DES MOINES, Iowa – Aleia Hobbs wore the purple and gold of LSU for the last time Friday night and achieved something that has eluded collegiate women for 27 years.
She won the 100-meter title at the USATF Outdoor Championships. No female athlete representing her school had won this event at nationals since Carlette Guidry of Texas in 1991.
Hobbs held off another collegiate athlete, Ashley Henderson of San Diego State University, 10.91 seconds to 10.96, at Drake Stadium as part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
The mark was a personal best for Henderson, while Hobbs ran 10.90 earlier this season and has the five fastest marks this year by a Team USA female 100-meter sprinter. Only Marie-Josee Ta Lou of Ivory Coast has been faster, clocking 10.85 while Blessing Okagbare-Ighoteguonor of Nigeria also posted a mark of 10.90.
Hobbs won the NCAA 60-meter crown indoors and the NCAA 100-meter title earlier this month to finish her collegiate season undefeated at 16-0. She is set to graduate in December with a degree in kinesiology.
Once Hobbs and Henderson sign with apparel companies, they’ll wear different colors. “I think I might shed a couple of tears,” Hobbs said of shedding her LSU singlet. “This is the last time I have it on. It’s bittersweet really.”
Added Henderson, who will no longer be an Aztec, “Wow, I just forgot about that. I’m going to be sad because I love my school. I’ll still be training there, going pro with my coach, but I’m going to miss class.”
These two runners are throwing the book at the notion that college runners must turn pro before completing their college eligibility. Five of the eight finalists were collegiate athletes.
“It’s one of those things where it’s the changing of the guard,” said Shelia Burrell, Henderson’s coach at San Diego State and a 2000 and 2004 Olympian in the heptathlon. “These kids are running really, really fast. Aleia Hobbs has been running well all year long. Ashley’s an up-and-coming athlete. For them to get first and second after NCAAs says a lot.
“To have a group of girls running sub-11 that could potentially run faster than that – the collegiate system is good. It’s all about coaching, you get to the right place, to the right coach that fits you and you see what happened here today.”
Granted, some of the top sprinters are skipping nationals this year, including half of last year’s 100-meter finalists: U.S. and world champion Tori Bowie; Allyson Felix, the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete; English Gardner, the 2016 champion; and Olympic relay gold medalist Morolake Akinosun.
Bowie was injured at the Prefontaine Classic in late May, pulling up in the 100-meter.
Hobbs said it was disappointing not facing Bowie “just because that’s Tori Bowie! So, I would love to race against her. I know it’s coming soon, so I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m just ready for the competition to keep getting tougher and tougher and just test me.”
However, Hobbs is still trying to put together the perfect race.
Running out of Lane 5 Friday with LSU teammate Mikiah Brisco in Lane 6, Hobbs stumbled early in the race.
She surged at the end, while both Henderson and Jenna Prandini, the former Oregon runner and 2016 Olympian, challenged her. Prandini’s time was 10.98.
Hobbs said she could see Henderson to her left. “I just was telling myself, ‘Just relax,’” she said. “The line’s coming. Don’t panic. Don’t panic.’”
Hobbs, 22, who was seventh last year in her first 100 at nationals, had a grin on her face the last 15 or 20 meters. She said her confidence has been building since knee surgery her sophomore year. She ran a personal best of 10.85 last season.
“I really think it’s the adversity I overcame that motivated me this whole season to do the best in every race I did,” Hobbs said. “And I did it undefeated this season, so it’s a nice feeling.”
Even though collegiate athletes endure an incredibly long season that begins indoors, she said, “I’m feeling really good. I’m proud of that really. I’ll run a couple of meets in Europe and then I think I might shut it down.”
Henderson was determined to end her collegiate career on a high note after failing to make the 100-meter final at the NCAA meet in cold and rainy conditions.
“The expectation was for me to just not disappoint myself,” she said.
Henderson has improved dramatically while at San Diego State, clocking 11.84 in high school, 11.64 as a freshman, 11.21 as a sophomore and 11.01 as a junior before her 10.96 here.
“Just training and competing with other girls that are just as good as me really started bringing out my true talent,” she said.
“I’m grateful that I did go through college, and I did my whole four years. I know some people go (pro) after freshman or sophomore year but I’m grateful because I actually love San Diego State. I had a great collegiate career athletically and academically, so all of that just kind of plays into your journey, into how you become who you are today.”