By Edward Burnette 

One last time, the “Hayward Magic” that so many fans have loved to speak of ever since the days of Prefontaine delivered yet another sensational end to a track meet.

USC won the 4 x 400-meter relay in a time of 3 minutes, 27.06 seconds this Saturday in Eugene at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship and won the team title by one point over Georgia. Kyra Constantine ran first for USC, with Anna Cockrell, Deanna Hill and Kendall Ellis following in order.

USC needed to win the relay to win the team title. The Trojans entered with 43 points, nine behind Georgia, which had 52 and was not entered in the in the relay, and a victory was worth 10 team points.

After three laps, Purdue and Oregon led the way with USC running in third. Purdue lengthened its lead going into the final exchange as Hill and the anchor, Ellis, struggled to pass off the baton on their first try.

“I passed it off. She didn’t take it the first time,” said Hill. “The second time she put her hand out, I gave it to her. Two stabs and we got it.”

As the crowd collectively rose to its feet, cheering the runners on during the final stretch, Ellis began to close the 10-meter gap. “Coach (Quincy) Watts told me, ‘If there’s a 10-meter gap, you can close it.’ And even if it was 20 meters, it doesn’t matter,” said Ellis. “My goal, in my mind, was to get my team the win.”

Ellis caught Purdue’s anchor, Jahneya Mitchell, within the last five meters to claim the win and the overall title. She ran the final 400 meters in 50.05.

In the final race at both Hayward, and the final race of both Ellis’ and Hill’s collegiate careers, an NCAA championship was the only thing on the runners’ minds.

“It was knowing how close we were to a team title, knowing that if we won the 4×4, we’d win it all,” said Ellis.  “So that was the motivation. This is me and Deanna’s senior year, and we wanted to go out national champions.”

Last year’s 4 x 400 women’s race came down to the final meters as well, with Raevyn Rodgers of Oregon claiming the title and the Triple Crown for Oregon in a collegiate and Hayward Field record of 3:23.12. USC finished in second in 2017, with LSU rounding out the podium.

Even with a less than perfect baton exchange, the USC runners never lost faith in Ellis and their ability to win the title. “I knew she had it,” said Cockrell. “There was no doubt in my mind that Kendall was going to win it.”

The winning relay team slowly jogged its victory lap around Hayward Field as the fans, many of who remained in their seats, cheered on.

“These last two days at Hayward Field, at this version of Hayward field, was all about the Trojans,” said Cockrell.