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USC’s newest national champions: Four unique individuals running at one title speed

A ‘great feeling.’ South Carolina track star describes winning national title

Tatyana Mills describes what it’s like to be part of the South Carolina track relay team that won a national title.
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Tatyana Mills describes what it’s like to be part of the South Carolina track relay team that won a national title.

As you watch them Tuesday night at Founders Park, Wadeline Jonathas wants you to remember one thing.

“I mean,” she said, “we’re track athletes for a reason.”

Jonathas is part of South Carolina’s latest national title team. A month ago, she ran anchor for the Gamecocks’ 4x400 meter relay team, moving USC past Texas A&M and Florida and into first place at the NCAA Indoor Championships in Birmingham, Alabama.

As gold medals dangled from their neck during an interview with The State last week, Jonathas, Stephanie Davis, Aliyah Abrams and Tatyana Mills grinned about their next big challenge: Simultaneously throwing out the first pitch before South Carolina’s baseball game against Charlotte on Tuesday.

Davis: “I’ll try, but I think I’m better off swinging the bat and running.”

Abrams: “Personally, I have terrible aim. So I can probably say I’m not going to be the best at that one.”

Mills could only smile. Jonathas shifted the conversation back to what they know and do about as well as anyone in the country — fly around a track together at eye-popping speeds.

“I think we click because we truly value one another,” she said.

So what makes an elite relay team? At Carolina, coach Curtis Frye has blended together the perfect mix of talent and unique backgrounds.

Jonathas is a junior from Haiti who won nine individual national championships on the Division III level before signing to USC. She was a Kentucky commitment until the Wildcats went through a coaching change. Abrams hosted Jonathas on her Carolina visit.

“The journey’s been great, honestly,” Jonathas said. “It’s more like a dream coming true. Because when you’re watching on TV, like a couple years ago, like in high school I’d watch those girls running and I’d be like, ‘I’m three seconds off from them. I can get there.’ And now I’m just one of them. I didn’t see myself as that, but I am one of them now. So it feels really good.”

Davis, a sophomore, is the daughter of a former Clemson runner. Her father, George, was part of the Tigers’ 1980 ACC championship team.

“Of course he wanted me to go to Clemson out of high school,” said the Maryland native, “but I felt like South Carolina was more fitted for me because of the family atmosphere the team had and I wanted to be a part of that. So that’s why I chose South Carolina.”

George now knows what to wear when he visits Columbia.

“It took us a while to get him out of that orange and put him in garnet,” Davis said, “but now he’s wearing garnet because his little girl’s a national champion.”

Abrams, a redshirt junior, has missed chunks of her career due to injuries. It’s made the championship all that much sweeter.

“I preserved and got through it,” Abrams said. “It’s not really something I think too much about because I knew I was gonna get over it. All it took was for me to really buy in and just get back to where I knew I could be.”

Mills, a senior from Jamaica, was named the National Division III Female Junior College Athlete of the Year in 2017, but when she arrived at South Carolina a year later, she felt out of shape.

“Which is a bad thing to do because it made everything like 10 times worse,” Mills said. “I lost confidence.”

But when surrounded by competitors like Jonathas, Davis and Abrams, Mills was in the right environment to improve. A national title confirms her ascension.

“When I’m tired,” Mills said, “they’re not tired. So when the people you’re training with aren’t tired, it kind of makes you want to do better.”

Abrams nodded. As outdoor season progresses, this quartet continues a quest for more records, more medals.

“Knowing that I come to practice and work hard every day,” Abrams said. “that’s really what keeps it going for me. I know they’re not going to accept me having so many bad days or days off. They keep you on your toes and keep you really firing and competitive, too.”

About the title

South Carolina’s Wadeline Jonathas, Stephanie Davis, Aliyah Abrams and Tatyana Mills turned in a time of 3:30.76 to edge Texas A&M (3:30.85) and Arkansas (3:30.86) for the national championship March 9 in in Birmingham, Alabama.

The NCAA event title is the 47th in USC track and field history and the first since Jeannelle Scheper won the outdoor women’s high jump title in 2015. It’s the school’s seventh national championship in the women’s 4x400m relay, including the third indoors, and the first in the event since 2007.

Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.