The women of Howard University’s track and field team have proved that last year’s trip to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships was not a once in a lifetime experience. The formidable quartet of Jessika Gbai, Ameenah Saalih (New Jersey native), Ozioma Scott and Jessica Wright will make a return appearance in the 4×400 relay. In addition, Wright will compete in the 400-meter hurdles and Gbai has a berth in the 200 meters.

“Their ability to be able to compete at this level and the things they’ve been able to do has made this team extremely special,” said associate head coach Jessica Cousins. “We’re going to be sad for them to go because we know where they came from. Three of them were walk-ons. What they’ve been able to do, you don’t see that often.”

Of the four women in the relay, only Wright was recruited. Due to the extra year of eligibility granted because the 2020-21 year was impacted by the pandemic, Wright has one more year to compete. The other three took their fifth year this year, so the NCAA Championships will be their final appearances as Bison.

“Training has gone very well for us,” said Cousins. “We were able to get back on campus and get in the groove of things. Classes were [mostly] back in person. That provided a lot of stability. All of those things played a role in us being able to have the success we’ve had indoors and outdoors.”

Gbai said last year’s NCAA appearance was getting a foot in the door. “This year is about making some noise,” she said. Staying focused on training during the last two years took a lot mentally, but she and her teammates forged through. Gbai said being a walk-on surrounded by recruited student-athletes her freshman year pushed to prove herself. Earning spots in the relay and the 200 meters showed her the hard work was worth it.

“Our group of 4×400, we instantly connect,” said Gbai. “We can trust each other. [The fifth year] allowed me to get some unfinished business in. Having a fifth year, brought my whole journey on Howard track and field to a complete circle.”

Once the NCAA Championships are done, competition will continue for Wright, who has qualified for the U.S. Track & Field Outdoor Championships, and Gbai, who will represent Ivory Coast at the World Athletics Championships.

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