Credit: Howard University Athletics photo

This weekend the women’s 4×400 relay team from Howard University will be competing at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, the first Howard relay squad to earn a spot at the NCAA nationals since 1990. They clinched the berth at the 2021 NCAA East Preliminary, shattering a 35-year-old Howard time in the process.

“It’s a great opportunity and experience to compete on this level,” said Jessica Wright, who in addition to the sprints is also a 400-meter hurdler. “Making it this far is honestly a blessing, and we’re ready to compete.”

This accomplishment comes after a challenging year. When Wright was home in North Carolina, she had limited access to tracks. She said training was unpredictable even after the team returned to campus in January, dealing with pauses due to COVID-19 protocols. The student-athletes overcame these obstacles.

“We put in a lot of hard work in the last couple of months,” Wright said. “I’m grateful to be a part of history for Howard University and the HBCU community. It’s a great opportunity to get Howard’s name on the national level in track and field.”

Associate head coach Jessica Cousins said the fact that these student-athletes have achieved this with only a few months of organized training is testament to their commitment and determination. They spent the days leading up to leaving for Eugene training and getting their rest, so they arrive fully prepared. “Right now, it’s keeping them sharp and quick,” Cousins said.

During the time the student-athletes were away from campus due to the pandemic, the coaching staff stayed in constant communication, keeping them engaged and connected.

“When they came back to campus, the expectation was to work,” said Cousins. “Even though they were gone and they didn’t get the fall training, we went into [spring outdoor] season as if they’d been on campus. For us, we worked with them and to keep them motivated.”

Cousins and the rest of the coaching staff are grateful that the Bison bring an HBCU presence to the NCAA Championships. “It shows future athletes that you don’t necessarily have to go to a Power 5 to reach those levels,” she said. “As long as you’re getting the good coaching and you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do as an athlete, you can still get to those levels.”