Crisp (1:47.48).
Grimes, though overtaken deep in the stretch in the 400-meter hurdles, hung on for second place in 48.71. That took down the school record of 48.89 set by Jamele Mason, a three-time first-team all-American outdoors.
“Greatest race I’ve ever seen him run,” Kittley said.
After those eight points, Tech tacked on 12 more in the 200 with Odururu winning again and Andrew Hudson taking seventh in 20.25. That, and a sixth place from Odaine Lewis in the triple jump (54 feet, 9 1/2) moved the Red Raiders past Florida into first.
Not long after, Kicinski clinched the team title when he won the discus with a throw of 205-2.
The Red Raiders’ 1,600-meter relay didn’t make the finals, but it turned out to be a moot point. The Red Raiders were able to start their celebration before then.