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HALL of FAME: Three RLC relay teams - should've, would've, could've - all got it done
2005 Outdoor 4x800 relay team. FROM LEFT; Tim Clark, Jason Craig, Eric Alberter and Marcus Walton. CLICK HEREfor a larger image.
2006 Indoor 4x800 relay team. FROM LEFT; Shannon Sherrer, Eric Alberter, Kurt Heimann and Pat Clark. CLICK HERE for a larger image.
2006 Indoor DMR Team. FROM LEFT; Anthony Flournoy, Eric Alberter, Chris Rengifo and Brad Middleton. CLICK HERE for a larger image.
The 13th Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet will be held at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24, in the RLC Student Center.
By Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee
INA, Ill. - Three teams. Three very distinguished teams. At the least, three things in common. But everything considered, each one considerably different.
In order to recognize these teams on their own merit, as they certainly deserve, let’s make them distinguishable by calling them “Should’ve,” “Could’ve” and “Would’ve.”
“Should’ve” hereafter will refer to the 2006 Men’s Indoor Track and Field 4 x 800-Meter Relay Team representing Rend Lake College.
The “Could've” tag belongs to the RLC Men’s Outdoor 4 x 800M Relay Team of 2005.
That leaves the 2006 Men’s Indoor 4000M Distance Medley Relay Team as the Warrior foursome with the “Would've” moniker, as in “Who would’ve figured?”
To be sure:
• All three earned All-America status as National Champions in their National Junior College Athletic Association Track and Field Finals.
• All three included the common denominator of Eric Alberter, a nine-time All-American in his own right with a first individually in the 2006 Indoor 800M Run.
• All three NJCAA Championship quartets will be welcomed into the Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame Saturday evening, March 24, during 13th Induction Ceremonies.
• Make it four things in common. All three of the award-winning contingents were pieced together by Coach Brent McLain, the five-time National “Coach of the Year” in Cross-Country and once for Indoor Track and Field who retired in 2009. He was succeeded by University of Florida two-time National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I All-American Alberter.
Men’s Outdoor Track and Field 4 x 800M Relay Team (2005)
Give credit to McLain, Freshman Alberter (Belleville / West High School) and the other three members for the 2005 Outdoor 4 x 800M triumph – Sophomore Marcus Walton (Potosi, MO), Sophomore Jason Craig (Huber Heights, OH) and Sophomore Tim Clark (Indianapolis, IN). Especially Craig.
The “Could’ves” packed plenty of star power, nobody could have denied that. But they were running together for the first time in the NJCAA Finals.
Anchor Alberter would finish his career with a first, second and third individually in his specialty, the 800M Run. And he boasted the three (Hall of Fame) firsts and three seconds in relays.
Clark would be named an All-American 13 times before he graduated; Walton was a nine-time All-American. [All-America status in NJCAA Track and Field Championships is awarded to the top eight finishers in individual events and the top two teams in relay races.]
But Craig represented the experiment performed by Professor McLain.
Alberter, Clark and Walton were proven middle-distance standouts, “but if you don’t have a full complement of guys, if you don’t have that fourth guy to hold up his end, you are not going to win a National Championship,” said McLain.
Craig was a Warrior record-holder in the sprints, a National Champion (and Hall of Fame inductee) a couple of months earlier in the Indoor 400M Run and a Junior World Record-holder as a member the previous summer of the Gold Medal-winning USA 4 x 400M Relay Team at the 10th International Association of Athletics Federation World Junior Championships in Grosetto, Italy. But he had tried the 800M just once before the finals.
“We need you in the 4 x 800M Relay,” McLain told Craig, who wasted no time replying, “Yeah, I’ll do it for you.”
The late addition could have worked. It could just as easily have failed. “But if not for Jason stepping up like he did, we would not be talking National Championship,” McLain admitted. “He made that team.”
Lead-off runner Walton out front in the Finals-only event – no preliminaries were held; qualified entrants were based on composite individual times submitted – with a 1:51-plus leg, followed by Craig, who nearly matched his lone 800M run of 1:54.6. By the time Clark finished off a 1:55 leg with his handoff, Alberter took over with a comfortable lead.
“All I had to do was maintain the lead,” Alberter recalled his uneventful, unchallenged 1:54 two laps. “I didn’t see anybody (over my shoulder) my entire leg.” Their 7:37.64 clocking was a school record at the time. South Plains (TX) was second in 7:42.72.
Hall-of-Famers Craig and Alberter were runners-up in their specialties as Rend Lake College placed fifth as a team in Levelland, TX. Clark signed with Tennessee-Chattanooga, Walton with Missouri Southern.
Men’s Indoor Track and Field 4000M Distance Medley Relay Team (2006)
“You also have to have some luck with relay teams,” McLain conceded. “On paper, this was not one of those greatest teams you would expect to win a National Championship.”
Who “would’ve” figured? “I didn’t expect that one,” added the coach. “Some times, when you have guys like Eric Alberter around, others will step up a notch or two and accomplish things they wouldn’t normally do.”
Runner-up the year before in the Indoor DMR, Rend Lake College returned in 2006 to capture its second NJCAA Indoor DMR National Championship in five seasons by relying on the cerebral as much as its physical prowess.
Canadian Freshman Chris Rengifo (Woodbridge, Ontario) was battling for second when he finished the 1200M first leg. Sophomore Anthony Flournoy (Gary, IN) closed the gap in the next 400M, and the Warriors were in the lead after Sophomore Alberter made up a 20-meter deficit in the 800M third leg.
That left the final 1600M to Sophomore Brad Middleton (Edwardsville), a cross-country / steeplechase specialist, who ran a strategic mile to bring home the victory. Middleton slowed the pace early while still out in front, and then outlasted the opposition down the stretch in a gutty performance.
Their composite 10:17.50 time ranked behind the 2002 Hall of Fame quartet in 10:13.47 and the runner-up showing of 10:17.45 in 2005, when Alberter was a freshman participant. Rend Lake College was second Indoors as a team for the third time in four years.
Middleton was a four-time All-American, including a second on the Outdoor 4 x 800M Relay, plus Coaches Association All-America (top eight among American-born competitors) twice. Rengifo was a five-time All-American (third, Indoor 1000M). Rengifo signed with Eastern Kentucky University; Flournoy with University of Indianapolis.
Men’s Indoor Track and Field 4 x 800M Relay Team (2006)
Season-long competition among teammates had the Warrior 4 x 800M Relay Team well prepared for the 2006 NJCAA Indoor Nationals on the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan.
So maybe they “Should’ve” won?
“That team was special. Everyone was solid,” commented McLain. “We knew they were capable of winning it. We expected great things, and they delivered.”
The individuals who made up the 4 x 800M unit were each trained to run the 800M Run. Sophomore Alberter, who anchored the winning entry, owned RLC’s best-ever time Indoors in the 800M at 1:53.08 and would later win a National title in that same event. Freshman Shannon Sherrer (Vineland, NJ), in the leadoff spot, was No. 4 at 1:54.32, Sophomore Kurt Heimann (Germantown / Breese Central H.S.) was No. 5 at 1:56.17 and Freshman Pat Clark (Virginia Beach, VA) was No. 9 at 1:58.75. Alberter, Sherrer and Heimann ranked 1-2-6 in the Indoor 600M, and Clark was fourth in the 1000M.
In the Finals, the top two teams kept trading leads, with Alberter taking the final baton exchange (following Sherrer, Heimann and Clark, in that order) a stride or two behind the pacesetter, where he was satisfied to remain through 600M. When Alberter made his move with about 200M to go, video clips shot by RLC supporters show Sherrer raising his fingers in the air as if victory were already assured. He was not mistaken. Alberter was confident as well.
Their 7:52.74 record time was 3.5 seconds ahead of the runner-up team.
Heimann (4x All-America), Clark (3x All-America) and Alberter also were second in the Outdoor 4 x 800M Relay two months later. Indiana State University signee Heimann and Alberter also formed half of a 7:53.32 runner-up effort Indoors in 2005. Sherrer (2x All-America) later competed for Augustana.