LINCOLN — There isn’t much time to do a double take when running a relay race, but that hasn’t stopped some competitors from sneaking a second look at Nebraska’s prolific 1,600-meter relay team.
“Maybe we surprise the opponents. Maybe that’s our best tactic,” NU sophomore Levi Gipson said.
But while Nebraska might not be known as a traditional powerhouse when it comes to producing elite sprinters, the Husker relay has become a familiar sight on the medal stand and in the record books the last two years. Gipson joined Jake Bender, Drew Wiseman and Cody Rush in NU’s latest chart-topping run last weekend when the quartet set a school record at the Tyson Invitational in Arkansas.
Last weekend’s mark of 3 minutes, 6.93 seconds broke the old school record of 3:07.63 set at last year’s NCAA indoor championships by a team that also included Gipson and Rush, a pair of native Nebraskans. At the Arkansas meet, they were joined on the unit by Wiseman (North Dakota) and Bender (Illinois).
The Husker relay is excelling in an event typically dominated by Southern schools. NU’s school record-breaking run in Arkansas was the fastest time in the Big Ten this season and the No. 8 time in the country. With the top 12 teams qualifying for the NCAA meet, it virtually assures the Huskers of earning a trip back to nationals where they will look to improve upon last season’s eighth-place finish.
What may be even more surprising is that NU broke the record with a group of grinders as opposed to pacesetters, Rush said. Before Rush, a Grand Island native, moved into No. 6 on Nebraska’s all-time charts in the individual 400 earlier this season, none of the relay members held a top-10 time in the event.
“We just push each other so well that when we come together we know this guy is going to do it for you, and you’re going to do it for him, too,” Rush said.
Gipson, a Lincoln Christian product, said the Huskers were relieved at getting in good position to return to nationals heading into Friday’s Nebraska Tune-Up at the Devaney Center, the final meet before next week’s Big Ten indoor championships.
“I know conference will be another big meet. We’ll all be amped up on adrenaline so we knew we’d probably run fast at conference, but we didn’t want to leave it to just conference because we might be tired for other events,” he said.
The Huskers held Gipson and Rush out of their individual events in Arkansas to keep them fresh for the relay, but the strategy wasn’t finalized until just hours before the race. Gipson said there was discussion of running him in the leadoff spot instead of his traditional second leg. But coaches eventually went with the freshman Wiseman to start.
Rush took the baton with the Huskers in third place to begin his anchor leg and eventually fell to fourth place after the first lap on the 200-meter track. But in the final lap, Rush passed runners from South Plains College and Florida State to finish in second place behind LSU. The Tigers’ winning time of 3:04.60 is second in the country this year behind only Florida.
“It was pretty sweet to get the record again and kind of get that monkey off our back going into conference knowing we have that in our back pocket already,” Rush said.