Record-setting Alabama State relay team gets a head start on the race to greatness
4×100 sprinters exult in performance at the NCAA outdoor track and field national championships as first relay team in school history to reach finals
When Alabama State University 4×100 relay teammates Matthew Clarke, Victor Smith, Jamarion Stubbs and Justus Trainer became the first relay team in school history to reach the finals of the NCAA Division I outdoor track and field national championships earlier this month, they also set a new school record.
As the Hornets look back on their fifth-place finish in the men’s 4×100 final to cap their milestone season, they spoke to Andscape about their pride in knowing a historically Black university now ranks among the best collegiate relay teams in the nation – and in history. The team earned the 16th-fastest 4×100 men’s relay time on collegiate record in late May at the NCAA regionals, running a time of 39.52 seconds; it now ranks 17th.
“When you look at the top 20 schools, you see the Power 5 schools that you expect to be there, like LSU, Georgia, and then you see Alabama State, and it’s like, wow,” Clarke told Andscape. “HBCUs can do it, too.”
When Alabama State’s bus arrived at Mike A. Myers Stadium and Soccer Field in Austin, Texas, on the first day of the championship semifinals, Morrie Turner, the Hornets’ assistant sprints coach, had a message on his mind from his mentor, University of Florida track and field coach Mike Holloway.
“He told me that around championship season, you want your athletes to be 80% ready but 100% healthy to perform to their maximum potential,” Turner said.
The Hornets finished third in their heat, qualifying for the men’s 4×100 relay final with a season-best time of 38.56 seconds. Their time also set a new school record, breaking the previous Alabama State men’s 4×100 relay record of 39.16 seconds, set in 2017.
“When they crossed the line and I saw 38.56 come up, I wasn’t surprised, because I thought we could run 38.40. But when I saw that we qualified, I started thanking and praising God,” Turner said. “I always knew we were capable of running something that fast. I was mainly happy because I knew we were able to execute on a big stage and advance.”
On the day of the final, the athletes worked to stay calm and focus on the race ahead.
“That morning I was nervous but wasn’t scared because I was envisioning and anticipating the outcome before it happened, which energized me more,” Smith said.
As the Hornets lined up in their blocks for the final, ESPN analyst Robert Griffin III recognized Alabama State “putting on for all historically Black colleges and universities” as the only historically Black university competing.
“It was a humbling experience to let the world know that an entire culture and section of colleges [HBCUs] are in this one race in lane three,” Turner said.
As the baton made its way around the track, the pressure began to build for Stubbs, the anchor leg and only freshman on the relay team.
“I was just focused on getting the baton and going,” Stubbs said. “I had to run a hard leg for my team. As the anchor, I had to bring it home, so I stayed calm and did what I had to do.”
Reaching the national championships is the goal for many track and field programs, and the Hornets established their plans to do so before the outdoor season began in March.
“My teammates and I sat down before the season and had a conversation that we can go with some of the top teams in the nation,” Smith said. “We knew that with what we have, as long as we execute the way we needed, we knew we had a pretty good shot at going to NCAAs.”
“At that point, that gave us a vision, like, we’re going to do something amazing this season,” Smith said.
As the teammates’ chemistry grew, so did their achievements. Alabama State won the Southwestern Athletic Conference men’s outdoor track and field title in May, with the 4×100 relay team drawing national attention by tying the SWAC record of 39.35 seconds, set by Texas Southern University in 1988.
Later that month, the 4×100 men’s relay team went to the NCAA East Regional, where it would qualify for the national championships.
Analyzing where the Hornets needed to improve was key to the team’s success this season, Turner said.
“This resulted from identifying what you need and getting the right people,” Turner told Andscape. “Alabama State track and field is now a name on the national stage, and that’s the product of what you see today.”
Trainer, who ran the third leg of the 4×100 relay, came to the program from Tuskegee University in the fall of 2021 as a walk-on athlete. When Turner started working with Trainer, he was an 10.78-second sprinter in the 100-meter dash. After a year of working with the coach, Trainer shaved a half-second off his time to record a personal best of 10.28 and became an All-American this season.
“Being a Division I All-American means the most to me because the track is one of the few things I really care about, and I’ve been working for something like this for years,” Trainer said.
Smith trained with Turner at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, where Smith went from running the 100 in 10.68 seconds to 10.02, his career-best time, before following Turner to Alabama State last fall.
“It was all about trusting the process, and the feeling is surreal after it’s all said and done of how many coaches helped us accomplish this season and myself individually,” Smith said. “We’re not done. Next year is going to be even better.”
For now, though, the Hornets are enjoying the moment.
“I told my guys at regionals that a year ago nobody knew their name. It’s a special moment now to see these guys earn their notoriety and build and learn from it,” Turner said.