Brianna Lewis and her coaches know that she runs best from the back.
In what was widely considered an upset, Lewis won the 2014 4A 400-meter hurdles title from lane one, the second-to-last starting block. Northwestern’s defending champion will try do and repeat the feat Saturday at Spring Valley High School.
“I just visualized my race and then I performed when I got there,” said Lewis before practice Wednesday. “I knew what I had to do when I got to the 200 and then I just finished my race.”
Lewis, who measures her words carefully when being interviewed, made it sound very easy. She used the same analytical approach to her hurdling. In practice she dissected the 400-meter hurdles into a first 200 meters and a last 200 meters, setting specific time targets for each. Doing so helped her run more than three seconds faster (1:03.54) in the finals than her seed time of (1:07.07)
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“Had to break it down, make sure I knew what I was doing,” said Lewis. “I repeated it over and over.”
Lewis and Northwestern coach Calvin Hudgins acknowledged that the state championship victory was an upset, in part because it was only Lewis’ fifth hurdles race. The senior, who signed to run track and field at College of Charleston earlier this week, only began running hurdles two years ago at the behest of assistant coach Micah McCoy.
“We’ve done this a couple of times,” said Hudgins. “Micah sees something.”
Lewis, who doesn’t have the typical leggy build one thinks of when imagining hurdlers, was a sprinter and cross country runner before honing in on her now featured event. It’s that speed and endurance that makes it possible for her to run from the back of a pack and make up ground, which she did in last year’s championship run.
“I knew with about 70 meters to go and she went over that hurdle that she was within striking distance of the leaders, that she’d run by them,” said Hudgins.
Colleges originally called Hudgins to recruit Lewis for cross country, before learning she could hurdle. Lewis’ versatility - she’ll also run a relay Saturday - makes her a valuable points-scorer at state championship meets, something the college recruiters noticed.
“She can do it all,” said the Trojans’ longtime coach. “The child can go.”
Lane assignments are based on qualifying times. Lewis was third this year, so she’ll be in lane three, much closer to the front than last year. But if she falls behind, she won’t panic.
“I know what it’s like coming from the back,” said Lewis, who will be joined in Saturday’s 400 hurdles race by teammate Nicole Rauppius. “I know what I have to do.”
Lewis benefited from working last summer with former Northwestern Trojan and LSU sprinter Tiaerra McLaurin. McLaurin and McCoy have helped Lewis develop the mindset that “attacking” the hurdles is crucial, as opposed to trying not to wipe out.
“It’s got to be one smooth flow,” Lewis said.
Hudgins called Lewis a “winner.” He takes his teams to a number of big meets during the year - the Sandlapper Classic, the Coaches’ Classic, Taco Bell Invitational - to get Northwestern’s track stars used to the big stage.
“You can’t do that at a dual meet,” said Hudgins. “Brianna being a senior, has been in all this.”
That’s crucial in state championship track and field where a false start or a twanged hamstring can seemingly ruin an entire season of work. Hudgins thinks Lewis’ experience will favor her as she tries to repeat.
“I’m pretty excited,” said Lewis. “I have a lot of people to prove to that I can actually do this again.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T
Local track and field state championship qualifiers
Great Falls: Carrie Edwards (girls’ 400 meters, high jump), Shyheim Kelly (boys’ high jump).
Lewisville: Boys’ 4x100 relay, Megan Flynn (girls’ 800 meters), Marcus McCullough (boys’ triple jump), James Peeler (boys’ triple jump).
Indian Land: Boys’ 4x800 relay, girls’ 4x400 relay, Kaitlyn Rodman (girls’ 1600, 3200 meters), Joshua Jacobs (boys’ 400 meters), Malcom Reed (boys’ 800 meters), Baileigh Sizemore (girls’ 3200 meters), Austin St. John (boys’ 3200 meters).
Chester: NaDera Yarborough (girls’ 100-meter).
Lancaster: Trevin Mingo-Watts (boys’ shot put), Kaliya Jackson (girls’ shot put), Keendarius Truesdale (boys’ discus).
South Pointe: Girls’ 4x100 relay, girls’ 4x400 relay, Justin Douglas (boys’ 110-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles), John McDonald (boys’ 200 meters), Olivia Paxton (girls’ 3200 meters), T’Kaja Williams (girls’ long jump), Niegel Simmons (boys’ long jump), John Moore (boys’ triple jump), Khalil Jackson (boys’ high jump).
Rock Hill: Deshaun McFadden (boys’ long jump), Van Perry (boys’ pole vault), Ziaria Robinson (girls’ high jump).
Nation Ford: Chynna Crawford (girls’ shot put).
Fort Mill: Jeremy Ricks (boys’ 3200 meters), Jessica Brewer (girls’ pole vault).
Northwestern: Girls’ 4x400 relay, boys’ 4x400 relay, Noah Walker (boys’ 110-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles), Miles Mingo (boys’ 400 meters), Brianna Lewis (girls’ 400-meter hurdles), Nicole Rauppius (girls’ 400-meter hurdles), Orlando Brown (boys’ 800 meters), Javon Foy (boys’ 800 meters), Donna Hood (girls’ pole vault), Chris Bouyer (shot put), Cassidy Malchow (girls’ discus), Nadia White (girls’ long jump), Victoria Wilform (girls’ high jump), Quanterius Caldwell (boys’ high jump).