By shattering the NCAA record in the 60 meter hurdles, and by accomplishing that feat in Clemson’s top-ranked women’s team’s first track meet of the year (the Tiger Challenge on Jan. 11), Brianna Rollins has made an early and forceful statement concerning her own and the program’s National Championship ambitions.
With her time of 7.78 (which bettered Southern Cal’s Ginnie Powell’s previous NCAA record mark of 7.84), Rollins not only ran the best race of her career, but managed to tune-out the distraction of Lawrence Johnson’s resignation as Clemson’s Director of Track & Field just days earlier.
“I feel that setting the record in the 60 hurdles was such a blessing,” said Rollins, who was recognized as the USTFCCCA National Athlete of the Week, as well as the ACC Performer of the Week. “A blessing in disguise, because a few days before the first track meet, Coach Johnson resigned, and it was very emotional and it kind of took a toll on me a little bit. But I tried to stay focused, and make sure that I executed a great race, and concentrated on what I had to do. And I came out there and ran awesome, so it was just a blessing, and I’m really thankful.”
A redshirt junior and All-American from Miami, FL, Rollins became the first female National Champion hurdler in Clemson history when she won the 60 hurdles at the Indoor NCAA Championships in 2011. Her record-setting performance this season spearheads a Clemson contingent in the 60m hurdles that early on has dominated the top four spots nationally.
The fact of Bridgette Owens’ second-place time of 8.17, followed by teammates Jasmine Edgerson (8.18), and Keni Harrison (8.19), leads Rollins to entertain the possibility of all four Tiger hurdlers appearing in the finals at nationals.
“It’s something that we look forward to doing in the future,” said Rollins. “We have such a strong hurdling group of girls, that I just feel like that all four us could be at nationals and score points. If we could do that it would be awesome, and it would be a statement.”
As to what allowed her to make such an impressive breakthrough in her first race of the season, Rollins couldn’t point to one detail specifically, though both she and interim head track coach Shawn Cobey more generally cited the benefits of hard work.
“Brianna has been very focused since last year, coming off of a great year at Olympic trials,” said Cobey. “I think that set the stage for coming into this season. She made the Olympic trial final, and put herself in a position to make the Olympic team, and ended up fifth there. I think it helped her confidence a lot, and I think she also realized how hard she has to work to put herself in those kinds of positions. She had a great fall, working out, and when she came back over the break, she really stepped into a leadership role on this team.
“She’s taken the team on her shoulders and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing, so follow me!’ She put together a phenomenal race early in the year, but I don’t think she’s finished for the season, either. I think there’s still a lot more there.”
While Rollins’ efforts were confined to the 200m dash and the 4X4 relay in her next competition, she said that competing in those events was less about scaling back, than in getting in some speed and endurance work that will help her achieve her aims in the hurdles, and beyond, the goals she’s set for the season.
“One of my goals this season is to make sure I stay healthy, and to continue to work hard,” said Rollins. “As for individual goals – and if it’s God’s will for me – I want to win nationals indoors and outdoors, and to make the world team this year.
“Team-wise, we also want to win the National Championships, both indoors and outdoors. That’s the main goal for us, and since I’ve been a freshman, that’s something that we’ve been dedicated to, so that’s something that I’m really hoping that my teammates and I can do. It is a realistic ambition this year. We’ve put in so much work, and I’m so proud of my teammates, that I hope and pray that if it’s God’s will for us to win nationals, that it is this year. We’ve gone through a lot of things, and I think we deserve it.”