North Texas head coach Carl Sheffield thought he might have something special on his hands earlier this season when he put together his 400-meter relay team.
Sheffield had a host of sprinters with talent and the experience of competing on the big stage of the Texas high school state track meet.
What the group didn’t have was chemistry.
“You would hear, ‘I don’t want to run with her, she thinks she’s faster than me,’” Sheffield said. “There was a whole bunch of stuff like that keeping them from going fast.”
Those obstacles gradually have disappeared over the last few weeks, clearing the way for the team to take off heading into the NCAA West preliminaries beginning Thursday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.
UNT’s team of Nadiyah El-Amin, Kayla Savoie, Ashley Henry and Mona Landry will compete in the second of three eight-team heats. The top three teams from each heat, plus the teams with the next three best times, will advance to the championship meet in Eugene, Ore., beginning June 5.
UNT’s qualifying time of 45.30 ranks seventh out of the eight teams in a heat that includes Texas A&M, UCLA and Baylor. The Mean Green’s time ranks 19th among the 24 teams in the meet.
The members of UNT’s team say they are capable of advancing with a breakout performance after finding the right mix of runners, both in terms of talent and chemistry.
UNT has used seven runners at different points of the season, running them in various orders.
The team settled on a lineup that includes two sophomores (Savoie and El-Amin) and two freshmen (Henry and Landry).
El-Amin tore a hamstring last year and didn’t regain her form until midway through this spring when she was added to the mix.
The members of the team also had to work through their personal differences while Sheffield determined who would compete in the event.
El-Amin credited the team’s development largely to how each member learned to adjust to the personality of her teammates.
The more the members of the group got to know each other and learned to accept depending on each other, the faster the team became.
“Getting along really matters,” El-Amin said. “You have to have positive energy on a relay to succeed. It’s not the same if you don’t have it.”
Sheffield and the members of the team could see that chemistry developing late in the year. Not all of the members of the team are great friends, but Sheffield said they have learned to co-exist.
That might not sound like it would be a tough task for a quartet of athletes with the same goal of getting to the national finals. That is not always the case.
“With females who are all good and have egos, they have to be able to put those egos aside and say, ‘I want to be on this. I am not any better than you and have to depend on you to get me the stick,’” Sheffield said. “ My girls have personalities. Dealing with that was tough.”
The more the members of UNT’s relay team worked at it, the more they focused on their event and less on their differences.
UNT’s breakthrough moment came at the Sun Belt Conference meet two weeks ago. The Mean Green finished third and didn’t run its best time of the season, but something clicked for the team on its way to a time of 45.64.
“As runners, you know when it’s right,” Henry said.
That was how the race felt for UNT.
The team will look to find that comfort zone again this weekend in Austin. The opportunity is one they credit to the common ground they found as athletes and people after a rough start.
“I have seen it from the beginning of the season until now,” Henry said. “We have our chemistry going and now we are rolling.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
North Texas’ NCAA preliminary round qualifiers
The following is a list of North Texas athletes who will compete in this week’s NCAA West preliminary-round meet in Austin:
400 meters — Ashley Harrison
1,500 — Jo Adams
3,000 — Charlotte Wilson
100 hurdles — Chastity Stewart
400 relay — Ashley Henry, Nadiyah El-Amin, Mona Landry and Kayla Savoie
High jump — Shahaf Bareni and Haley Thompson
400 — Clint Collins
1,500 — Matt Russ
400 hurdles — Steven White
Long jump — Terrance Williams
Discus — Aaron Sirles