By DARREN MILLER
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — This is a story of a veteran and an apprentice. Both had a good Friday on the track at Hornet Stadium and both advanced to an NCAA Championships 400-meter semifinal June 5.
University of Iowa senior Mar’yea Harris has competed on college track and field’s biggest stage before. Three times to be exact, improving from 18th in the 400 at the NCAA Championships as a freshman, to 10th as a sophomore, to fourth last season as a junior.
Wayne Lawrence, Jr., is making his first trip to the NCAA Championships, joining his mentor and training partner in the 400. A Hawkeye freshman from Dayton, Ohio, Lawrence has had typical ups and downs during his first season as a collegian, but now as the calendar turns to June, everything is trending upward for the slender speedster.
Two weeks ago at the Big Ten Championship on his home Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track in Iowa City, Iowa, Lawrence ran the 400 in 47.32 seconds, but failed to grab one of the top eight spots in the 400 final by .08 seconds. On Thursday in the first round of the NCAA West Preliminary, he ran a personal best 45.52, the fastest qualifying time to Friday’s quarterfinal. On Friday, he made it back-to-back days with a PR, running 45.33 and earning one of the 12 spots to the NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas.
“You can never go wrong with personal bests, that’s what it takes to come out here and compete with the best,” Lawrence said. “You have to PR when you need to. I ran with (Baylor senior) Wil London (in Friday’s quarterfinal), one of the best in the country, and I had a PR to be right there so, survive and advance. I made it, I PR’d, I’m blessed to do so.”
Lawrence has been driven all season after seeing a preseason feature by FloTrack that listed its projected NCAA 400 qualifiers. His name was not on the list.
“It motivated me a lot because I know what I can do and I know my ability,” Lawrence said. “I stayed humble throughout the season and it motivated me to come out here and stamp my name as one of the best young quarter milers in the country.”
He will have company in Austin. Harris, a native of Long Beach, California, by way of Auburn, Washington, ran the 10th-fastest qualifying time to Friday’s quarterfinal (46.56), then shaved more than a second in the quarterfinal to place sixth in 45.49, one spot ahead of Lawrence.
“It’s great knowing Wayne is going to be (at the NCAA Championships),” Harris said. “He works hard, he has been running well, and he deserves it. It’s always fun to have one of your teammates there to support you, have fun with you, and go out there and compete.
“It is crazy because I never thought I would be in a position (to go to a fourth straight NCAA Championship), but when I think about it, it is impressive and it has been a good career.”
Harris could have five more 400s left as a Hawkeye, beginning with a 4×400-meter relay quarterfinal Saturday at 11:45 p.m. (CT) in Hornet Stadium. Iowa has run 3:03.10 this season, third-fastest among West Preliminary teams. Texas A&M is tops at 3:01.77, followed by Houston at 3:02.61. The Hawkeyes are in the first heat that also includes Baylor, which has been clocked in 3:03.17.
The veteran won’t feel any angst.
“I have been to the national championships before and I know we can make it again,” Harris said. “Once I think about that, the pressure disappears.”
The apprentice is ready as well.
“I have been training, eating right, and getting good sleep,” Lawrence said. “Most importantly, (assistant coach Jason) Wakenight, Mar’yea, (junior) Karyme (Bartley), my whole training group. They deserve as much credit as I do for going out and getting it done on the track.”
In the past two seasons, Iowa’s 4×400 relay has finished third (3:01.91 in 2017) and ninth (3:04.93 in 2018) at the NCAA Championships.