Choctaw Track and Field Rewrite Record Books in 2022 Indoor Season / Caroline Hunt

Photo: The men’s distance medley relay team poses for a first-place picture after their race at the 2022 South Carolina Invitational; from the left: Gabe Hodson, Cole Benoit, Hunter Kurz, and Jake Russell. They finished the race with a time of 9:47.93. (Photo by Brock Kelly)

Mississippi College’s track and field team traveled to Columbia, SC at the end of January and left many competitors in the dust at the University of South Carolina Indoor Invitational. Cole Benoit and Jazmin Hernandez were among the athletes with winning records. The team finished the meet weekend holding eight school records and three event titles in their grasp beating out many Division I contenders. 

Hernandez broke her school record in the women’s mile at 4:53.75, making her the first Choctaw in school history to break the five-minute mark in the women’s mile. She also participated in the winning distance medley relay team who won the title and set the school record at 11:55.71, the fourth-fastest time in Division II at the time. 

Cole Benoit also took some titles home, including a school record in the men’s 3000 meters at 8:07.67, placing him fourth in Division II standings at the time and fifth place at the South Carolina meet. Benoit, a member of the first-place men’s distance medley relay, aided the team in picking up a 9:47.93 time, the third-fastest time in Division II at the time. 

Other noteworthy performances included Al Ferrill, a men’s thrower, who set a men’s shot put indoor school record of 16.06 meters, putting him in second place at the meet. Sprinters Fabio Palmieri and Shemar Patten both broke school records, with Palmieri’s second-place 48.05 in the men’s 400 meters and Patten’s school record of 8.15 in the men’s 60-meter hurdles. 

With so much success in individual athletes’ performances at the January meet, one may wonder how the composure of the team stays intact. The pressure to perform as one unit is even more potent in the context of a race like the distance medley relay. During this race, four runners who specialize in different solo races compete as one. The four relay legs are 1200 meters, 400 meters, 800 meters, and 1600 meters. 

This brutal event forces runners of different backgrounds to work collectively to achieve a spot on the podium. Benoit, a member of MC’s men’s “DMR” team, noted how as an entire team the Choctaws are growing their program mentality to encompass what this unique relay requires: teamwork in individualism. 

“What we did in that relay [in South Carolina] wasn’t just because of what we, the people in the race were doing, but because of what we as an entire team are doing. The other guys in my relay all knew the pieces we needed to get that top time. We just had to do it together,” said Benoit. 

Hernandez weighed in on how the team will continue its streak of hard work paying off.

“Really lifting each other up, keeping that momentum going, and staying healthy will be key when we go compete at conference championships coming up. That meet will be a bit tougher because the competition is stiffer, but we will just go in trying to execute a good race each time we get on the track.” 

Wondering what their recipe for success looks like Benoit stated that there were two simple things keeping the team focused: faith and family. 

“The question really is what is making us work so fluidly. I think it has to be that when we all race or practice we do it for God. We want people to see that the work we do is to honor him. The second thing is that we work together as a family,” Benoit said. 

“During my 3k, my ‘big race,’ I don’t remember the strategy or the competition. All I remember is that for 15 laps straight, every time I made it around the track, I saw my coach believing in me and 15 of my best friends losing their minds, cheering me on.” 

In the Gulf South Conference Indoor Championships held in Birmingham, Alabama, in mid-February, both MC teams more than proved why they are among one of the best track programs in the country. 

The men placed third with 151 points, behind Alabama-Huntsville and Lee, who took the crown with 172.5 points. The women on the other hand were second place finishers with 123.5 points, with Lee once again coming out on top. In the process, the Choctaws almost completely rewrote the record books in MC and GSC meets.

Among the top performances by MC in the meet were the men’s distance medley relay, as they won the event with a GSC record time of 9:53.94; All-American Tytavia Hardy won the women’s triple jump with her mark of 11.90 meters and the 60-meter hurdles in her 8.60 PR time; Fabio Palmieri won and set a conference record with his 400-meter time of 48.19; freshman Wesley Gibbs secured gold in the 800 meters; and men’s 4×400-meter relay set a new GSC record with their winning time of 3:16.95.

In total, 26 medals were won across the two teams, 10 by the women and 16 by the men. With the track team’s indoor season behind them, the Choctaws shift their focus to the outdoor meets, with the MC Season Opener on March 5 and the GSC Outdoor Championships also held on MC’s campus May 5-7.  

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