In recent years, Clemson’s men’s track & field team has labored in the shadow of a Tigers’ women’s team that has dominated the ACC and gone on to become a top-five caliber program nationally.
This season the quality gap between the genders is less noticeable, and just as the women parlayed ACC dominance into a quest for national supremacy, the men seem poised to follow the same trajectory.
The evidence in support of that development includes a third-place finish at the ACC Indoor Championships, and the Tigers’ ascension to No. 14 in the national rankings just prior to sending five qualifiers to the NCAA indoor meet.
Interim Director of Track & Field Shawn Cobey sees both the upper-tier finish at ACCs, and the numerically improved representation at nationals, as potential turning-points for a team still transitioning towards success as it kicks off the outdoor season this weekend.
“It’s a building process right now on the guys’ side,” said Cobey. “They’ve really stepped-up and taken ownership of the team with their performances. They’re excited about it and we sent a larger group to Indoor Nationals than we’ve had in the past. And it was the first ACC meet in a while where I’ve seen them walk away and be proud of their performances.”
Clemson’s five entries in the national indoor meet - Tevin Hester in the 60m dash, Spencer Adams and Marcus Maxey in the 60m hurdles, Brunson Miller in the 400 dash, and Torian Ware in the high jump - were the most for its men’s side since 2007, and Cobey credits the catalyzing ACC showing, as well as the senior leadership of Adams.
“Florida State has some of the top sprinters in the country, and we were able to stay up there with them in all the events at ACCs,” said Cobey. “Then Brunson Miller winning the 400, and getting to the national meet in that event. And Spencer Adams has been to the NCAAs since his freshman year. He just keeps getting better and putting together more consistent races.
“That’s a big help when you get to the national meets, as far as not worrying about the competition around you, but doing what you’re capable of doing on the track. I think that with Spencer going to nationals, and leading the younger ones who made the meet, that having that sort of leadership and experience is definitely beneficial.”
Maxey, who emerged in his senior year as the conference’s second-best hurdler and closest rival to Adams, sees the men’s team following the same pattern that’s proved so profitable for the Tigers’ women.
“I definitely do think that the men are developing the kind of depth and competition that the women have,” said Maxey. “It’s been better recruiting, and a better training ethic. Warren Fraser would have been the only sprinter here, but now we also have Tevin and Reggie (Lewis). I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Clemson lately always had just two men’s sprinters at one time. But now we have four, because Jameel (Abdul-Mateen) is also a sprinter. He used to be a jumper – well, still is a jumper, though he sprints now, too.
“And if the younger guys in our hurdles group just keep at it, they can do what the women did. A year ago, Clemson had five women in the finals, and if Justin (Johnson) and Jaron (Roberson) get confidence in themselves and get up to that level, we’ll have five in the final, too.”
With better depth for more events, and factoring-in the return of Fraser, who missed the indoor season with an injury, the men could find the best showcase for their improvement in the upcoming outdoor season.
“I think outdoors we should see an even better performance,” said Cobey. “We bring back Warren Fraser who ran on the Bahamas Olympic Team last year in the hundred. Then you start adding in the 4X1, the 400 hurdles, and some of the other throwing events, and we have a team that can cover all those events.
“So I think that going outdoors with the men’s program, that the athletes are excited about it, and that they’re proud of the team they have. They feel like they have an identity now, and I think that going forward that it’s going to keep building on what they started with the indoor ACC meet.”