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High-flying Falcons seek fourth straight NCAA Division II outdoor title

Legendary coach George Williams has led teams to 37 national titles

It has been a busy and rewarding month for the Saint Augustine’s University track program in Raleigh, North Carolina.

SAU’s athletes won four of the eight individual NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional outdoor track and field awards Wednesday night. The honorees included three athletes of the year, and head coach George Williams, the regional coach of the year.

One of the school’s most successful graduates — hurdler Bershawn “Batman” Jackson, an Olympic medalist — was inducted into the Division II Track and Field Athlete Hall of Fame in Bradenton, Florida.

“I am proud of them,” Williams said of his athletes. “It touches my heart when they are recognized for their achievements.” The recipients got their awards on the eve of the D-II outdoor championships in Bradenton.

So what will the program do for an encore?

St. Augustine’s, the nation’s No. 1-ranked men’s team, will go out to help Williams win a 38th national championship, when competition gets underway Thursday morning and concludes Saturday.

“The chances [of winning] are good if we perform well, if we do what we are supposed to do,’” Williams said. “We can be champs if we run like we can.”

That was not a typo. Williams has won the most NCAA track and field championships (37) of any coach regardless of division. This season, he led the Falcons to their 19th straight men’s Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) outdoor title. Several years ago, he relinquished coaching the women.

The men’s team is the favorite to win at the championships. The women’s team is picked to finish third.

Among the Falcons’ women’s regional winners, junior Tia-Adana Belle is track athlete of the year; senior Shakinah Brooks is field athlete of the year.

Among the men, senior Burkheart Ellis Jr. is track athlete of the year, and Williams is head coach of the year.

Earlier in the month, Williams was named CIAA Head Coach of the Year.

Belle smashed the D-II record in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 55.82, which is the ninth-fastest time in history among all collegians. She enters the championships ranked first in the 400-meter hurdles and third in the 100-meter hurdles. Belle is the defending national champion in the 400-meter hurdles.

Brooks won the long jump at the prestigious Penn Relays, and she has a career-high mark of 20-5¾ to win the Aggie Last Chance meet. She is seeded fourth in the long jump at the championships.

Ellis is the top seed in the 200-meter after running 20.36, the third fastest in D-II history. He also is a top seed in the 100-meter dash and is a member of the nation’s top-ranked 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relay teams heading into the championships.

If you’re interested in seeing the Falcons fly, the meet will be streamed live daily on ncaa.com. Starting times: Thursday, 10:30 a.m.; Friday, 9:30 a.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m.

David R. Squires is a writer, editor and digital journalist who has worked for the New York Times, Detroit Free Press, Cleveland Plain Dealer and St. Petersburg Times. He's also a former editor-in-chief of BlackVoices.com and BVQ magazine, a former Black Enterprise writer and editor and NUTribemagazine.com managing editor.