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North Carolina sophomore and 2012 Park grad RJ Alowonle competes in the hurdles at the ACC Championships. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Camarati/GoHeels.com)

Alowonle gets redemption, advances to NCAAs

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North Carolina sophomore RJ Alowonle narrowly missed out on the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships a year ago.

Alowonle, a 2012 Park grad, finished the 400-meter hurdles in 13th place at the 2013 NCAA East Preliminary Round -- one spot away from making the NCAA Championships.

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It was the only meet leading up to that point in which Alowonle didn’t set a personal record, Tar Heels assistant coach Steve Rubin said.

“I was really upset about that,” Alowonle said. “I was really determined this year to not let that happen.”

He got his redemption at this year’s preliminary meet, as he crossed the finish line first in the 400-meter hurdles in 50.11 seconds, a new personal record.

“[And] he really didn’t run the whole race as hard as he could,” Rubin said. “In the final as soon as he had it he started celebrating a little bit in the last few steps to the line. He knew what he had to accomplish. He just knew he needed to move on and he got it done.”

It was a moment Alowonle had waited an entire year for after his near-miss in 2013.

Immediately after last years’ disappointment, he said he wanted to get back out on the track to train, but that would be a mistake. So instead, he took a month off, while constantly communicating with coaches as to how to improve moving forward when he got back on the track.

And this season, he flew.

Alowonle had a fantastic indoor season, as he shaved a couple of seconds off his 400-meter dash and was part of North Carolina’s 1600-meter relay squad that finished fifth at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March, earning him All-American status.

“Knowing that I was running much faster in the 400-meters than I was running in the previous year, it just helps with confidence knowing that training’s going well,” he said. “It just helped the confidence a lot going into the outdoor season.”

Alowonle carried that confidence into the outdoor season in his main event, the 400-meter hurdles, where Rubin said the sophomore set a new personal record in nearly every race he ran. Rubin said Alowonle started the outdoor season running the hurdles in about 51 seconds flat, and ran nearly nine-tenths of a second faster at the preliminary meet almost two weeks ago.

“It’s fun to coach him, because as a coach you’re aim is that every week you get a little faster, and that actually happens with RJ,” Rubin said. “He’s focused, he works really hard and he stays positive. … He’s getting better step-by-step and by the end of the year he’s made a lot of progress.”

Alowonle said he’s seen that growth in multiple aspects of himself over the last year.

“I think I’ve grown not just athletically, I think I’ve grown in those mental aspects of track and field as well,” he said. “I still know that I have a lot more room to go in those areas, but I do feel like I’ve grown a tremendous amount from last year to this year.”

That remaining room to grow is what’s most encouraging to Rubin.

“He is among the nation’s elite,” Rubin said. “When that happens as a sophomore … and he’s no where near his potential, that’s really, really exciting.”

While only a sophomore and making his first appearance at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Ore., which starts Wednesday and runs through Saturday, Alowonle is confident heading into the meet.

“I think just with the races that I’ve been doing in the last couple of tune-up races and how I’ve been practicing, I think that I’m ready to peak at the right time,” he said. “My training is setting me up for that.”

As for expectations, Alowonle is looking to run a few fast, clean races. If he does that, he’ll take the result.

Rubin said he thinks the national champion will run somewhere in the 49.0 seconds range, something he believes Alowonle is capable of achieving.

“It’ll have to be a great race, it’ll have to really come together, he’s going to have to feel great, but I expect him to make it into that final race and become a first-team All-American,” Rubin said. “Then from there I think it’s just going to be ‘how bad do you want it?’ I know he’s going to be really going after it at that point. That’s going to bring him to another level, so I’m excited to see it.”

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Jace Frederick
Jace Frederick has been the sports editor at the Woodbury Bulletin and the South Washington County Bulletin since May 2014. Frederick graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in journalism.  Follow Frederick on Twitter @JaceFrederick 
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